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The Kathputli Colony

  • Shadipur Depot

    Shadipur Depot

    A familiar sight upon stepping off the New Delhi metro at Shadipur Depot emerges from the shadows of a narrow corridor between two homes. The area is home to the Kathputli colony, a slum-dwelling group of puppeteers, magicians, acrobats and musicians descended from India's famous traveling Rajisthani artists. Props, tools, instruments for performances, and in this case, a mask, wander through the slum with their owners, as though they were extensions of the performer's bodies.
  • Dancing and Waiting

    Dancing and Waiting

    A woman of the Kathputli colony dances during a late-evening wedding ceremony in the Shadipur slum. Crowded, squalid living conditions fail to break the vibrant spirit of Shadipur residents. Sporadic song and dance is not uncommon in the 10-acre slum. Home to a tight-knit community of nearly 3,000 families of performers, excuses to party are abundant. However, reasons to be nervous also have their place here. In 2008, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) announced a slum redevelopment plan for the Shadipur area. Since then, the project has been repeatedly delayed, but when the ground breaks the Kathputli colony's brick homes will be demolished.
  • Bath on a Balcony

    Bath on a Balcony

    A Kathputli resident bathes on the upper level of his home at Shadipur. Basic commodities such as running water and reliable electricity are uncommon for Shadipur residents. The planned development includes three floors of a new high rise building to be designated for current Kathputli families. The lack of access to water, electricity, and secure housing will be lost, but residents fear that their community's culture and togetherness will be lost as well.
  • Tomorrow's Bread

    Tomorrow's Bread

    After sending her children to bed, a woman rolls dough and bakes bread on the concrete outside of her Shadipur home. The activities and living conditions that seem primitive to outsiders--open sewage drains, cooking on the ground, and showering in the open are a few examples--are often stubbornly held-onto traditional values in the eyes of the Kathputli colony. For centuries, the colony was always on the road, making due with what that day's landscape had to offer. Then, in the 1960's, crowds at traditional stops became sparse. Life on the road was no longer viable, and a tent city was established at Shadipur. Soon, permanent brick homes were built in lieu of the tents. The way of life is cherished by some residents, if for no other reason than to maintain a connection their heritage. "There is a smell of us here. There is a soul of us here," Kailash Bhatt, a puppeteer and musician said. When their homes are bulldozed, he said the last practical environment for their traditional creative community will be lost as well.
  • Family Magic

    Family Magic

    Nieces, nephews, sons and daughters help Jafri Khan summon the large marble that would appear in this volunteer's mouth upon removing the cloth from his face at the Khan clan's Shadipur dwelling. For centuries, the Kathputli colony's venue of choice for their art has been the street, but street performances have recently been deemed illegal by Delhi authorities. Unless the performer is willing to bribe police, they are forced to work within the confines of their slum. Occasionally, they are hired to appear at middle class school functions or birthday parties, but in such environments, the absence of the sporadic and whimsical nature of the performances is felt.
  • New Tricks

    New Tricks

    Altamas Khan, son of world renowned magician Ishamuddin Khan, practices a new magic trick in which umbrellas appear to materialize from thin air and burst from his hands. Altamas is the second oldest of six children in Ishamuddin's family. All of them have a strong handle on magic performance, but Altamas and his older sister, Jasmine, have come to realize that there may not be a future in it. As India has westernized and modernized, public interest in traditional Indian art has drastically waned. "Today, people get their entertainment from Bollywood," Altamas admitted. "They don't need us anymore."
  • Securing Security

    Securing Security

    Amaan Khan helps his grandfather, Babban Khan, paste photographs of Kathputli colony families to DDA contracts in the Khan clan's Shadipur home. After the slum redevelopment plans were announced, suspicions arose that upon completion, authorities would never act on their promise to provide new homes for current Shadipur residents. To ease worries, each family was photographed in front of their current dwelling so that visual proof of their existence could be included with these contracts. The contracts serve a dual purpose. For Shadipur residents, they secure legal documentation of the DDA's promise to them. For the DDA, they will prevent freeloaders from claiming that they are owed flats in the new development.
  • Where the Wind Takes Them

    Where the Wind Takes Them

    From the roof of his family's home, Amaan Khan, 8, flies a kite that he made from discarded plastic. Amaan may be part of the last generation of an ancient community of people who built livelihoods around their ability to spread joy throughout India by way of their art, performances and storytelling. Today, few certainties exist for any Shadipur residents, but the youth are particularly void of them. "What my grandfather taught my father, and what my father taught me, allowed us to make a living, to support our families," said Ishamuddin, Amaan's father, before giving a magic performance at the birthday party of a middle-class family's daughter. He paused, and his eyes focused on his oldest son, Altamas, who was painting animals on children's faces on the other side of the room. "My children enjoy magic, the puppets, all these things, but they will need to find something else to do. There is very little time left for us to live off this."