Slum of the puppeteers

The cacophony of the day gives way for the sounds of the night. A man disappears under one of the numerous highways that flush live into the city. Like congested veins they provide energy for the overloaded heart called New-Delhi with all its excrescence and ulcers. On his shoulder, he carries a toy elephant. A day in Kathpuli Colony, the Slum of the puppeteers turns to an end.

Many of its inhabitants crawled from darkness into light, like Aravind Adiga, one of India’s important contemporary writers stated. But even in the light, most of them lead a shadowy existence. Surrounded by metro and train lines, Kathputli Colony is located close to the New-Delhi business district with its high-rises and shopping malls. Its inhabitants are steadily threatened by the forced relocation. Building land is expensive in the pulsating heart of India’s capital and in the end, the have-nots will have to yield.

At first glance Kathputli seems like many of the other informal settlement on the subcontinent.  But besides all the infrastructural and socio-economical problems it contains a hidden magic under its surface. Poverty and the joie de vivre collide undamped. Countless puppeteers and fire eaters, acrobats and jugglers live in this slum that is known to be one of the dirtiest in Delhi and give it its special face. All share a common legacy: Their Rajasthani origin. Carrying on their forefathers heritage of the traditional arts everybody is self-employed in show business. Since the municipality declared public performances illegal, most of the residents are unimployed. A few of them performed overseas and became famous or worked at least in the shiny Five-Star-Hotels around Connaught Place some miles away. Some have never seen anything but the bright colors that fade in the light of the ever-present dirt and stench inside the slum.

The chosen few that could find work will leave in the evening. They will return to those who are forced to stay. Nobody knows how many days are left until they will all need to leave. But surely one day, the last curtain will fall in Kathputli colony, the slum of the puppeteers.




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