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By Sapna Bhatia. Pictures by Estefania Mejia. June 2014.
Sapna Bhatia, founder of Bring Home Stories, gives her take on the colony, its people and its situation.

A day at Kathputli Colony Image

The Old man looked at me and said, “Whose development?”

Do you call riding in cars and flying in aeroplanes development?

The Man was a tribal leader and the tribe was fighting a multinational giant who wanted to mine a mountain – considered sacred by the tribe. And, I was the Devil’s advocate and the journalist presenting the argument of development as seen by the multinational giant.

The same question was asked to me by people in Kathputli colony or the puppeteer’s colony located in Delhi. I had gone there as part of a photo walk organised by journalist Manira Chaudhary and supported by Bring Home Stories.

A day at Kathputli Colony Image

The fifty year old colony is a place where hands wield magic – puppets and toys can be seen peeking out of homes. And magic and music hop from one alley to another. For outsiders, it is a filthy slum filled with smelly air but for the people who live here it is their “space” to create. It is a lifestyle.

A day at Kathputli Colony Image

For outsiders these people need development and need to shake off their contrived existence and be modern.“Our policy is to give slum dwellers and their children better living conditions, and that’s what we are doing,” says S.K. Jain, director of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the civic body that owns the land where Kathputli Colony stands.

The DDA has sold off the land occupied by the colony to a private builder who wants to build a mall and flats in the place. The residents of Kathputli Colony would be first moved to a transit camp and then given flats in a high rise. These people get displaced twice - first for a temporary life and then for a life they do not want.

The Pradhan of the colony missed no details and I could not miss the passion with which he wanted to protect the colony as he talked to me. And, I wondered how exhausting it would be to offer explanations to innumerous people in the hope of saving the lives residing in the colony.

A day at Kathputli Colony Image I went to see a family that made puppets and met a little girl.

The hosts were kind enough to give me an elephant puppet that had lovely colours. I did not want to offend them by offering money but wanted to give something to the little girl. I looked into my bag and found a Pencil and a pack of miniature birds picked from Varanasi when I had gone to cover the elections. She broke into a chuckle and I felt spring flowers bloom in my heart.

And I thought she was living in the perfect living conditions, surrounded by people who loved her. The terrace where the family sat had a Pipal tree brush against the bricks and at night, the little girl could see the stars. Three families lived in one home, which, though cramped, made room for everyone as it was on levels. Imagine all of them fitting in one small flat.

I came home and my daughter asked me “Mama, where did you go?” I always try and tell her versions that make sense in her five year old world. “I had gone to meet a little girl”. “And, then what?” It is that age when the frequency of the “then whats” is same as the times you breathe. “She was lovely, and I gave her a pencil.” “A Pencil?” Perhaps the gift was too simple in her world.

The elephant puppet today sits on my desk and I hope the camels and the horses and the brave Kathputlis I saw at the colony stay. And I hope that the argument of development is not only one sided. It involves consensus and the will of the people.





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