Born and brought up in the Safa Kadal area of old city in Srinagar, Saima Shafi is the modern day woman potter of Kashmir. She is famous by the name of “Kralkoor” as she has embarked on a path seldom tread by any educated woman in Kashmir.
The art of pottery fascinated Saima from her childhood.
"During my childhood, when my grandparents used to take me to places like shrines, the pottery items being sold outside fascinated me so much that I most of the time used to end up buying one or more items.”
Saima never knew that she would be a potter till she made a vase during her college fest in Chandigarh.
"When I made the vase, the potter in the fest ushered all sort of praises on me. Although, I tried many things afterwards but nothing satisfied me. Much later, I realised that I want to learn pottery," says Saima.
Saima wanted to learn the craft in Kashmir only, but she soon realized that nobody in the Valley seemed to have any idea about modern pottery. So she went to Bangalore for two months training in pottery, where she ended up doing different courses in pottery.
The female potter decided to use the indigenous name “Kralkoor”- a name with which a girl belonging to the family of potters is referred as, for herself.
She made plans to set up her studio in 2019, but due to the abrogation of Article 370 it did not materialize. Finally it was a few months back in October last year (2020) when she found space at Batamaloo area to set up her workshop.
The modern day potter uses different tools like electric wheel, gas kiln, slab roller, wedging tools and special clay of pottery, which she says, has all been brought from outside Kashmir.
"I even order clay from outside Kashmir. Whenever I select a raw material I make sure that they are food safe, chemical free and contribute to the environment."
To get field experience, she keeps on visiting areas which are famous for pottery. Here she communicates with the potters to get some inputs.
"I want to know how so many people are still into it and also to know the reasons for those who are leaving it. While meeting them I make them aware about modern day pottery. I look for potters who are quite good at techniques and who can make out things that are in my head so that we can collaborate for bigger projects. I do it to give them a new ray of hope."
The modern female potter is highly praised by the local potters who are amazed to see her work.
"They are amazed to see a woman doing this job and they get amazed that she also knows the art. Despite being experienced hands, they still show great keenness in learning innovations in the craft from me," says Saima.
Saima wants the younger generation to take the art up for its diverse scope. "I always look for ways to educate the younger generation that educated people around the globe are doing pottery, so could they. They should know that it's an economically vast and untapped field," she added.
Right now she is working with the key chains and the wall hanging as she can only resume pottery from March.
"Till then only I only make small things. I invest two to three hours in the evening till midnight. I have a good number of customers, both national and local. I am getting orders from Bangalore, Himachal Pradesh and so many other regions."
Anticipating some big projects to come up, she says that she has a project in hand right now but it requires a huge financial investment. "I am looking for the right opportunity so that it can be executed in the right direction so that many people are benefited from it."
Finding a place for herself in a forgotten landscape of pottery Saima believes that from the time she has been there people are talking about pottery. "I get so many praiseful messages from the people. I get messages from pottery sector people also who say that I have revived the art and they are now proud of their roots.This in turn makes me proud.
"People associated with this sector used to hide their affiliation with the community, but after I came into this field now the same feel confident and somehow are proud to be associated with the craft," Saima said.
While setting the prices for her products, she keeps her vision, her time, her energy, in mind. "It’s not about the material, or about the clay, but the time, efforts, imagination and your innovation, that matters. Price range for my products starts with some Rs 300 and it can go up to lakhs."
Today most of her orders are coming through social media and she is handling it all by herself.
"I get orders mostly through social media. Every day, I receive around three to four orders and that is my limit as well because single handedly I can manage that much only."
She says social media has its own demerits and many times her patience has been tested on her Instagram account.
"Some people comment on how I look. How I wear my dress, how I wear my Hijab – and all sort of trivia. Through my Instagram page “Kralkoor I” represent my work, I don’t represent myself so people mostly I have seen they focus on my mistakes even when they don’t even follow me. I am human and I can’t be perfect so that is where my patience is tested. I have anger management issues. I can control it, but many times when someone passes some personal comments particularly to a woman I give it back to them. I believe it's a responsibility that you should not ignore always because it encourages such behaviour."
Everybody faces hurdles and to overcome those Saima takes it heads on.
"On my every day routine I face so many hurdles. Internet, circumstances, season and being a woman are the biggest hurdles and I overcome it by thinking when I leave this world how many people would have benefited with my existence and that is how I motivate myself," says the female potter.