Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Documenting Delhi

Author Tarquin Hall introduced me to an unusual Delhi slum in The Case of the Man who Died Laughing (2010):
The slum, one of Delhi's largest, was inhabited almost entirely by street entertainers: puppeteers, snake charmers, bear handlers, musicians, acrobats, troupes of actors who performed plays with social messages, the odd story-teller, and jadoo wallahs. But the view through the scratched, convex windshield was depressingly familiar: a sooty ghetto of ramshackle brick houses smothered in cow dung patties. Plastic sheeting, chunks of concrete, and twisted scrap metal were draped over roofs. Canvas tents were pitched amidst heaps of garbage where filthy, half-clad children defecated and played.
Hall went on to describe the incident in such vivid detail that it was a clear, crisp movie playing in my mind- in fact, when trying to recall where I had previously come across the slum, I had to discard the idea of a movie/ video, it seemed that real. Anyways, and again, credit to Tarquin Hall, I was so enthralled by the book that I forgot my intention to google the slum: he never even mentioned its name, only that it's in Shadipur.

It's called the Kathputli Colony, where wandering magicians and entertainers settled sometime in the 1950s, on public land which was then barren, but now prime property, courtesy of the Metro.

The name seems familiar-ish now that I know what it is, as if it was always on the edges of my consciousness. I'm sure I've come across it before.

This post was prompted by this brilliant trailer (and appeal) for Tomorrow We Disappear, a documentary by American filmmakers Jim Goldblum and Adam Weber.

The slum land now belongs to a private developer, so it's most probably in its last days, soon to become another entry in the long list of lost traditions and quirks that made Delhi Delhi. I'm not saying that slums are good, and need to be conserved. But I certainly think that the art and culture of this particular slum needs to be saved- or at least, remembered.

Jim and Adam are attempting to do exactly that- their movie will document Kathputli Colony as it is today. (As far as I know, it does not aim at stopping the eviction.)

The clips they have are beautiful. Also, I love the music they chose.

This project is similar to HandpaintedType, by which graphic designer Hanif Kureshi is attempting to preserve the tradition of street-painting. You know, the painters who sit on roadsides and make posters/ banners/ car number plates. Before watching this video I never fully appreciated their skill. All I had were semi-curious half thoughts about how exactly they do it (especially since I've been required to draw guidelines for my text) - do they draw guides, do they use rulers, do they make a first draft, do they outline and and then fill-in later? Now I know, some-what.

Painter Kureshi from hanif kureshi on Vimeo.
Came across Tomorrow We Disappear on Kickstarter, which is an awesomely brilliant platform where creative-types can get funding for their ideas and projects. (In a seemingly-random-but-obviously-preordained coincidence, Kickstarter was mentioned in three of the blogs I follow, all on the same day. Crazy.) Discovered so many interesting and quirky and intelligent and crazy (good and bad) and so-obvious-why-didn't-someone-think-of-it-before ideas! Here are some of my favourites:

  1. Ruler Pencils, rulers on pencils (product design) (!)
  2. The Present, an annual clock (product design)
  3. Typographic wall calender (graphic design)
  4. The Montserrat typeface (typography) (another attempt at documenting the intangible culture of a place before it's lost)
  5. Romo, the smartphone robot (technology) (so crazy and cute!)
How is it that expats/ foreigners/ tourists sometimes (often) know your city better than you do? Tarquin Hall is a British journalist, Jim and Adam are American, and recently I (with Delhi Dallying and friends) participated in a surprisingly tough Delhi quiz hosted by another British journalist, Sam Miller, and which was (surprise!) won by other foreigners (of unknown nationality).
Also, Happy Diwali!


  1. heyy.
    you got your facts wrong..
    expats din't win. The winners were a bunch of well read Indian office-goers (one of them even wore a saree :P). they were very Delhi!

  2. Yeah, I remembered the sari-woman winning, just thought she came with expats. It was hard to see, then, considering the lighting. Anyways, thanks!