01/11/2019 08:34 EST | Updated 01/11/2019 09:00 EST

My Childhood Was Filled With Functional, Yet Astonishing Pottery

Today, pottery in Pakistan is a cultural art and is not limited to the traditional pot makers.

Emad Aljumah via Getty Images

During my childhood, when I lived in Karachi, the then-capital city of Pakistan, every household had an open area at its centre called "sahen." This was surrounded by a boundary wall but had no rooftop.

The sahen served as a multi-purpose area for the entire family. In the morning the ladies of the house would use it to receive visitors from the neighbourhood, chatting over a cup of tea, chopping vegetables, sewing clothes, while carrying on with other household chores. The place also served as the area for washing and drying clothes by neatly spreading them on a clothing line to be dried in a combination of bright sunshine and fresh air, which gave the fabric a natural, fresh outdoor smell.

During later part of the day as men returned home, it became their domain to have tea, catch up the news on radio, entertain guests while children played cricket and seven tiles, not only screaming and sprinting around them but often joined by them.

As the night fell, those who were not very fond of sleeping indoors, dragged their beds outside. The beds were laid in a row with crisp white bed sheets, sometimes with or without a mosquito net. Very soon, the sahen transformed into a grand bedroom.

That was the time when a child like me, lying on the bed, half drowsy, half awake, would look at the sky, the shining moon the blinking stars, the wandering clouds and has her curiosity roused and would ask some very intricate questions about God's dynasty. With no television or internet and not lot of scientific and geographical knowledge at their disposal, that was the time when mothers, grandmothers and the aunties had to let their imaginations squander and craft answers to satisfy the curious human mind of a young explorer.

That was the time when fairy tales were born.

Every such sahen had a common item, called "Ghara" or "matka," an earthen pot to carry drinking water.

Nadeem Khawar via Getty Images

The more the hot wind blew, cooler the water became. Mixed with the smell of clay, the water was always a treat to drink.

It was in 1964 when television made its entrance in Pakistan and changed the entire architectural concept and interior design of homes in the city. The TV lounges, or living rooms as they were known in the West, emerged and sahens became obsolete.

Despite the fact, that my grandmother firmly believed that water from the fridge was bad for health, she had to succumb to the popular demand of the new generation and accept the fact that her matka had no appropriate status in the new décor of the house. She finally forced herself to drinking water from the refrigerator, which was considered not only an object of greater utility but also a symbol of modern lifestyle.

Last year, after spending a long period of my life in Canada, I visited Karachi. While navigating through the streets with glimpses of roadside pottery crafters to exotic pottery shops in high-end luxury malls, I suddenly realized, "No, we did not abandon our matka, we just took it to the next level."

Pottery in Pakistan has an ancient history which goes back to the evidence of clay pots found in the early settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1300 BCE). Visiting various regions in Pakistan, on one hand you will find some very basic handcrafted earthenware, such as vases, pots, bowls, or plates, shaped from moist clay and hardened by heat, and on the other hand artifacts, which are not only expressions of modern technology but also reflection of many untold sentiments and depictions of present-day conditions and influences.

Today, it is a cultural art and is not limited to the traditional pot makers. Various platforms such as pottery classes, pottery studios and pottery exhibitions contribute to the trend. Every region in Pakistan has its own unique traditional pottery, but has also developed an unrivaled mastery of molding clay into astonishing pieces of art.

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