YOUNG WORLD

A date with dolls

Kathakali performers from Kerala.

Kathakali performers from Kerala.  

Psychologists say that a doll gives a sense of security to the child. And this need for a doll may resurface at a later stage.

K. Shankar Pillai, cartoonist and editor of Shankar's Weekly, found his interest in dolls rekindled during the early 1950s when he was gifted a Hungarian doll by the Hungarian Ambassador. Shankar was fascinated by that costume doll and he began collecting similar dolls from countries he visited.

He often held exhibitions for poor children. At one exhibition in Delhi, among the hundreds of visitors were the then Prime Minister Nehru accompanied by Indira Gandhi. Indira was inspired and together with Shankar set up an international museum for dolls.

Nomadic singers from Turkmenistan.

Nomadic singers from Turkmenistan.  

When the Children's Book Trust, founded by Shankar in 1957, was getting ready its building on the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi, a portion of the first floor was set apart for the doll museum. The museum was opened only in 1965 — a year after the demise of Pandit Nehru.

Several embassies and diplomatic missions in Delhi gifted dolls to the museum. Visiting dignitaries like Madame Tito, Queen Frederika of Greece, the Queen of Thailand, the sister of Shah of Iran, the wives of Presidents of Mexico and Indonesia and many others gifted dolls representing their respective nations. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi also contributed from their collection.

From Shakar's doll workshop... Santa Claus.

From Shakar's doll workshop... Santa Claus.  

The museum has, between 1965 and 1987, added 5000 more dolls from over 80 countries.

From Russia with love.

From Russia with love.  

Most of these handmade dolls are of clay, cloth, wood, bone, leather and straw. Soviet dolls are made from twigs, Eskimo dolls from sealskin and African dolls from wood and feathers.

The most prominent displays are a 250-year-old doll from Switzerland, dolls from the Queen's collection (U.K.), scenes from the Ramayana (Thailand), Kandy Perhara festival (Sri Lanka) and characters from a ballet (South Korea).

Riding through the snow... an Eskimo child.

Riding through the snow... an Eskimo child.  

This museum also runs a "clinic" for "sick" dolls, where rare deteriorating dolls are given a face lift. The world may some day forget the caustic cartoons of Shankar, but these smiling dolls would never fade from our memory because within each of us lurks a child...

A Bhill tribal from Bastar in Madhya Pradesh.

A Bhill tribal from Bastar in Madhya Pradesh.  

Text and pictures by RABINDRA SAMEERAN

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