Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, drinking from communal cups at traditional tea stalls and the like is considered as a potential risk of infection. However, a one-time use cup made of clay has opened the door to new possibilities.
Tapan Pal, a 45-year-old potter from Shimuleshwar village under Jhalakati Sadar of Jhalakati district, has developed an eco-friendly cup made of clay that costs only Tk 1 a piece.
These clay cups will be delivered to select tea stalls located in Barishal city on an experimental basis and if the response is good, all other tea shops in the area will be introduced to the use of such earthen wares, Pal said.
"Sales decreased significantly over the past six months due to the Covid-19 outbreak. So, I am trying to survive through this innovation," he added.
Pal mainly retails various self-made pottery items such as bird nests and toys.
He usually makes a number of toys for the Mansaghat fair, which commemorates Manasha Puja for the Hindus at Srabon Sankranti, but he only managed to sell off half of his stock this time around as most people stayed at home due to the coronavirus.
There are two other potters in the village aside from Pal. However, they are not habituated to go with the market trend and therefore only make traditional items.
Sumon, who owns a tea stall at the Hospital Road area in Barishal city, said although one-time use paper cups cost just Tk 1 per piece, he would prefer using earthen cups if it costs the same.
Bisweshwar Pal, a veteran potter from the Baufal pottery hub and an adviser to the Mritshilpi Sammelon o Sammanana, a welfare organisation for traditional potters, said that the country's potters were in dire straits during the outbreak's peak between March-June.
Other than continuing their traditional work, they have come forward with new types of products, he added.
According to Bisweshwar, over 2,000 families are involved in numerous ways with the pottery business, such as idol making for Hindu families in Barishal division.
In Barishal, there are a number of pottery intensive villages but Baga and Baufal in Patuakhali district are the main hubs for earthen ware products.
Many clay ware items made in Baufal are exported each year, making the upazila a brand name for pottery products.
Chinmoyi Sikder, associate professor of the department of ceramics and faculty of fine arts at Dhaka University, said raw materials for pottery are readily available and they will be able to earn their livelihood through the trade if they receive proper modern training.
Jalilur Rahman, deputy general manager of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), said they are thinking of giving better training to the potters.
"If earthen cups are introduced in every tea stall, the pottery industry would be greatly benefitted," said Nisar Hossain, a researcher of the clay artisan community and dean of the Institute of Fine Arts at Dhaka University.