Nishi-san runs the place and is the head potter here. He has an apprentice too—Ginto-san. Or at least it seemed so. Today was the first day of an hour long session. I arrived on time and was greeted by Nishi-san. I made the payment for the course (4 sessions for now). I was given a basket to keep my belongings and an apron but of course I had taken my own apron. I wore it and asked if it was okay and was given a nod. Then Nishi-san directed me to the wheel and had clay mounds ready. He sat down and instructed me on how to make a bowl! In a very matter-of-factly way he described the steps as he moved his hands working with the clay. I was nervous as always. I had to get it right. I told myself to calm the f*** down and remember why I was there.
And so began my attempts at “throwing”. (When you take the clay and put it on the wheel and gather and shape it it’s called throwing.) Anyway, the task was to first achieve a strong bond between the wheel and the clay mound and then to gently apply pressure using the palms of your hands pulling it upwards while maintaining a constant pressure and then pushing is down using your two thumbs and gathering again and repeating the process until you finesse the task. The bit about achieving mastery is of course self-imposed. The physics is simple—prevent wobbling and keep the mass uniformly distributed so that it all rotates together along the vertical and there are no torques generated. Of course to achieve this feat is something that takes people months, as Nishi-san noted. But I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.
While I was struggling Ginto-san was observing and he soon appeared to help me. He simply held my hands and showed me. I haven’t experienced this kind of camaraderie in a very long time. After all, in academia cliques are a norm and all identity is derived from belonging to one or many of those. To be different and yet have a sense of belonging seem mutually exclusive when they are actually complementary to each other. To quote from the Ubuntu philosophy of the Bantu people of Africa:
Umuntu, Ngumuntu, Ngabantu.In Zulu.
It means “I am because we are”. The whole nurtures the individual who then becomes part of the whole.