Mission Delhi – Jagdish Bhatt, Paharganj
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His right elbow is resting on the café table, his left palm is cupping his chin. His gaze is directed towards the crowded street. He is totally immobile. The table is empty except for a coffee glass, a cigarette pack, and eye glasses.
On being asked just what is going on in his mind, he shifts a little, straightens his back, reshuffles the objects on the table, and again freezes into motionlessness, immersed in thoughts. “What will happen next, what will become of life,” he mumbles. The tone of his voice makes it clear that he is asking these questions rhetorically and isn’t expecting answers.
Puppeteer Jagdish Bhatt is sitting by a street-facing café in backpackers’ Paharganj. He has seen a great deal of the world. “I have travelled in most of Europe as a guest puppeteer to present my shows,” he says. “I have seen England, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Spain…” The demands for his shows abroad declined long before the coronavirus pandemic and “now I am thinking when will I get a chance to again go to foreign.”
The talk veers towards Jagdish’s search for a permanent home. He provides the background. “My father was a puppeteer. My grandfather was a puppeteer, but Delhi is not our hometown. My parents came from Amethi in UP, although I was born in Delhi. I grew up in Kathputli Colony, where I no longer live.”
He is talking of a city locality that was the address of a great number of “kalakar-log like street artists and performers” but “we had to move out some years ago due to the area’s redevelopment.” Many of those artists, including him and his family, he says, were given new homes in Anand Parbat, some distance away. He is still struggling to find a footing there, he says. “Earlier the entire Delhi knew that we kalakar-log could be found in Kathputli Colony, and people would go there when they wanted performers for kathputli show, magic show, Rajasthani folk dance show, lok geet show, Punjabi bhangra show… but nobody comes to Anand Parbat looking for us.”
Even so, Jagdish does find occasional puppet show bookings from schools in Gurgaon and Faridabad. He also sells puppets to tourists in Paharganj.
Lighting a cigarette, he looks at the street traffic, muttering, “I’m searching for a new place to live, a new city… may be in Europe? But life there is too lonely… where can I go?”
[This is the 568th portrait of Mission Delhi project]