India is known for many things: color, art, spirituality and poverty. An artistic tradition that showcases all of these is puppetry. While I was in India studying art and culture, I did an independent study in Rajasthani Folk Puppetry. The practice is called Kathputli, which is the Hindi word for puppet or wooden doll. During my study of Kathputli, I lived in Jaipur. For the first 16 days I took puppetry classes. In these classes I learned how to make and manipulate puppets. My puppetry teachers were Ratan and his wife, Ratani.
Along with learning about the puppets, I learned about the lives of the puppeteers. The puppeteers are a part of one of the lowest classes. They live in the slums. The area they live in is called Kathputli Nagar, which translates to Puppet Village. During my time there I made two trips to the Kathputli Nagar. When we went it was a big event. We were introduced to their neighbors and family. They preformed for us, danced with us and made us delicious Rajasthani chai.
It was amazing to see that these people who had trouble finding food from meal to meal offered us drinks and lunch. In talking with my homestay brother, who served as translator, I said that I was shocked how hospitable and giving they were. He said “Well, they are receiving something from you – respect.”
I was shocked to realize the reality of being in a lower caste, where the only thing they can give is hospitality and all they want in return is respect.