He had a kind face, the potter, a gentle demeanor and an easy smile. HIs shop was down a flight of rock-hewn steps that led into what, to me, seemed to be a cave. The British tourists that visited his curious set-up nicknamed him Peter the Potter. But we knew him by his real name: Ninu. It was my dad who would take me to visit. I would follow him cautiously down those time-worn steps with an eager anticipation of entering a world which was totally different to what I knew. I could not have been more than six or seven years old at the time.
Although Ninu was of the same generation as my grandparents, he and my dad always fell into an easy conversation. What they talked about, I could not tell you. Maybe they talked about the weather or about world politics. I cannot remember because I was mesmerized by the potter’s wheel. Unlike his sons, with their electrically-powered contraptions, he used his legs to turn his wheel. Round and round it spun and under his experienced hands, the shapeless clay slowly took shape. The muddy mixture oozed from between his fingers and flecks of it stuck to his work apron as he skillfully shaped it into a vase, or a flower-pot. To an impressionable seven-year old, the simple act of a turning wheel, a lump of wet clay and a pair of hands took on an almost mystical quality.
I did not know it at the time, but what I was witnessing was one of the oldest skills known to mankind. The potter’s wares were everyday objects in the ancient world. From giant urns,to oil lamps, cups and plates, ancient potters must have been very busy. But like the potter’s wheel keeps turning, so too does the wheel of life, and with the passage of time come many changes. Ninu the potter is long gone. His wheel turns no more. Three and a half decades later, the irony of the fact that as a child I had witnessed the end of things as they had been for thousands of years is not lost on me. In many ways, I mourn the passing of that simpler life, of that unhurried pace, that seemed to turn to the rhythm of one lone potter’s wheel.