disappearing act – kathputli

They had never been able to kill all the artists with poverty, war or even drugs. Some always survived. They wandered through the towns, dancing and juggling on the streets, living in disrespectful squalor, performing slight-of-hand tricks and small cons that separated the gullible from their coin.

There were always violent and dirty places where no one else wanted to live, and there the artists would congregate, and share cheap liquor and food, and tell funny stories of how they cheated this one, and escaped death at the hands of that one, and practice their tricks. But they also took care to have children and care for them and school them in their colorful arts: puppetry and mask making, music, dance – as well as rope and nail tricks, snake charming, and acrobatics, all that was left of the ancient magic of the yoginis, who once could fly, or the swamis of the Indus Valley princes whose superbly trained, godlike bodies contained the whole universe, from hell to heaven.

This went on for perhaps a thousand years.

But then we came and taught them a new and better way to deal with artists: offer them money, offer them townhouse apartments, offer (some of) them a steady job in the shopping mall we’re going to build on this filthy spot where their slum once stood. Decent people live inside four walls, and so must they, not camp in a stinking concrete and tin warren like animals. Decent people perform work, not clever tricks to fool others into giving up their money. You don’t need to drag around a smelly, moth-eaten bear skin to perform a play – you can learn how to make videos to post on YouTube, or get a job as an actor in Bollywood, or maybe work for the Americans who make those funny cartoons. The country is changing, and you must change too. Think of your children.

They will go to school, and sit in rows, and wear uniforms, instead of practicing contortionist skills or dance steps or running like rabbits through the painted alleys thick with smoke and slick with shit and rotting fruit.

When they are no longer poor, everyone else will be poorer, but we won’t even realize it. This is the best of all possible worlds.