Potter families in Mymensingh are struggling to survive as they cannot sell their products amid coronavirus outbreak.
The artisans usually make their clay items from Bangla month of Kartik to Chaitra (November to March) to sell those at fairs held on various occasions like Chaitra Sangkranti, Austami Snan, Pahela Baishakh, Eid, Rathjatra, and Nazrul Jayanti round the year.
In fact, their items have remained unsold as such gatherings are not being held to avoid the virus transmission.
While talking to The Daily Star, a number of potters shared stories of their plight.
Ujjal Chandra Paul from Muktagachha was one of them. With his clay utensils and toys, the 40-year-old walks all through Mymensingh city to hawk or vend those. "I have been doing so since the countrywide shutdown was withdrawn," he said.
Ujjal said his family members include his three schoolgoing daughters and a bed-ridden ailing mother.
The potter, who was seen in the city's Kanchijuly recently, said he invested Tk 1.5 lakh he took from a local NGO as loan and made clay items to sell those at different fairs in Trishal and many other places.
Due to embargo on such celebrations, most of his items have remained stockpiled at home, he said.
"During the lockdown period, I also worked as a day labourer," said Ujjal.
"Now the NGO started realising installments and I have to pay Tk 1,300 per week. That's why I came out with the products for more money," said Ujjal who studied up to third grade.
"The daily sale is some Tk 500 and I have to spend Tk 150 per day for transport fare and food while moving from my Raghunathpur Rowarchar village to the city. The rest of the money is spent for the installments and family," said Ujjal.
Swapna Rani Pal, a potter from the village, said, "Every year, we earn a profit of around Tk 50,000 from our sale, which supports my family in the off season but this year we are in serious financial crisis."
"Everyone wants to provide proper education to their children, but it is elusive for us due to little income," said Swapna.
In Muktagachha, around 200 potter families are now in crisis; of them, around 38 ones in Raghunathpur Rowarchar alone, said some potters.
Bishnupriya Rani Paul, a century-old woman in Raghunathpur, said she never experienced such a critical time in her whole life. "The sale of clay articles has sharply come down in recent decades due to arrival of plastic and other products at markets," she said.
"We basically survive through the sale during various celebrations, but coronavirus has left us in utter sufferings this year," said Bishnupriya.
Suken Chandra Pal from Mondolsen village said he has to maintain an eight-member family including three daughters, a son and elderly parents.
"I made clay essentials with a Tk 25,000 investment, but almost all of those have been left unsold because I could not bring them to customers due to this pandemic," said the 45-year-old.
He started hawking the products recently to arrange food for his family, lamented Suken. So far 4,000 potter families are continuing their ancestral profession in the district, he informed this correspondent.
Mohammad Abdur Rob, principal of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Fine Arts Institute in Mymensingh, said around 20 clay artisans, who studied at the institute and make itemson commercial basis in the district, also incurred a huge loss this year due to coronavirus surge."
Talking to this correspondent, Mohammad Rajon, one of the artisans, said organisers sometimes called the potters with their products to the celebrations. Now, none is paying attention to them, he said.
Contacted, Md Mizanur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Mymensingh, said he already asked the upazila nirbahi officers to prepare lists of those engaged in different ancestral professions, including pottery, to provide financial support to them.