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Homeless Indian Puppets

It was getting late. We were yet to cover the transit camp at Anand Parvat where the evicted Kathputli Colony residents have shifted their life. The journalist in me was disappointed. There was no 'story' left in the rubbles of Kathputli colony. The handful of people who remained at the demolished site told the same stories that had appeared in newspapers over the past few days. No place to stay. No food to eat. No work. Biting winter. No school for children. Few women were breaking the last standing bricks so that they could sell them for one rupee each. The blows were soft, unlike the ones women themselves had received from the police a few days back.

Alisha, my fellow journalist, was making a mental note to interview one Qawali whose two and a half-year-old son had allegedly died when a section of wall fell over him during the demolition drive. Few men had complained about the delay in allotment of a transit home in the camp. Women were seen cleaning the debris to set up a tent and cook food. A truck carrying broken bricks threatened to bring down a makeshift tent. People here had witnessed their homes demolished by bulldozers and here I was, panicking at the sight of a swaying tarpaulin.
That was when I saw a man motioning me to approach him. I dragged Alisha along because I didn't understand Hindi. The man was dressed in a simple black shirt and jeans. He was dark and middle-aged and smelled of liquor. Some families were sitting over their left over possessions. The man sat cross-legged on a stool with a black bag nearby. He didn't welcome us with a smile, instead asked in English, 'Are you Raheja's men?' Alisha and I were taken aback. He asked us again, 'You work for Raheja? Why are you here?' Raheja was the private construction company that had bagged the redevelopment deal of Kathputli colony. We clarified that we were just students. His following questions were even more terrifying. "What are you doing here? You just come here. Scribble something on paper and will forget us. What do you achieve by doing that?"
I clarified that we are just students who have come here to 'learn'. By that time he was becoming even more sensitive. There were few drops of tears in the corner of his eyes. 'What are you learning? Tell me. Where were you when police beat us and forcefully evicted us?' I tried to explain to him that we were students and had no idea about the eviction or the police brutality. I sensed Alisha was as much troubled by his questions as I was. We were unable to answer his questions.
But in this moment, standing here, I wanted to understand him.
"So you don't want anybody to write about your problems? Don't you want to share your ordeal with the world?" I asked. He shook his head and said, "No! What you are doing is tearing us apart! Everyone is for sensational news nowadays. Kejriwal came here two days back to distribute food but where is he now? Nobody will do anything for us. You can do nothing for us"
Alisha asked him about the contents of his bag in an attempt to dodge his uncomfortable, retrospective questions. The man said that he was a puppeteer, born and brought up in Kathputli colony. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all puppeteers before him. He rummaged through his bag to take out a brilliant puppet doll and said, 'Take away my home, my belongings, everything, but you can't take this away from me'
"I have traveled all over the world to perform but let me tell you, India is a mother******!' He touched the back of a woman's head, who was sitting besides him on the road. 'She is my wife and was beaten by the police. Tell me, what kind of a country treats its poor artisans like this? Beaten, forced out of their homes?', he angrily added.
His fans and well-wishers from France, Poland, Germany and so many other countries would send him token money now and then. He told us how few banks refused to let him open an account because he was from Kathputli colony. 'Can you believe that? They won't give me a bank account just because I was from so and so area.' He held my hands when I told him I was from Tamil Nadu. There was genuine respect in his eyes and he mentioned about his stay in Auroville, Pondicherry in the French colony. It was hard to digest that such a well-spoken man, a globetrotter, a genuine artisan was sitting under a flyover with no home and future.
When I asked him about his temporary house in the transit camp, he asked us whether we have visited the camp and saw its inhuman conditions. Also, he pointed out that over the years, people visited the colony, for the services of dancers, singers, puppeteers, and drummers, easily because it was on the main road. It was easy to approach the place. But now nobody is going to bother visiting the new transit camp which was five kilometers away from the main road.
According to the development plan, the residents would move back to the new high raised flats after two years. When I asked him about this, he asked me back, 'Can you assure us that we will get our house back?' He alleged that the private company, Raheja, was paying the DDA, police, and everyone else involved because Kathputli is a costly real estate area.
He was very hesitant to give us his name. He gave us his mobile number and requested us to see whether it was possible for us to arrange him a performance in our college. 'I can even do it for free' he said. Here was an artist who hasn't performed for over a year and dying slowly but ready to perform for 'free'. The puppeteer offered us chai before we departed from the place but declined. It was already getting late and we were yet to cover the transit camp. We asked directions and waved goodbye.

(It is the views of the author. It has no bearing on/nor a reflection of the editorial policy of democracy live).

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