Earlier this year David Frith had been asked by The Artisan Trust to go out to India to advise how the potters in Rajasthan could improve their products to make them suitable for export. One of the main problems he identified was that the kilns they were using were very inefficient and that pots were not being fired to a higher enough temperature. He asked me if I would be prepared to go out with him and build one of my wood-fired kilns. (Silly question really. The chance to go to a country I've never been to. To get away from wet, windy Wales for a few days and enjoy temperatures I've not seen all summer. To build a kiln, which is always fun.) I decided to say YES!
Suddenly it was all a bit of a rush; I had to get a visa and contact Acme Marls for kiln shelves and props. David had some testing of materials, buy a digital pyrometer, cones, etc. and source kiln bricks in India. Getting my visa was a nightmare. I have since been told that it is much easier to get a visa from one of the regional offices than to go to India House in London. However I managed to get my visa on the Friday with my flight booked for 06:30 Sunday. The ordering of items from Acme Marls Ltd. was, in contrast, a pure joy. A phone call to friendly, capable, Walter Brayford and everything was taken care of. Order pushed through in record speed, packed and ready for air fright to India. Thank you Walter if everything had been half as efficient the project would have gone like clockwork.
So the main purposes of the consultancy was to build a downdraught wood fired kiln that would be more efficient and be capable of firing to higher temperatures if required. Unfortunately the project was beset with a number of problems the main one being that the important consignment sent from Acme Marls, that was central to the building and firing of the kiln, was held up in Delhi customs. It had still not been released by the end of the ten-day consultancy. However by making modifications one kiln was completed at Kot Jewar, the village selected, and another half built at Neota with clear instructions on how to complete it. Also having to work around problems and correct mistakes is very instructional and everyone involved will understand the construction of the kiln far better than if everything had run smoothly. That we managed to accomplish what we did in the days available is quite remarkable, especially as the project was to coincide with the festival of Diwali. (It could be compared to trying to build a kiln in Glasgow over Hogmanay.)
I can understand the need to help isolated village communities and the siting of the kiln at Kot Jewar could prove a turning point in their development. However because of the remoteness of the village we had to spend four to six hours a day travelling and the lack of facilities, there was no electricity at the site so no welding or power tools could used, did increase the difficulty of the project. Furthermore for projects like this one to be a success the villagers have to be receptive to new ideas and technology and be prepared to try new methods presented to them. In the end, without the consignment from the U.K., it was not possible to fire the completed kiln. This was a great disappointment to me and serious omission for the success of the project as this kiln is so unlike their own kilns they can have no concept of how to fire it. (If I can make an analogy, it is as if we had built an aeroplane in the village, the plane will fly and is capable of getting from A to B quickly and efficiently, but flying bears no resemblance to driving a car or tractor.) Still the consignment from Acme Marls has now been released and is on site. The second kiln is now being completed and, who knows, I may have to go back to show them how to fire the kilns. That would be a hardship wouldn't it?!!
DIARY RECORDING DAILY ACTIVITIES:
Monday 12th Oct.
06:60 Depart Heathrow via Zurich (where I meet David) for Delhi arriving Delhi International Airport 23:35
Tuesday 13th Oct.
Spend the whole day traveling the relatively short distance between Delhi and Jaipur. Unfortunately the Air India flight scheduled for 11:30 was cancelled and the 13:30 delayed until 15:45. We arrive Jaipur airport 16:30. Met by Sasi Gopal Menon taken to Narain Niwas Palace Hotel. Given very pleasant room on the ground floor. 19:10 we are invited to a meal with Vipin Sharma General Manager (RUDA), Devesh Sharma and others. We are collected by car and taken to another hotel where we meet the Minister of Planning, Ajay Tankha who is Microfinance Coordinator for Actionaid and Jitendra Kumar Swamy (RUDA). Jitendra brings me samples of the bricks he has sourced for building the kiln. Both the firebricks and insulating bricks are good for the job and Jitendra undertakes to collect and deliver the correct number to the kiln site for tomorrow.
Wednesday 14th Oct.
We are met at hotel by Devesh and Sasi. After a short discussion on the plan for the day we leave hotel at 09:00 visiting RUDA offices to collect items before continuing to the project site. Devesh recommends a short rest when we complete the 'highway' section before we continue along a very bumpy and potholed 'tar' road. After a few kilometers we turn off this road along sand tracks that twist and fork without any indication of where we are going. After getting lost we engage a local man to guide us to the village we are looking for. At 13:30 we arrive at Kot Jewar the village selected by RUDA. A beautiful setting overlooking a plain with a lake and hills. We are taken on a trip around the village, which is only small but has at least four potteries working there. The kiln bricks have been delivered and the concrete slab has been laid ready. The consignment sent from Acme Marl, England will be there 'tomorrow'. David expresses his concern about the suitability of the village for the project. He feels the skill level is well below that he experienced at Neota on his last visit and its isolation will make things difficult. I build the Lego model of the kiln and try to explain how it will work to a group of the potters. After a village meeting a man was chosen to help with the kiln building, unfortunately he doesn't speak or understand English. At 17:00 we leave the village returning to the hotel at 19:45. Vipin Sharma (RUDA), Orlanda Ruthven, Task Manager for the Department for International Development (DFID) and Ajay Tankha are waiting and we are able to report the day's activities over dinner.
Thursday 15th Oct.
Drive to village arriving at 10:45. By 11:15 the concrete is swept and bricks brought over to the kiln site. Unfortunately the handsaw is not suitable for cutting the nsulating bricks, no one knows what a brick bolster is and there is no level. Build kiln to firebox height. Return to the hotel at 18:00 where I give Devesh the measurements to have kiln chimney fabricated. Have a dinner meeting on the hotel lawn with Orlanda, Vipin, Gaurav Prateek (RUDA) and Ajay.
Friday 16th Oct.
Raining today. Have Sumo taxi and get to the village in two hours. Find that the ironwork that has been made up is wrong so take it back 15 Kilometers over sand tracks and poor road to have it re-welded. Find someone prepared to start work on it straight away but no sooner has he started than the electricity is disconnected. Also leave instructions to make up iron template so the arch bricks can be cut. Leave Mohan (a man working in the village who understands English and grasps what I am trying to do very quickly) to see that the job gets done. Find some large angle iron suitable to act as lintels for the kiln, in place of the shelves from U.K. leave it to be cut to correct size. Return to Kot Jewar as Orlanda and Vipin are expected to visit
Saturday 17th Oct
09:15 Devesh arrives and after discussion leaves with David to try and buy some kiln shelves in Jaipur as now we are told that late Tuesday will be the earliest we can hope for the consignment sent from Acme Marl. Sasi and I drive to engineers and collect template to cut arch bricks but the corner angle iron is still not welded as the power has only just been reconnected. As we need various pieces of ironwork fabricated and there are a number of engineers in the area we split the job up and get three firms working on it. Finally arrive at village at 13:15 to find the chimney has been delivered. Start one man on rubbing down bricks, using metal template, for arch bricks. Put up simple cover over the kiln as it is still raining. Send Sasi back to collect ironwork and continue without translator to build walls of kiln. Mohan proving very useful. 17:30 the plywood to make the arch former arrives. 18:30 Sasi arrives back with some of the ironwork. Leave village and arrive at hotel at 20:30. Discussion with David who has been at Neota for most of the day. He has also managed to buy ten kiln shelves, which will make it possible to finish one kiln.
Sunday 18th Oct.
09:00 Return to hotel after church. David has already left for Neota with Devesh. Sasi arrives and we drive via Neota arriving at the village at 13:40 having collected the kiln doors on route. Find about five people making arch bricks. They have given up using the metal template and are doing them 'by eye'. I try and explain how important it is to have them cut accurately but I don't think they understand. Sasi tries to make the arch former but the wood saw is too blunt. I send him to collect a carpenter to do the job. Kiln up to arch height now. Sasi finishes arch former by lantern. (There is no electricity at the kiln site.) 19:00 after a slightly heated discussion the villagers are persuaded to get the tractor and trailer loaded with the surplus items for Neota. Tell the villagers that we won't be back tomorrow and to have a happy Diwali. (No further work can be done on this kiln until the various ironwork is made up.) Return to hotel at 21:30.
Monday 19th Oct .
Diwali festival today. After a meeting with David, Devesh and Sasi we leave hotel and collect items from RUDA office. The roads are relatively empty today so we make good time to Neota. A site is decided in the kiln room for the new kiln and I start to build. Although it is a festival day Col. Singh has a number of workers waiting to help and has them well organized to do any work that is requested. (For my comfort an efficient electric fan is produced.) While I work on the kiln Sasi collects ironwork and organizes welders, whose workshop is nearby, to come to Neota to work on it. I have one man cutting the firebricks as I need them and another cutting the arch bricks using the template. Devesh has found two lengths of old band-saw blades, which work perfectly for cutting the insulation bricks this is especially useful for cutting the springer bricks. The welders run out of welding rods before they can finish the work but say that they can come early tomorrow and complete it. Leave Neota at 18:00 having managed to get the second kiln to top of firebox height. A very successful day.
Tuesday 20th Oct.
After all the holdups the plan is to finish, pack and fire the kiln today. Leave hotel at 07:30 and continue to Neota to pick up arch former, cones, pots, pyro, bricks, etc. plus two men. Also the ironwork that Sasi had gone in early on his motorbike to organize. Continue to village leaving Sasi at the engineer's workshop of Haji Sabratiji Bagruwala (a reliable and good worker) to see that we have all the remaining ironwork parts. Arrive at village at 10:40. David and I try to start the arch but find the plywood is not on square so have to remove and refix it. Send the driver back to collect Sasi and the ironwork. They return with everything we need to finish the kiln also some lunch. After lunch we reassemble all the ironwork, hang the firebox doors, place the arch former and springer bricks and lay the arch. Great moment when the arch former is removed and the arch stands unsupported. We brick up the back and are now ready to pack the kiln. I have been asking for wood, dried dung and pots for the last two hours. The wood arrives and a few pots. I explain that I need lots of pots and preferably large pots, as we don't have many shelves or props. I start packing but it is very difficult with the props and shelves from the village. I soon run out of large pots. When I ask for more they bring cracked, chipped and previously fired seconds. Still there are not enough, the sun is getting low but the villagers are reluctant to bring more pots. The sun sets and I try to continue by lamp light but still I cannot get enough pots to fill the kiln even though with the poor shelves and props it is only holding about 25% of what it should if packed properly. Exhausted and frustrated I give up and leave the village at about 20:00 and return to the hotel at 22:30
Wednesday 21st. Oct.
Meet with Devesh to discuss the plan for the day. We find that the consignment from Acme Marls is still in Delhi customs and our plane tickets still have not been confirmed. There is no time for David or myself to go back to the village so send Devesh back to collect all the tools we left there the night before. David Sasi and myself go into Jaipur to the travel agents. A very efficient manager confirms our tickets, he feels that the train to Delhi is unwise and that Air India is unreliable. He guarantees the 15:10 Jet Air plane will get us to Delhi in time for our international flight. He cancels our Air India tickets and issues us with Jet Air tickets from Jaipur to Delhi. Return to the hotel where Devesh is waiting for us with tools etc. from the village. Drive straight to the airport and after checking in there is time to have a final meeting with Sasi to give him instructions on how to complete the second kiln before we board the plane for Delhi.
Joe Finch, Pottery and
Paintings, Tan y Groes, Cardigan SA43 2HR, Wales, UK.
Tel/Fax: 01239 810265.
E-mail: Joe Finch