The symbolism is apt for this demure entrepreneur who worked as a visualiser and did hotel sales before starting to design terracotta ware. Over time, Shashi Bagchi has created a niche business for gardenware in her ancestral home near Ashoka Pillar.
An enchanting triangular stretch of garden hosts some of the gardenware, though there are plenty of options for apartment dwellers – plant holders shaped like coffee cups are eminently suitable for the kitchen or breakfast area. Others shaped as snails, tortoises, frogs and rabbits look charming in bathrooms and sit-outs. Some customers buy them just as display pieces without wanting to plant anything in them.
Shashi conceptualises the design and works on the wheel initially and after the craftsmen have got the design right, she leaves it to them.
It has not been an easy journey; when she began in 2005, traditional potters were very lax about executing orders. “We did not bargain with them, we paid them their asking price but they did not stick to the timelines and the quality of the ware was inconsistent,” she says.
Handling the creative, production, and sales and marketing is an extraordinary challenge and I identify with the constant struggle of the small entrepreneur. Unexpected changes can increase costs; Maati’s potters don’t use firewood for baking the clay, they use the leaves of the silver oak and this was free for the picking. But with the BDA acquiring more open land to make them into housing plots, Shashi has to buy bags of leaves.
Maati’s mission is worthy of support – for one, plastic pots are abhorrent while clay pots allow the plant to breathe and thrive. Two, producing pieces that add character to homes and gardens is a good way to keep the traditional craft of pottery alive.