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Can books have something telepathic between them?

It certainly felt that way to hold Ramu Velar's book in my hands and to read it in one greedy sitting last night. How miraculous it should be published in the same week as my new novel, The Earthspinner. As I turned the pages of A Potter's Tale it felt many times as though the potter in my book, Elango, had sprung from Ramu Velar.  

Ramu Velar describes the way he excavates clay from a pond, how "my grandfather was a potter and so was my father". 

Exactly like the potter in my book, Elango. 

A few pages later, Ramu Velar tells us how as a child, "each of us would bring a handful of grain from home, pluck drumstick leaves from a nearby tree, throw everything together into a pot and cook until we had a mess of rice and leaves..." 

Here is Elango, describing the moringa (drumstick) tree in his courtyard: 

"Elango came back from the pond that afternoon and settle down to smoke and draw, leaning against the trunk of the moringa tree in the centre of their courtyard. In some seasons, hundreds of caterpillars came and took up residence on the tree for weeks, invading their rooms, getting into their clothes, leaving fiery trails of itches in their wake. Eventually, caterpillars covered the entire moringa trunk so that the tree wore a live hairy carpet, and when they saw that, the two brothers started a fire below its trunk and watched the smoke and flames lick at the caterpillars until they peeled off the tree and fell into the fire in slow-writhing clumps. The air smelled of burning flesh. Caterpillars gone, the flowers turned into green sticklike fruit that was their food for many days."

This beautiful book about a master potter, now in his eighties, is gorgeously illustrated, and written with brevity and poetry. It evokes a vanished life, when whole communities of potters created objects for use in the home, as decorative objects, and for worship, from clay they dug locally. How the families came together to create giant terracotta horses for their village.

In my book, a horse comes to Elango in a dream, and he knows he must make one, of the kind his ancestors made. Over time, the making of this horse takes on a terrible urgency in his mind, as though the course of his life depended on it.

"Every year his grandfather and the other potters of their village had made a giant clay horse, modelling them here, next to the pond, close to the clay it would be made with and far from houses. That was when Kummarapet was still a village largely peopled with families who were potters by caste, still following their ancestral vocation. ... Remnants of those long-ago horses stood in the compound of one of the old temples even today, worn down by wind and rain. The potters who had made them were dead or gone and those that came after did not know how to make them."

I wish I had known of or met Ramu Velar before I wrote my book. Listening to his stories would have added depth to mine. Or perhaps it would have crippled me, knowing how close my fictional potter was, to a real one. Like Elango, Ramu Velar has his own, distinct view of the divine: 

"I am not religious in an everyday sense. I don't visit temples, never have. And I do not observe customs or rituals... I tell myself, 'If God is not inside you, how does it matter?'"

There are many pages of this book I know I will return to again and again, especially when I am looking for direction in the pots I make.

"To get this basic shape of things, you need to know it deep inside of you. A whale, a plane, you can do what you want, but you need to get the basic form right. I think there is a camera within me which captures and stores many forms and that's where I get my sense of a beast or bird or fish."

 A Potter's Tale is published by Tara Books, Chennai and you can order it here. My copy came with a beautiful poster I will put up in my small work room, right in front of my muddy potter's wheel, and I'll look at it for inspiration when I make things.

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