A child carrying a prop to be used in a dance performance at Kathputli Colony. The colony derived its name from the Hindi word for 'wooden puppet'. - AFP
India’s Kathputli Colony, which houses the biggest single concentration of traditional street artists in the world, may well have to make way for redevelopment.
THE police are bored. They doze on steps near the fruit juice stand, or on plastic chairs opposite the Ramdev tea stall. When ordered to protect an employee of the local authorities as he sets out to walk through the narrow lanes of Kathputli Colony, they stand, stretch, pick up their bamboo staves and set off.
But tempers are running high in this small, choked west Delhi neighbourhood after a court refused to block a bid by a property company to flatten its 3,000 homes and build a 54-storey tower block with a mall and luxury flats instead. That is because this is no ordinary slum – and its demolition has become a test case indicating the trajectory of India’s ongoing economic development and its cultural cost.
Named after the centuries-old string puppets of India’s Rajasthan state, Kathputli Colony is said to be the biggest single concentration of traditional street artists in the world. Its narrow lanes and teetering brick houses are home to dancers, sword-swallowers, singers, fire-eaters, sculptors and other practitioners of fast-disappearing arts. Kathputli Colony was the inspiration for the “magicians’ ghetto” in Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie’s 1980 magic realist novel.
“We keep Indian culture alive, we are its ambassadors across the world, but look how we are treated in our own home,” said Puran Bhat, a 62-year-old puppeteer.