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A totally indigenous game plan

Handmade toys keep one's creative potential alive, while the hi-tech ones make automatons of us, says Brij Kaul Deepak, who calls himself a toy activist.

Deepak with his little bird.

BRIJ KAUL Deepak calls himself a "toy activist". Activist, for he believes that toys are not just things to play with, but objects that reflect India's culture and heritage. He elaborated this point at a recent lecture-demonstration at Saakshi Gallery.

The demo began with a 20-minute documentary on a 75-year-old toy maker, Battho Bai, from Gwalior. The film detailed the National Award Winner toy maker's struggle to keep alive the tradition of handmade dolls.

Said Deepak, as the film ended: "She is my guru and my inspiration. She has taught me all about Indian toys. And my aim is to popularise Indian toys, create an awareness about the interesting activities that one can develop with our own hand-made toys."

Deepak went on to show rare and impressive collection — a tiny cartwheel from the Indus Valley civilisation, a wooden dancing milkman that can be used to teach physics, and a few toys made by rural craftsmen. He also had a toy that was made from cow dung.

As Deepak began his interesting demo, the place seemed to suddenly become a classroom — an interesting one for a change. With an emphasis on interaction, he asked questions and elicited answers from young and old alike. All the while, his hands were deftly creating something simple and unique with material such as broomsticks, bamboo sticks, and paper.

The wooden milkman and the cartwheel from Indus Valley (foreground).

First came the "magic flower" which bloomed out of an empty paper pipe. Next came the paper bird which could suddenly fly, then the dancing dolls... The room came alive with toys that were created in seconds. There was nothing extraordinary about the toys, but it was the technique used to make them and the games that he created with each that fascinated the crowd. With each toy, there were little lessons to be learnt either about the colour, texture, or the environment along with language and number games.

"Our toys are also ecofriendly as the material used are vegetable colours, palm leaves, and paper," says the man who has travelled to Europe with his toys, and has used his creations as cultural ambassadors of sorts. He says: "Always use material that is available. So there is no excuse to stop your mind from being creative, and it also makes each toy look different." He played several games all the while, praising "hand technology".

But will these toys last faced, as they are, with hi-tech, plastic ones? "Of course, they will. See the kind of games we can play with our Indian handmade toys," he asserts. Our traditional dolls reflect a culture, a lifestyle, he added.

Deepak is in the City to conduct workshops in some schools and organisations to revive and popularise Indian toys, and is on a mission to start a doll museum in every state. "But this can happen only when people also come and join my mission," he says.

The toy-maker has made 500 dolls for the International Year of the Child, as part of a UNICEF initiative. Tuning into the present times and its demands, he now also makes personalised "3-D funny sculptures" on request. All one has to do is send in a photograph to Saakshi Gallery. Well-known cartoonist, Mario Miranda, will make a caricature of it, and Deepak will depict it in a miniature sculpture. "We will even make a family portrait," says Deepak.

Those interested may e-mail him at or check out his website


Photos: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

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