Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kathputli Colony: Last Paragraph of a Long Story

Kathputli Colony: Scene from inside
Photo: Nihal
Just 6 kms away from the Delhi’s Connaught Place, Kathputli Colony is a story that needs to be shared with everyone. A story that is as beautiful as a fairy tale, and as tragic as a Shakespearean classic.

Kathputli literally means Puppet. The colony is a home of street puppeteers and street magicians who came here half a century back from Rajasthan. It will not be a wrong assertion if we understand them to be Indian Gypsies who were basically traditional artists with the knowledge of their centuries old art forms. In Delhi they found home.

Dilip Pradhan: Plight of a true artist
Photo: Nihal
“We came here some fifty years back, when this area was all Jungle. We made this our home. We started getting work here in Delhi, so we decided to make this a permanent settlement” Dilip Pradhan, a resident of Kathputli Colony, shares his story. Dilip Pradhan has visited many countries to showcase his art. “We all have travelled to many countries. People in foreign countries love our performance that’s why they call us.”

But it is not all that one needs to know about the colony. In a recent development the colony has been sold to Raheja Developers for construction of Shopping Mall and to create a new residential area for economically superior class. The residents of the colony, who have spent their entire life in the ‘supposed’ home, have been asked to move to Anand Parbat in a multi story building which has been developed by Raheja Developers as asked by the government. “This is our land. We have always demanded from DDA to give us our plots. They told us that the colony doesn’t have enough land to be distributed. Then why are they selling it to rich people? Only for money?” laments Pradhan.

Instead of taking care of the living conditions of the people in the locality, the government is keen on ‘developing’, rather urbanising the area. “The tradition of Kathputli artists will not die until our generation is alive. But the government should think. The kinds of flats they are offering us are very small. I doubt our art will be able to live in that condition. We need more space than what we have currently in the Kathputli colony. But government is asking us to go to even smaller area. We need a theatre for rehearsals, otherwise the art will die. But the government is not keen on preserving the art and the artists.” says Dilip with a sad voice.

The youth of Kathputli
Photo: Nihal
It is important to understand that India is a country where traditional art is still practiced and not studied in books of History. Such artists, who have devoted their entire life to understand and preserve a traditional form, need to be supported by the state. But the condition in which the people are living in the area is extremely heartening. People will find it difficult to comprehend how pure art and tradition is alive in an area which is extremely filthy. Kids can be found on the streets playing with the pigs. A nasty smell enters the nostrils as soon as one reaches the colony, suggesting the presence of extremely inhuman circumstances to survive.

Even after all this, Dilip Pradhan finds a reason to survive. “I am sure the next generation will take up Puppetry. In our colony even the small kids are well trained to play puppets.”

Children and the filth
Photo: Nihal
This article first appeared in My Theatre Cafe on July 24, 2013

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