Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Delhi's Puppet Colony

Please note that below is not hard facts, but instead based on what I found on the web, from those living in Kathpulti, and my short experience visiting the colony. I apologize for any misinformation.

Kathputli Colony is stuck between the metro and railways lines in the Shadipur Depot area of Delhi, just a few miles away from Connaught Place and its fancy shops. Named after the centuries—old wooden string puppets of India’s Rajasthan state, Kathputli Colony is said to be the biggest single concentration of traditional street artists in the world. About 800 families have settled here since India's Independence from Great Britain.
Its narrow lanes and teetering brick houses are home over 600 artists who have represented India in fairs and festivals in countries near and far.  They are dancers, sword-swallowers, singers, fire–eaters, magicians, snake charmers, musicians, acrobats, jugglers, sculptors, mimes, artists, puppeteers, folk singers, bear handlers, monkey trainers, ribbon dancers, and other practitioners of fasts disappearing traditional arts. 

The colony began organically in the 1950's.  Performers from all the different regions and artistic tribes from the country would come to Delhi to perform, and then they would go back on their routes. However, as T.V. and radio became available in the rural villages, their was less money to be had, so they had to move into the city, where people would still pay to witness their talents.  They settled upon a scrubby woodland area on what was the edge of town at the time, and started making homes with their own hands and resources.  More and more people came, so more and more was built, to present day where there are around 40,000 people living in Kathputli.  As the colony grew so did India's capital, which makes the colony relatively central now, only 15 minute metro ride from parliament, fancy shops and hotels, museums, ministries and the central business district. What once was scrubby forest is now some of the most valuable land in the area.

So is Kathputli Colony a slum?  It's alleys are strewn with garbage and sometimes feces, as there is no proper sewer system or garbage system. Children paddle in stinking black drains, not realizing how unhealthy it is for them, instead simply thinking how nice the cool mixture feels. Electricity supply, "borrowed" from the nearest pole is basically a constant, powering fans, swamp coolers, color tv's and even a colony arcade with four games.  Water is supplied by the government to the areas that are lucky enough to be hooked up to the system, but as it runs through old pipes and tubes, it is constantly contaminated. For those not lucky enough to be hooked up to the main system, those who are not pay 3-7 rs. depending on the size container they have to those who share. With lack of access to water, also means not everyone has a bathroom, and there are only five public bathrooms for the entire colony and they cost a small fee per use. Most have a gas cooking stove to boil water and cook food throughly, but some do not. Within the colony some are defiantly better off than other, poor, really poor, desperate.  

Kathputli Colony's 6.5 acres is broken up into different areas based on religion, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc. and by which Indian state they come such as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar and Gujarat, with 11 different languages spoken.  This may lead one to believe there is a lot tension, but in fact, the community is closely knit, centered around family and each other.  Families live together for years, sometimes 6 families living in only four rooms. When you literally live on top of each other you have to find a way to make it work.   
As one walks it's is easy to get lost with so many many criss-crossing pathways, surrounded by dilapidated hovels, shanties, pucca houses, cemented dwellings, and mud huts, but as you do you also notice that there is a beauty to it.  It's hard to explain to an outsider, but I will attempt.  Walls are painted in painted in bright colors, children play with homemade toys, and women hustle around carrying water, making food, and washing clothes in their colorful sarees.  Besides the constant buzz of mosquitoes and flies, you can hears musicians and singers practice their craft, and the jingling of their silver anklets and glass bangles creates a fine music.

Rent averages at about 1,000 rupees ($17) per month and can be as low as 185 rupees ($3.50) per month.  Besides making money as performers,some make money as rickshaw drivers, cleaning houses for the affluent down the street, selling sweets, mending clothes, others in the lower class resort to trash picking and sometimes prostitution.  Government schools are technically free in India, but there is a cost for uniforms and supplies, which means quite a few children go without, with the girls usually being pulled out first. 

The harsh conditions make for some of the toughest, most creative, and thrifty people in one area.  So yes, Kathpulti Colony, is officially defined as a slum, but at its core it’s an artist community with people making the best life they can.  There is a sort of dignity to it all.  

I encourage you to visit it and it's in habitants and also make up your own mind as words, especially mine, will never be able to fully describe its complexity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...