Hidden in one of the alleys of the village that is still arguably untouched by modernization sits 60 year old Niaz Ahmed in a pottery shop he inherited from his father at 15 years of age when he passed away.
Standing next to his own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a famous monument in Italy, Niaz Ahmed says has never actually seen the real landmark with his own eyes. “People tell me what I have made is better than the real one! I inherited this talent from my father. All I need to do is hear someone describe something to me and I can visualize it and create it with clay,” says Niaz as he smoothens out a replica of Minar-e-Pakistan that he is currently working on.
“Sometimes, when I am fast asleep, an idea will come to me in a dream and I will wake up very excited and start creating.”
Despite the appreciation he receives from people who see his work, he feels what he does is a dying art. “Foreigners are amazed by what I can create with clay but locally there is not much support for it. Not even my children wanted to learn the trade. I’m pretty certain my skills will follow me to my grave.”
He has tried to teach what he knows about pottery to some young girls who sought him out to learn, but he says they couldn’t understand the process and gave up too quickly.
“It might look very easy, but you have to have a very sharp mind to grasp the technique and you have to be willing to get your hands rough and dirty. This is not something you learn and become good at overnight.”
A 110-year-old train greets customers as soon as they enter the shop. Made entirely from clay by his father when he was only 20 years old, Niaz has told the story hundreds of times to thousands of people who come from all over the world to his little pottery haven. “Initially I never charged people money to see the train my father made, but once some girls from a college were visiting and they told me that I should be charging a nominal amount because it’s something very special and people would be happy to pay to see it. I am so glad I listened to them because the money I receive from this has helped me support my family.”
He holds a guest register that has comments from people who have visited his shop from all over the world with great pride. “It feels wonderful to be appreciated- I never ask them for anything when they come, even if I am in great need of money. I was taught to be polite and grateful for everything in life and I have found that God always rewards me for it.”
“If someone comes to buy a pot or cup and cannot pay me the full Rs. 100/- I give it to them anyway and sometimes people come and buy something and tell me to keep the change which is double the amount of what they have bought. If I make someone happy, someone else ends up making me happier!”
Niaz hopes that some organization or museum will procure his creations and charge the public to see them because he believes he has created unique and historical pieces of art. “How many people in this world have made trains from clay that can actually move on a clay track?” Probably none.