10 QUESTIONS WITH ROHIT KULKARNI OF CURATORS OF CLAY
WORDS BY GENESIA ALVES
Rohit Kulkarni gave up a career in the media to train to be a potter. Today, he and his co-founder, Bhairavi Naik, run Curators of Clay, a small workshop in the village of Bhugaon, outside Pune, that is quietly establishing itself as source of high-quality, beautiful clay craftsmanship. With zero assistance – save the companionship of the resident pottery-pig Lalita and the occasional incredulous reaction from the local villagers – Kulkarni and Naik single-handedly create beautiful crockery from their kiln.
The City Story talks to Rohit about his journey to realising his passion, what he misses about his “old life”, and the value of the artisan’s work.
TCS: What’s the first thing you ever “made” (even before you started working with clay professionally)? Were you into making stuff as a kid?
RK: The first thing I made when I started playing with clay as a teenager was a gargoyle. I don’t think I was very into creating things as a kid – I used to draw (copy, actually), but that’s about it. Then at some point in junior college I became fascinated by gargoyles and thought I wanted to be a sculptor. I still do.
TCS: What did you do professionally before? What was your routine like?
RK: I’ve worked across television, radio and movies – my last job before this was as Creative Director Marketing at UTV Motion Pictures – working on trailers, posters, and other promotional stuff for feature films. My routine then involved commuting in crap traffic to get to work – either at the office or at one of the many post-production studios. Then trying to convince a dozen people about the trailer/poster/any other creative idea that I had. Then executing the dozen changes that everyone wanted in anything that had been created!
TCS: What’s an average day like now?
RK: My days are rather full. I get to the studio (about a 15-minute drive from home to Bhugaon village). Check on the pottery pig (yes) and then get down to working on the wheel, crafting beautiful tableware; making, loading the kiln, firing the kiln… finishing work, then packing it. We don’t work with any karigars or artisans, so we do everything ourselves. Quite honestly, I’ve worked hard, but never this hard earlier.
TCS: What was your a-ha moment?
RK: Quite honestly, I don’t think there was an a-ha moment, really. I’d always, always dreamt of a lifestyle that let me work in the outdoors, not in a city as such…and actually use my hands to make a living.
I’d say the following things helped: partnering with Bhairavi has been a great business decision. It’s sorted out many things in terms of dealing with clients, planning/strategizing etc. (Also it hugely helps that we are only co-founders/partners and there’s nothing beyond this! I have to put this out there because everyone expects us to be a couple!)
If you had to label it, our first a-ha moment may have been the time we completed our first real commission of 100 mugs, which we did while juggling our day jobs. That’s when this whole ambition of being a full-time ceramicist/potter suddenly seemed viable: difficult, tough, painful – but viable.
TCS: What’s the hardest thing about leaving the rat race? What’s the easiest?
RK: Most difficult thing to quit – without a doubt, the financial security. Easiest – the routine.
TCS: Where did you train?
RK: How I started out is actually a nice story. A senior of mine in college once remarked that I had the “hands” for pottery/art. Years later she wrote an article about pottery. I read it and sought out Vinod Dubey who taught me the basics…
Then I went off to Andretta in Himachal Pradesh to train under one of the coolest people I’ve ever met – Master Potter Mansimran “Mini” Singh. Post that it’s just been a lot of practice, trial and error!
TCS: Describe what the Curators of Clay does.
RK: Curators of Clay makes handcrafted, high-fired, functional ceramics. We don’t aspire to change the world or anything that noble. We just want to make it a lot more beautiful, through our work, with clay as our medium. I want everyone to want the teapots I craft.
TCS: What have you learned (the hard stuff) from following your passion? What do you miss from your old life?
RK: This finding your passion etc. is all lovely as Instagrammable quotes. But, heck, this is a real job. I don’t have a trust fund. I don’t come from a loaded family. This is how I choose to earn my living and so I want it to work. I actually do miss the convenience of a mainstream job, the exposure and sometimes, the buzz of Bombay. One only realises all the silly things we take for granted once those are no longer there – simple stuff like having an office peon suddenly is missed! And it’s tiring to have to convince people that no, it’s not an idyllic, chilled out life.
TCS: What do the other people in the village think of you? Have you inspired anyone else?
They have a sense of amused indulgence towards us. Mind you, this is a rapidly urbanizing village – we now have a small Baskin Robbins freezer in our New Poona Bakery, but a steady, reliable electricity supply is still elusive. My family had land here for years, so a lot of them have known me since I was young. And I’m certain they’re shaking their heads with concern about this good Kulkarni boy who’s lost his marbles and has quit the big city to play with clay.
I think my Instagram feed inspires people for a day or so. Then they realize the studio is gorgeous but there’s no pizza delivery, no Raju/Chotu/Maushi to clean up after us, and a kiln firing means being at the studio for 14 hours straight.
TCS: Would you have it any other way?
RK: No. Except perhaps it would’ve helped if I’d known earlier that I could attempt at making this my full-time pursuit…