not just your average cup of tea!
Wondering why the cups and plates in the picture are empty today instead of being piled with some scrumptious Sam Q delicacy or packed with some mouth-watering savoury of Tommy Miah's? Well, our story today is about those behind-the-screen performers without whom any tea-party, feast, banquet, formal dinner or even any normal meal would have been incomplete. Allow us to present to you, a wide array of ceramic table ware, which has now become a thriving pride of our country.
What would your parties be without the faithful glistening china-ware that adorns the table, welcoming your guests with a glint of friendliness and warmth. Having made every effort to dazzle your guests with your artistically garnished dishes, do you ever stop to wonder what their reactions would be if you served them on paper plates rather than those exquisite golden wonders which you picked up at the last minute? What would your majestic dinner wagon be without the intricate patterns on your crockery, behind its carved antique designed doors?
A dinner set bought once can serve a lifetime. Of course if you get tired of your old fashioned antiques, there is a wide array of unique, magnificently designed sets which you can choose from. Just take a walk down the “ceramic corner” of Sheltech Sierra Tower at Elephant Road (opposite to Bata) and you will be marvelled by the various shops displaying shining china-ware of all shapes and sizes with unique patterns and designs.
The ceramic industry of Bangladesh
The ceramic industry is surprisingly not quite a new one in Bangladesh. It dates back to 1962, when Peoples Ceramic Industries Ltd. (PCI), pioneered the manufacture of porcelain tableware in Bangladesh. Then other companies came into the limelight. Now, two of the leading producers of ceramic ware in Bangladesh are Monno Ceramics Ltd. and Shinepukur Ceramics Ltd. Other producers include Bengal Ceramics Ltd., Standard Ceramics Ltd. etc. While Shinepukur Ceramics Ltd. holds the fame of newer and innovative models and designs, Monno Ceramics still captures people's trust with their years worth of reputation for high quality products. Even with modern firms emerging as competition, PCI still upholds its status, with its creativity coupled with its years of experience.
Over the years the ceramic industry in Bangladesh has flourished immensely and has gained recognition throughout the world. “We are proud to export our goods to 64 countries all over the world”, informs Mr. Mainuddin Manik, Marketing Manager of Shinepukur Ceramics Ltd. Annually the ceramic sector earns huge amounts of foreign currency for our country. Although this accounts for quite a minimal amount of the country's total revenue from export, it is still a very successful field. While the country does compete with other countries in exporting china-ware, the makers can proudly acknowledge the demand for Bangladeshi products over others in this arena. Talking to a few of the dealers of ceramic ware, we learned that renowned hotels and fast food chains from all over the world give special orders each year to these companies, to manufacture custom built crockery and ceramic-ware for them. These are received with great repute abroad.
While ceramic manufacturers have created a solid stand in the international market, they are yet to make a mark in the local market. Tableware, being long-lasting products does not have an increased demand in Bangladesh. So, most ceramic manufacturers, keeping their foreign market success in mind, have turned more towards exporting. About 80% of the produced goods are exported to foreign countries, including Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
However, recently demand for china-ware in the local market has increased with the rapid mushrooming of hotels and fast-food shops all over the capital city. One of the well-reputed manufacturers, PCI, claims that though most of their products are oriented to western style, their well equipped in-house facility enables them to take care of the requirements of local customers. PCI is highly reputated for producing products for the local customers. They export only 40% of their annual capacity of around 12 million assorted pieces, while the rest is sold in the domestic markets. Another reason for the increased demand for china-ware can be attributed to the sky-rocketing of the price of gold. Due to this many people have turned away from the traditional practice of presenting jewellery at wedding ceremonies and have resorted to the next best option, crockery.
Ceramic industries are located mainly in the outskirts of Dhaka city. With high-quality imported machinery and imported raw materials combined with the uncompromising labour of our country, each piece of ceramic-ware is formulated, moulded and painted with utmost care. “On an average, we produce about 96 thousand pieces per day”, says Mr. Abu Sayed Mahmud, a branch manager of Monno Ceramic Ltd. He also enlightened us about the processes involved in the production of the ceramic-ware.
The journey of a cup
A cup starts off as nothing but finely grounded bits of bone china. These are expensive stones, the finest quality of which the companies import from abroad. This is often mixed with clay and water in different proportions to form different kinds of china namely bone china, ivory china, royal china and supreme porcelain. The quality and of course the price depends on the type of china. This grounded stone is mixed with water and melted at high temperatures, and then the clay-like mixture is pressed and all the air bubbles are squeezed out. This soft material is placed into moulds and heated and they acquire their shapes. The handles are made separately and glued on later. The cups are then baked at very high temperatures in an oven called the kiln. Then the process of glazing commences and the cups are finally heated in the oven again for about 72 hours. After this process, only the decoration part is left. Most of the designs are formulated by the companies' own designers. Some of the designs are painted on by hand.
While traditional floral motifs are still commonly available, many new designs have been introduced. It is the mere innovativeness of these designs that have made them popular among the buyers. Our market survey revealed that buyers nowadays are turning away from the customary circular shaped dishes to oval and square-shaped ones. Although most sets are still made in the conventional shades of white, coloured items are becoming more popular day by day. Still keeping the traditional floral themes in mind, non-symmetrical floral patterns have been introduced which appeal to the customers a lot. Other latest designs included abstract art and splashes of bright colour combinations, with tinges of golden around them. The antique design of golden-rimmed ceramic-ware is still very popular, although these products are not micro-wave proof. Monno Ceramic claims that they use 22-karat gold to coat the rims of some of their products! Quite a price you would have to pay for them.
Apart from the shops in Elephant Road, which are well known to most, ceramic ware of outstanding quality and designs are available in various shopping centres of Gulshan, Banani and other places. Monno Ceramic and Shinepukur Ceramics Ltd. have their own showrooms in many plazas such as Eastern Plaza. PCI have their own showrooms in Karwan Bazar and Elephant Road. Retail shops in Karwan Bazar, Mirpur and New Market display ceramic ware from Bengal Ceramics Ltd. and Standard Ceramics Ltd. These are available at bargain prices. The retail shops at the rear side of New Market and also on its first floor have quite a huge collection of such china-ware at surprising rates.
The price of a 32 piece dinner set could range from 1500 taka to 1 lac taka, depending on the brand of china and also the amount and type of design on it. Porcelain sets are the cheapest with prices of normal porcelain ranging from 1500 to 2500 taka and that of high quality porcelain reaching 3500 taka. Ivory china sets can cost about 4500 taka, while bone china sets, the finest quality of the lot, can range from 4500 to 7500 taka. The more expensive ones comprise of the gold-rimmed ones and the ones with hand printed designs on them.
By Nusrat Khandker and Rohini Alamgir
(Starring ceramic celebrities from all over the world)