CHATLINE R. Bhanumathi has given a new colour to her passion for puppetry. She speaks to ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY about combining entertainment with social issues

R. Bhanumathi and I have high tea with a lively bunch; there’s kurta-pyjama clad Tinku, big-eyed Makku, fluorescent Zippy, the amicable Khan Chacha with his long beard and Curly Kavitha. As their chatter dies down, Bhanumathi, who brings them to life and runs the Pavai Centre for Puppetry, steps into the limelight.

Born and brought up in New Delhi, Bhanumathi came to Chennai in the early 1980s with her father. While she came to terms with the city’s culture and whereabouts, a friend asked her to make puppets. “I had some experience in knitting but my studies were all related to home science. But I read up and made a few puppets and sent it to her. I then went around with pictures of those puppets and people asked me to make more. It’s been 30 years now,” she smiles, as she gently places Tinku on her lap.

Puppetry soon became a passion along with her other love, wildlife. She became an education officer with the WWF and used puppetry for environment education. “Both my passions began to work together. I would conduct workshops on turtle protection, conservation issues and other environment-based topics using puppets. A puppet can be used to approach sensitive issues in a way other modes of communication can’t be. I also use puppets to sensitise children on sanitary issues as well,” she says.

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