Phool Chand Bhatt pursues his ancestral profession of making puppets for both sale and to put up shows. He lives in Jaipur, but travels to wherever opportunity calls. Like to the Pushkar Camel Fair where he sets up shop for a fortnight every year.
He is one of the many who take a shop in the market for Rs. 5,000-10,000; these would typically be tailoring or grocery shops rest of the year. He sells his puppets starting at Rs. 100 a pair going up to a few thousand. The expensive ones come with proper strings for all parts to move. He also has some very old ones: he collects these from other performers in villages who have decided to give up this profession. There are many he buys for 30-35 Euros to sell for 100-150 Euros to foreigners.
He belongs to a caste pronounced Bhaat Katputhliwale, the second word meaning those is deal in puppets (kathputli is Hindi word for puppets). But there are too many me-toos, with all kinds of people dealing in the same. So how is he different? While others can make the ordinary puppets, only traditional artisans like him have the skill to make those that can move with strings. And only people like him know how to put up shows.
What kinds of shows does he do? In the past, most of these were stories about the valour of Amar Singh Rathore, a brave warrior of Rajasthan. But they are now commissioned by the Government to spread the message of family planning, AIDS, Jal Chetna or awareness about water issues and other social issues. Some puppets are dressed to look like nurses and doctors where relevant. Organizations like the Life Insurance Corporation and Punjab National Bank also use puppet shows to spread awareness about savings and managing one’s money.
Unfortunately, recession and terrorist activities have resulted in 2009 being a bad year for Rajasthan tourism, and Bhatt said he has been in a bad mood; he will be lucky to recover the expenses of setting up this shop. The best money is to be made when he gets a stall at Dilli Haat, the handicrafts market in Delhi. Unfortunately, there are thousands of applicants for getting space for 13 days at a time. But when one is lucky to get one, profit can easily be up to Rs. 50,000 after paying expenses and daily rent of Rs. 700.
Bhatt is available for puppet shows and also arranges for other performers like Bhawai, Kalbaliya Dance, Kachchi Ghori, Fair Dance, Steel Walker, Long Man, Charlie Joker and Magic Show according to his card. Want to book a show with him? Call him at 0141-2171709, +91.9828319121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. (How does he access his email? He usually approaches a foreigner in a cybercafé to open his account and read it for him; it may thus be weeks before he replies to you.)