Highly Commended Story - The Potter's Wheel
“The Potter's Wheel” by Meghna Siripurapu, International School of Monza, Italy, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2019.
Meghna Siripurapu is a keen observer who likes to think critically and finds inspiration in the world around her. To her, people, their perspectives, their lives and their stories, are all very interesting. The story line of 'The Potter's Wheel' was conceptualized during Meghna's trip to India where she strung together discrete observations into a seamless short story. Meghna believes that the world is her oyster! Her hobbies include playing the piano and violin, dancing, martial arts and reading. She likes reading a mix of fiction and informative non-fiction by authors such as Natalie Babbitt and Kenneth C. Davis. Meghna is a Grade 8 student at the International School of Monza in Italy.
The Potter's Wheel
In a small hamlet, there was a small tea stall. The tea stall was the social hub of the hamlet where people gathered throughout the day to talk about life; the seasons harvest, political news in newly independent India and good old gossip. The thatched huts, lush trees that lined the mud roads, the still air punctuated by the singing of birds and the mooing of cattle was the landscape that hadn’t changed in years. In a lane behind the tea stall, lived the man who quietly played his part in keeping the hamlet’s social life buzzing.
The potter lived in a small thatched hut and under the shade of the neem tree in the courtyard he set up his potter’s wheel. Every morning, at the crack of dawn, he would walk to the river bank to bathe in the cold water, pray at the nearby temple, and on his way back, collect clay from the river bed in a wicker basket ahead of the day’s work. On his way back, he would greet anyone he saw for it was a place where everyone knew everyone!
Coming back to his hut, he would set out the clay by the wheel and get ready to work. The potter gave the wheel a few furious spins with a large bamboo pole and the wheel sprung to life. At the very center of the wheel, he carefully placed a small mound of wet clay and with fingers dipped in water, gave it shape; a small tea cup, just right to hold between cupped hands while enjoying the hot drink in warm company on a cold day. He used a wet twine to break the cup free from the wheel. On a good day, he made about a hundred cups, enough to keep the tea stall well supplied. The patrons casually discarded the used cups on the wayside where over time, the shattered tea cups once again became part of the earth they were made from.
One afternoon, the potter’s wife, and their three sons and one daughter returned from visiting her parent’s house in the city. The children ran excitedly to the potter and shared stories of their times with their cousins and aunts and uncles. The wife retreated to the hut while the children talked at length about all the toys their cousins have and how they too wished for toys of their own. The potter listened to them, caught the glint of expectation in their eyes and explained that while he couldn’t indulge them with fancy toys, he always had time to give them rides around the courtyard in the, now empty, wicker basket. The children’s eyes lit up with joy as they took turns being dragged in the basket. The courtyard filled with the giggles and laughter of little children until the potter’s wife sternly commanded the family to wash up before lunch. Silence prevailed as the children and the potter exchanged glances, they all agreed on who the spoilsport was!
A few days later, when the potter went to deliver the tea cups to the stall, he heard the people talk about a new bus stop at the hamlet right by the tea stall. The owner of the tea stall was very excited about the extra business that it would bring. The potter too realized that he would need to make more tea cups to keep the stall supplied. He purchased a motor to attach to the wheel so he wouldn’t have to spin the wheel with the bamboo pole anymore. The bamboo pole was cast away in a corner of the hut. With this new contraption, the potter could easily make three hundred cups a day.
As predicted, business picked up and chance favored the potter even more when a second tea stall opened by the new bus stop. The potter was now even more efficient and could make four hundred cups a day. He was making more money than before and his family could afford a few of the things that they could not in the past- the money stretched a bit farther to cover needs, and wants!
In a few years, the now grown up children went their different ways. None of them stayed in the hamlet to take up the family trade as they all wanted to live in the big cities. The potter’s wife spent time between their children’s homes and the potter was left by himself most of the time. He still kept working hard on making the tea cups and never took a break. As he tirelessly worked, he got more and more frail, and he would often not eat. His tea cups too were not the fine quality they used to be in the past.
One day, after a tiring day of work, the potter sat on the wet ground by the wheel and stared his day’s work. He realized how similar the journey of the tea cups was to that of a man. What starts off as a shapeless lump of clay is carefully shaped and then severed off the wheel with the suddenness of the umbilical cord being cut. It is then baked in the oven and made ready to play its part in the world. And then, cast aside after it has served its purpose. As he ruminated, he looked at his hands and realized just how similar his skin looked to the finish of the cups he made over the years. When he was younger, his cups were flawless- the rims smooth, the finish perfect. And now, they were a little lopsided, much jagged, and very jaded! He chuckled to himself at his observations and retired into the hut to eat the leftover broth from lunch, with only his thoughts for company.
The tea stall owners noticed that the quality of the tea cups was sliding and many a times the potter was late in delivering the cups. One day, very abruptly, the tea stall owners switched to plastic disposable cups. That day, the potter was shattered as he hauled back his cups and headed home. It felt like the longest trek of his life and, for the first time in many years, he looked around to see that there were newer buildings all around him- a restaurant, a post office, a dance school, even an apartment building. He wiped the sweat off his forehead as he wondered where he was as the world around him changed. Exhausted from walking the round trip with his load, he ambled into the courtyard and left the sack of tea cups under the neem tree. He fell asleep even though it was still early afternoon and woke up the next morning to the sounds of heavy rustling. Getting up from the bed exhausted him and left him panting. Teetering, he opened the door of his hut and the ferocious wind swept him away like a ragdoll. He fell like a lump of clay on the ground and his hand instinctively reached for the old bamboo pole in the corner.
The bamboo pole, that once infused life into the potter’s wheel, was now his only hope against the gusty winds of time.