A heart-warming tale of an ageing puppeteer

A heart-warming tale of an ageing puppeteer

With the care and affection that he dolls up his puppet shows his love for the craft. Sitting on the floor of his home in Kathputli Colony, he is in the process of putting final touches to his puppets.

Three stringed dolls hang on the wall behind him, a colourful box filled with needles, threads and acrylic paints lay strewn by his side, while the septuagenarian dressed a doll in bright yellow attire. The radiance of the cloth reflects on his face, and completes the picture, the picture of a life well-lived. 

That enviable, satisfied look that lights up Babulal Bhat, the puppeteer’s face, is the result of the only set of puppets he has made during the year. 

“What was a routine affair has gone down to a once-in-a-year activity,” says Babulal as he hangs another puppet on the wall. He explains, “My son is going to perform in a show in Udaipur. I thought of making him fresh puppets, people would like to see these new ones dancing to the music.” His wife chips in, “He might not be doing shows anymore but his enthusiasm for making puppets hasn’t waned one bit.” 

Babulal Bhat takes pride in showing his file of certificates that establish his foreign travels and acknowledge his talent as a puppeteer in around 13 -14 countries worldwide.

As you walk into the verandah of his house, the precision and quiet persistence with which he makes his puppets amidst the brouhaha of the daily life makes you believe he is a taciturn, lost in the reverie of his own charming world. But just nudge him into talking about puppetry and the spark in his eyes comes alive. 

In a bold voice, he recounts the favourite saga of the brave Rajput, Amar Singh Rathore, a must of traditional puppetry theatre and narrated with great relish by generations of puppeteers.

But Babulal also tries to convince you that the story of Amar Singh Rathore is not the only one in his repertoire. “Give me any theme – education, drug de-addiction etc, and I can craft a story for puppetry out of any theme possible.” 

In his characteristic style, he whets your curiosity by saying, “It takes me four days to make one puppet. But I will only tell you the story if you want to know,” adding, “See this chau rassa (a sharp utensil), I give form to a piece of wood from scratch to make different puppets.

In a show, there are usually 30-35 puppets choreographed to depict a story, so they all need to look different, don’t they?” 

As Kathputli Colony stands on the threshold of change owing to Delhi Development Authorities in-situ development plans, the artiste who hails from Nagaur in Rajasthan, maintains deep faith in the community of artistes and says, “Our community had cut jungles to make a life out here. Nobody would leave this place. I wish to breathe my last here only,” but sombrely enquires about the fate of his colony. 

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