|Saturday, May 18, 2002||
SHADIPUR Depot in South Delhi is neither famous for shopping nor it is on the tourist map of Delhi. But Kathputli Colony, a slum beneath the bridge of Shadipur Depot, is famous the world over. What is so special about this place?
Kathputli Colony is a tinsel slum. Over 600 artists from here have represented India in several fairs and festivals abroad. About 800 families have settled here since Independence. Magicians, acrobats, mime artists, puppeteers, jugglers, folk singers, snake charmers, bear handlers, monkey trainers and other street performers reside in this colony. A visit to the colony is enough to believe that Shadipur Depot is perhaps the only place in Delhi where the ancient tradition of magic is preserved and inherited.
Most of the artists are
from UP, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Kathputli Colony is
also called by other names: Kalakaron ki Basti, Madari colony and
Although life may seem chaotic here yet it is peaceful. Hindus, Muslims and Christians live in harmony here. They live and learn together. Men can be seen listlessly moving about, while women hustle around actively. With jasmine flowers in their hair, they wear sarees of bright colours like yellow, orange, blue, green and red. The jingling of their silver anklets and glass bangles creates a fine music.
The main road leads to a workshop-cum-office, which is run by a NGO named Saarthi. The Bhoole Bisre Kalakar Cooperative Production Society, registered in 1978, arranges training sessions for the folk artists. Shilpayan is a one-room school situated in the same building. Here poor children are taught to read and write. In this school, free training in art and craft work is given to young girls.
Bala Bhat, a puppeteer from Rajasthan who learnt the art at the age of 15. He says that foreigners, some of whom are his friends, feel astonished that he lives in such a dirty place. Concerned about the fate of his art, he says he values his prized possession, an album showcasing certificates of appreciation from different countries.
Raffan, a magician who belongs to the traditional kalander family from UP, has performed in many fairs and festivals in India and abroad. Acrobat Renu is one of the budding stars of the colony. This 13-year-old girl displays immense flexibility. Her performances, especially the Kabutar Natt, have been widely appreciated abroad.
Kathputli Colony is a place where knowledge about folk culture, folk life and ancient magic still exists. Despite living in dismal and pathetic conditions, the artists are trying to preserve the various dying art forms.
The government has promised these
artists separate land where "Anand Gram" will soon come up.
This would indeed come as a reward for the cultural ambassadors of
India, for they will get a place where they can live with dignity.