By Josie Harvey:
Darting through the narrow alleys of Delhi slums, you’ll find grinning children laughing, playing, splashing and hanging amidst the piles of garbage, pools of sewage, swarms of flies and rusty tin rooftops.
The Kathputli Colony slum in western Delhi boasts the world’s largest settlement of street performers, shedding light on its namesake – the traditional Rajasthani art of puppetry.
The community is made up of magicians, snake charmers, acrobats, singers, traditional herbal healers and puppeteers – none of which are particularly lucrative professions in poverty stricken India. Disregarding their hard-knock-lives, the children of the colony appear to be born performers, dancing across rooftops, yelling out little snippets of English, chasing outsiders through the streets and demanding photographs again and again.
“Photo! Photo! Photo!”
The colony was formed when folk artists from Rajasthan trekked to Delhi in the 1950s, setting up camp in this area of western Delhi. The temporary homes eventually transformed into the permanent, cramped, brick-and-mud huts linked by dark, narrow alleyways that characterise today’s Kathputli Colony slums.
The shrieks of laughter and mischievous grins of the Kathputli Colony children light up the otherwise grimy streets.
A most prominent constant throughout the colony is the closeness and importance of family.
The joyous demeanours of the Kathputli kids against the confronting backdrop of their daily realities brings to mind a lyric from the Wombats’ song, Let’s Dance to Joy Division.
“Celebrate the irony, everything is going wrong but we’re so happy.”