Kathputli Colony, Delhi, India
"Within the labyrinth of the insanitary and evil-smelling alleyways of Kathputli's slum, the extraordinary or even magic can happen at any moment.
Almost half a century ago, the Bhatt family, Gypsy puppeteers from Rajasthan, set up their camp site in the North East suburbs of Delhi. After India's independence and at the dawn of a modern era, the Maharajas and rich merchants of the rural areas started to lose interest in these nomad artists, who had (been) re-enacted important episodes of their family's life-style in palaces and wealthy homes for centuries .
For the Bhatt family, Delhi was the new Eldorado, the rapidly growing capital of a country which they had traveled the length and breadth of for many generations. Quickly a number of other artists joined them in this no man's land. Tents in Kathputli began to accommodate bear tamers, dancers, magicians, acrobats, percussionists and fire-eaters. As the years went by, flimsy brick or wooden houses started replacing the tents and thousands of families from the lower Indian castes (scavengers, beggars, etc.) joined the first gypsy occupants in this court of miracles.
Kathputli has now over 3500 families living there in unthinkable promiscuity. In spite of this demographic explosion, the heart of the slum is still occupied by the community of artists that came from Rajasthan half a century ago. The word Kathputli refers to the puppets they brilliantly give life to.
This amazing place, halfway between horror and wonder, where the closeness between artists has made it possible to protect and ensure the existence of many ancestral arts, is doomed to disappear. The city of Delhi intends to recover “its land” in order to build a state-of-the-art building complex on Kathputli.
For the past few years families in Kathputli have been under constant threat of eviction.The Kathputli magic slum is probably living its last days on stage, before the final curtain falls for good on an invaluable, artistic and popular tradition."
-Thomas Vanden Driessche
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