How Leela Bordia resurrected Jaipur’s Blue Pottery

Baaiji, she smiles when someone calls her that. Leela Bordia is a socio-preneur who is credited with reviving the Blue Pottery of Jaipur. People say there was a time when this art form had vanished from the pink city but her efforts have helped stem its decline and allowed her to experiment with it.  Today her business provides livelihood to thousands of artisans. Bordia traces the journey of this ceramic art from its Turko-Persian origins to its present day popularity as ‘Jaipur Blue Pottery’.

“I never chose Blue Pottery, it chose me”, Bordia proudly says. Legend has it that blue pottery came to Jaipur in the early 19th (1835-1880) century when one of its rulers, Sawai Ram Singh II set up the School of Art and encouraged artists and craftsmen from all over the country to come and settle here, a tradition started by his forefathers. But when did the craft decline and what was Bordia’s inspiration to resurrect it? She speaks in detail with Ria Das

Ms. Leela Bordia, share your story with us. What prompted you to pick the threads of this art? 

I never thought I’d become an entrepreneur but I did thanks to blue pottery. I was born in 1950 in Calcutta. I spent my childhood visiting the poor and destitute at Mother Teresa’s institutions. The pain in the eyes of those people was moving. My connect with people began back then.

After my graduation I got married and came to Jaipur where my husband was settled. He worked in the construction business. One day, I was visiting the local villages around the city and noticed the work of some artisans who were making blue pottery. It was beautiful. Upon hearing that this craft needed a fillip both in terms of expansion and marketing, I decided to move into this. It was a big incentive that I would secure the standard of living of villagers. I knew little about ceramics, but I learnt and read and understood the India had become a big market for artefacts.

In 1980, I established Neerja International with four craftspeople, two men and two women. They’d come from far away to work and earn money. Lack of employment in those villages was a concern. I approached them with the idea of opening a unit in their village and these people agreed. That’s how it all began.

So, what does Neerja International do?

Neerja International works with artisans of Rajasthan who produce their crafts at home. My whole concept is to let the craftsmen live in their own abode, pursue pottery and continue to do farming as well. It’s better if craftsmen stay closer to their roots than shift to the city to in cramped surroundings.

This helps the craftspeople work at their own time and let’s them flourish in their skill.

What are your next objectives? Where do you see yourself going from here? 

I want to make a museum for these artisans. I have been passionate about this cause. It gives me immense satisfaction. My objectives are clear: Keeping the villagers motivated.

How was this journey, what kind of stumbling blocks did you face? 

I was totally clueless about the business whenI began. To understand art, I started travelling abroad and explored places which worked with similar artworks and artisans. I understood a lot about business from Anokhi [a popular brand engaged in Rajasthani crafts and clothing] as well. But without losing our identity, we got a glimpse of the market and participated in that.

The Blue Pottery of Jaipur was infused different ideas and cultures. Even now we are working hard on controlling quality, designing, colour combinations and experimenting with our marketing approach.

We have stood the test of time with resilience.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?

I have written a book which is the first book on ceramics in India. So, taking up an initiative that people recognize easily by my name is my biggest achievement in life. It’s a big satisfaction.

What do you think are particular strengths women can bring to a workplace?

Women are more sincere. Balancing two lives: one is family and another one at work brings diversity to their work.

How proud are you about India’s rising women entrepreneurs?

Well, when a man makes a building, woman makes it a home. So, today when we’re bonding together for a greater nation, I’m feeling extremely happy about it.

One advice for all young women entrepreneurs…

Follow only one step- First take care of your family because without them, or their support you wouldn’t have reached so far.