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Pulling the right strings

Pulling the right strings
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First Published: Sun, Sep 19 2010. 09 41 PM IST

Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Updated: Sun, Sep 19 2010. 09 41 PM IST
Name: Mohammed Shameem
Occupation: Puppet theatre / puppetry
Father’s Name: Mohammed Shamruddin
Father’s Occupation: Carpentry
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
W Somerset Maugham may have written that it’s the string of money with which destiny directs the motions of its puppets. Mohammed Shameem, though, decided to pull the strings of fate to his own tune.
The 23-year-old, passionate about puppetry, has trained and worked with some of the biggest names in the field—Dadi Pudumjee, Anurupa Roy and Kapil Dev. He runs his own group called “KuchKuch Puppet Theatre” for children for the last two years.
Having done shows all over India, and in places abroad such as Russia, Austria and Singapore, Shameem also trained to make his own puppets that are now in great demand. But his journey to this point was not easy.
He ran away from home in Deoghar’s Paharpur village at the age of 12, to escape the tedium of education in a madrassa and the drudgery of the life that he anticipated.
He reached Delhi in 1996 aboard the Udyan Abha Toofan Express with Rs500. “Once the money ran out, I survived on water for the next two-three days,” he remembers.
Stranded, hungry, and living on a railway station, he accepted a job in Meerut as domestic help, working on a farm and even at a brick kiln for the next three years with no salary but just food, clothing and not infrequent beatings.
He recounts his journey dressed in the signature puppeteers’ wear—a black shirt and denims. His ready smile and sparkling eyes betray neither regret, nor any sense of loss for his childhood, but fond remembrance. He escaped back to Delhi in 1999 where he was brought to the Salaam Baalak Trust’s “Apna Ghar” for homeless children. He resumed education at the Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, Paharganj, while also training in theatre, painting and puppetry.
“After leaving the trust in 2005, I started with Rs3,000 for all my expenses. My first show was at the British School in Delhi, and though the money has started coming now, I incur the entire production cost of my shows from my earnings alone.”
Puppetry is more love than labour for Shameem, who earned not only public appreciation, but also his family’s regard for his work. “They had given me up for dead for (the) years that I was away, but today I am supporting them financially.”
Bhavna Raghuvanshi
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First Published: Sun, Sep 19 2010. 09 41 PM IST