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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Musician-puppeteer, who performed for high and mighty, now spends days in penury

When the first lockdown was imposed last year, the family lost bookings for events and weddings, and a small stall they had at Dilli Haat had to be closed.

Written by Jignasa Sinha | New Delhi |
Updated: May 29, 2021 4:24:04 pm
Musician and puppeteer Bhagwan Das | Express Photo

Musician and puppeteer Bhagwan Das (75), adept at playing the harmonium and singing qawwalis, spends his days looking at old photos from when he toured France, Belgium, UAE and Pakistan. In his 50-year career, he has shared the stage with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in Lahore and performed in front of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at her Delhi home. In 2010, his family was invited to play Holi with the Gandhis.

Those days, though, are faint memories for Das, who now lives with his family at Baba Faridpuri Camp in Patel Nagar. A father of five, he says he is penniless and can “barely move” his hands ever since he suffered paralytic attacks. The pandemic-induced lockdowns have left the family with no source of income; his children, like him, make and sell puppets, and play various instruments.

When the first lockdown was imposed last year, the family lost bookings for events and weddings, and a small stall they had at Dilli Haat had to be closed.

The family had no option but to take loans from neighbours to buy groceries. The current lockdown, now in its sixth week, has pushed the family further into poverty, and they now rely on the Delhi government to send them ration and other essentials.

“We contacted AAP’s Raghav Chadha ji and with his help, we received groceries after a month, but we don’t want to live like this. I want to earn money again. We won’t make a lot but at least we will not be dependent on others,” said Das’s youngest son Raju (40).

This month, Das suffered two paralytic attacks and had to be rushed to a local clinic. His wife, Sarwarti, is in her 70s and can’t work either. The family said they want better treatment for Das, but with hospitals stretched with Covid cases, and their income hit, there’s not much they can do.

Das is one of several artistes whose families had to vacate Kathputli Colony in 2014 and were relocated to transit camps across Delhi.
The 75-year-old recalls coming to Delhi from Rajasthan with his father when he was young. He started playing the harmonium and singing qawwali when he was 11-12 years – first on the streets and later at theatres. He taught himself puppetry and also played khartal, dhol and other instruments.

“Our art is dying. I remember the old days when I would get calls from leaders and Chief Ministers for events and performances. I was the first in my family to visit Europe and the US. But five years ago, I fell sick and can’t move much anymore. We tried to make a living by playing instruments and singing at weddings, but the pandemic has killed our career,” said Das.

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