Friday, 7 October 2016

Theodora Sofronia: I saw the goddess in her.

Unplanned and unprepared, I stood besotted in her dark workshop, facing her demure frame. Yes, I saw the goddess in her.

It was our last day in Cyprus. The flight back to Doha was late in the evening. I woke up early and poured myself a cup of black coffee prepared with hot water and a single Nescafe sachet. We hadn't bothered to buy any milk. Beams of sun were already bursting through the green slatted shutters and landing warmly on the round dining table in the tiny kitchen of our apartment, where I sat peering through my reading glasses at the map. I get greedy on last days of holidays (long and short). I like to see a new place or explore a new corner before boarding the home bound  train, bus or plane.  And that is why, I prefer late evening departures back home.

Cross-referencing the map with the local guidebook, I realised that we could drive through a village called Foini after breakfast and still have ample time to drive back to Larnaca airport.

The narrow streets of Foini were deserted when we drove through around mid-day.
This sign  bribed me. It held promise of an unexplored gem. Not altogether thrilled at the prospect of stopping so soon after leaving Omodos, the husband stopped the car and parked it under a lemon tree.  None of the other occupants of the car budged.  It was agreed, silently, that I'd do the exploring alone. So, I stepped out or rather, bundled out with my bag, camera, map, hat and sunglasses.
The further I walked in the direction of the 'woman potter', the less promising the prospect of finding 'her' seemed. Large tin sheets that looked like a shack of some sort covered up a corner. It wore a deserted look--like someone had forgotten to open shop for many years. I was tempted to turn back, but I held my faith in the sign I'd spotted at the bottom of the hill and continued clambering.

Another sign.

'Let's go for it.' I goaded myself. The sun shone sharply.
Just like that, the path purged into stone steps that led up to a garden flanked by green pumpkin vines on the left and luscious grape vines on the right.
The promise unfolded, step by step.
'Hello...' I called out, sounding parched and hoarse.
'Hello! Is anyone there?'
Siesta silence filled the stillness around me.

Passing through an old door next to this kiln, I hesitated before stepping into a dark room. My eyes took time to adjust to the coolness inside. The room was large and felt like it had been used to create pieces of pottery for a very long time.

Chucking hesitant hellos into the workshop that was developing around me like a photograph from a negative, I ventured further in. I could make out shelves and corners and beautiful hand crafted pieces on display, some lay drying on the floor.

I clicked and almost as soon as I had, I felt like an intruder.

I left.
The steps back to the path were heavy with regret and what ifs:

What if I'd come in a bit early?
What if the rest of the family had come with me? I wouldn't be in a rush to head back now.

I'd reached the end of the steps when I heard a faint sound like a metal pan hitting a stove or a hob-- a metallic, everyday kitchen sound that announces tea/coffee/lunch/dinner is being prepared.
A soft whimper of a dog (or was it a cat) followed.
I turned to check.

No one.

Almost at the end of the deserted path, I turned round. And decided to clamber back up the hill.

I may never come back to Foini or find this sign pointing to a 'woman potter' again. I had to try one more time.

The husband and the children will have to wait.

A small figure draped in blue appears from the door to the right of the workshop as I make it to the last step. She looks up and smiles.

'Is this your work?' I speak slowly and use my hands like I'm  acting out a nursery rhyme. I'm not sure if she understands English.

'Yes, this is my work.' she states clearly and steps inside. Before my eyes have had time to readjust to the darkness, she has reached the end of the room and is flicking old fashioned light switches on. The room reveals itself like a temple and I stand facing the woman potter.

Ma Saraswati.

I see the goddess in her, in her hands, in the way she says how 'special' the piece I'm looking at is because she's put flowers on it.
I'm awestruck.
She talks.
I listen.
'Can I take a picture?' I ask.
She straightens her shoulders and poses next to the completed pieces.
I see the goddess in her.
And want to buy more than the two pieces I've chosen, but airline luggage limitations have to be respected and I'm planning to take my treasures in my handbag.
We get stuck on numbers.
The how-much- do-I-pay creates a total breakdown  in communication.
I have no idea if she's saying five or fifty or fifteen.
Clueless, I face her stretched palm and five fingers and nod obediently.
Suddenly, the idea to use the calculator on my phone strikes me and I dig it out of my bag to show her.
She's already busy wrapping the pots in wads of old newspaper when I look up. The phone and I watch her engrossed.
I can stand here all day and just be in her presence, witness her sculpt those pots, those flowers, those embellishments -- the way her grandmother and her mother had done before her--all by hand;
Yes, the primitive way.

I extend fifty euros.
She empties out her pouch and counts out fifteen euros in change.
I'm gobsmacked at the bargain price.
On the table lies a laminated photograph of hers with an article. I click a few quick shots on my way out and thank her.
She smiles.
I've got my prasad.
I feel blessed.

This reads:"She works as her mother and grandmother did on the vine shadowed porch of her home."
Sadly, I didn't make a note of the author's name.
The vines, heavy with ripe fruit cast a cooling shadow as I look back from the hot deserted street, making my way halfheartedly towards the parked car.
If only they'd come with me.
If only my phone was working, I'd call and say I'll take longer.
If only we weren't leaving tonight, I'd come back and 
absorb this primitive practice of pottery making.
Back in Doha, every now and again, I turn the pot upside down to get a glimpse of the goddess I'd seen in Cyprus.

Feeling forever grateful to the very special 'ordinary' moment of my life when I met 
Theodora Sofronia.


  1. Arti...a lovely post again! Especially loved the word-picture created in this line 'the workshop that was developing around me like a photograph from a negative,...'. I really like it the way you take us, your readers, on a journey with you.

    Beautiful and telling images,as always :-)

    1. Thanks Ruchita. That line seems to be getting quite a few 'votes'. xx

  2. Very interesting and expressive as always. Seems we were on trip with you. Keep writing and take us on these lovely trips more often. God bless!

    1. Thanks Manu. You know how much I like to jabber on about my adventures and experiences, so I guess I'll keep doing it:) Much love. xx

  3. Another Lovely post! The pottery is so beautiful, I wish I was a potter... it isn't easy to be one! Your exchange with this supremely talented lady reminded me of my childhood in Bangalore when we went shopping ... my father used his fingers to buy bananas and vegetables. It felt like another country then!!

    1. Thanks for visiting Ish:) Yes, both the potter and her pottery were beautiful. Her pots took me to an era when things were simple and honest; handmade with love.

  4. how beautiful it gives my goosebumps!!! that kiln and the studio is incredible! i think encounters like this is what makes a trip extra special! you really get to experience the soul of a place... such a treat to visit you arti, as always!! xoxoxo

    1. You said it Ananda--encounters like this one connect one to the soul of the earth...they ground and liberate you somehow. Always so happy to see you here:)

  5. A human story told charmingly. In a way, it might not have been as personal and deeply rooted if all your family had come along to mill around like at a market. This way, it was a special meeting with her inner goddess. Now that you have two of her pieces in your home, do you use them for decoration, or do you use them in their inherent purpose?

    1. Hey Sue. You're so right. This meeting turned out the way it did because I was alone. I've put plants in glass bottles and placed the bottles in the pots I got from her. One sits opposite my writing table and the other on top of my cupboard. Thanks for asking:)


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