Founder of Kayakalp – Ria Golecha
Incharge of creating a strategic plan for Kayakalp
Kayakalp leverages the traditional art form of puppetry to disseminate awareness on socially relevant themes, market products, and ideas, and transcend behavioural change to the masses while empowering 14 underprivileged artists living in Kathputli Colony, New Delhi by quadrupling their incomes.
Kayakalp helps a group of puppeteers residing in Kathputli Colony, by modernizing their art form, and linking the gap between them and the corporate houses, government, etc, and spreading socially relevant messages through the art form of puppetry.
An early morning flight is not the best thing to take when you haven’t slept the whole night and you know you have a long day of learning, capturing insights ahead. What’s worse is a co-passenger snoring next to you with a mission to crush all hope of catching some sleep. But I was excited, to meet this twenty-something inspiring girl in the scorching heat of Delhi on March 30, 2018.
There was some permitted air circus for 45 additional minutes for reasons best known to the pilot. Delhi’s pollution filled, almost non-breathable air (as told by news agencies) welcomed me, but it felt nice. Delhi is my home close to home! I took a cab and started off for my rendezvous with the GAP Intensive Changemaker Ria Golecha and her initiative Kayakalp.
Shadipur – Artist Colony
I met Ria at the Shadipur Metro station and together we took an e-rickshaw to the tin shed colony meant for the artists who once defined what performance arts meant in India, apart from the now prevalent song, dance, and drama. The old ‘Kathputli Colony’ has been razed down to make way for a sprawling mall. Cool, well-lit, fancy expanse is a requirement today in Delhi, but there is a reality in the new colony built for the displaced community that needs more impetus. They could do well if instead of tin sheds, tiled roofs could have been laid to give the residents little respite from the scorching heat of Delhi; if street lights could have been installed in the colony of over 5000 people to help maneuver themselves, vehicles, cattle, and many more things when darkness fell, and slightly more hygienic state of life could have been attempted to give these artists a liveable stay in this almost unliveable colony.
While we walked into the bylanes of the colony where chaos was the only order, Ria gave me a vivid introduction to the artists and their lives. These artists are traditional string puppeteers, who have inherited their art from their parents and others in the family. We met Ravi, a tall, dark-bearded man in his 30s and one of the lead puppeteer. He walked us to his home, a tiny room, neatly arranged and getting filled with the summer heat. His 7-month-old daughter Ria (named after Ria Golecha) slept peacefully unaffected by our conversation.
Kayakalp was established in 2012 by the Shri Ram College of Commerce, students. Ravi and Raju started interacting with the then student body who wanted to provide them platforms for performance to keep the art alive. Since then Kayakalp has come a long way, while the artists are the same, the art form has seen a slow death, “I haven’t taken out the string puppets from their place of rest in a suitcase, in the last 2 years” says A hand puppet Kathputli Colony – GAP Raju with a deep twinge of sadness in his tone. Ravi the older artist added, “my father was given the national award by President Abdul Kalam Azad for his contribution to Indian art form, but awards don’t bring food; they do bring some momentary happiness.”
Ria took over Kayakalp about 2 years back and since then there has been no looking back. A girl with demure features and presence, she is the motivation for Ravi and Raju and other artists to continue performing. A dancer herself and passionate about performance art, she is determined to give this group of artists better income opportunities. Ria has been relentlessly reaching out to various experts for upskilling of the artists to match the current demands of clients. She says, “most ask for muppets and Japanese hand shadow puppets, our artists were struggling to find their place among others who have left the original art form and moved to newer art forms to earn better livelihood”.
Ria and her team are on a constant lookout for experts in the new artforms from across India to train the Kayakalp artists. The artists have brilliantly picked up some new art forms and have since amalgamated the old with the new art form and come up with some refreshing performances. In the last one year, they have delivered 1150 performances across 8 states in India. Some of the major clients have been Delhi Metro Corporation and Doordarshan.
The way forward The day ended over soothing glasses of cold coffee at the oldest Indian Coffee House in Delhi. We were joined by Tarun the feisty Intensive Leader who is truly committed to supporting Ria in achieving the goal she has set for Kayakalp. The evening sun was still ablaze as we discussed the exciting, transformational journey for Ria, the artists, and GAP. The goal is to give 100 artists an opportunity to upgrade their skills and earn a better livelihood. With inputs from the Intensive ‘A’ team, Ria has developed strategies that will help Kayakalp to measure progress in phases of artist upskilling, stability through effective business development and sustainability by getting regular work from clients and empanelments. While this requires a lot of hard work and the road is long and getting longer; Ria is continuing to fight all doubts and shaping up to be a leader who is changing the design and destiny of Indian puppetry.
Blog post by Parul – GAP