Almost exactly a year ago, I was getting lost in the streets of Kathputli Colony in Delhi, where numerous artists and performers were mending their tricks or conjuring up new ones in time for the holidays.
For two score and a dozen winters or so, the families in the Colony have called this place in Shadipur their home; modest as it may be, an indomitable air of imagination hangs about the place, almost distracting one, if only momentarily, from the stench emanating from open sewers that run all around the houses.
The children certainly didn’t seem to mind. Most of them, having lived their entire lives here, grew up around the craft that had sustained their relatives for generations. That which could perhaps be missed, however, is the invisible tension between those that still wear their craft on their sleeves and those that have abandoned their toys to gather dust on their strings.
Whilst the area is described only far too frequently as a microcosm that hosts about twelve distinct ethnic communities, it is nonetheless, in these testing times, relishing to see how well the coterie of homes in Kathputli, with their immense diversity, marinade.
The Delhi Development Authority has assured the residents of Kathputli that they would have to move into transition camps only until the area itself is rehabilitated. The residents are visibly torn on this proposition; some yearn for a better life for their progeny and welcome the move while others worry if they will ever be able to return, and should they do if it will ever be the same for their art.
On my last night there, I was treated to a special performance by the fire-breathers of the Colony. As they drank kerosene, I couldn’t help but wonder if what the flames ignited was indeed fuel or just furious anger.
The police has now been deployed in the Colony to oversee the migration of residents into the rehabilitation camp at Anand Parbat. As some reluctantly make the move, their uncertainty stems as much from the fear of losing their art as it does from being evicted from their homes.
The hope is that they will, eventually, be able to return to both. One thing is for sure; Kathputli, as those of us who were lucky enough to know it, has seen its last Christmas.