Exactly when the transformation happened, no one knows for sure. One day, they were these bright young things, dressed in their best of fineries, performing to their best of abilities. Princesses all, and valiant Rajput Kings and marauding Mughals and Singers and Concubines. High-strung they were, with violent moods and rustic romance in equal measure. The very next day, things changed, the warmth of wood replaced by the cold of Plaster of Paris and the faces turned emotionless, the action contrite. No more were they the much-sought top performers.
They were still around, wanted perhaps for a different purpose, drama was replaced by despondence. Hanged were they from the nearest nail, no more the deft touch of a caring puppeteer for them. Little children tossed them around carelessly, indulged lovingly by their mentors.
The kathputlis, in short were at that critical junction in their career called mid-career crisis, yearning for relevance with great difficulty and little success.
Not that the kathputlis did not see this coming, they did. After all were they not the ones who knew history better than anyone else, and culture and valour, and survival. It was just that they thought that someone would care. No-one did.
All the world was still a stage, but the actors had changed and the script had changed and the setting had changed. In this new setting, the kathputli was just a prop. An expensive one.
What went wrong!
One day, this once handsome kathputli, let’s call him John Smith for want of a better name, said to this other, once ravishing kathputli, let’s call her Jane Doe, “What did we do wrong, Jane? Did we not re-skill ourselves? Did we lack in potential? Did we not perform to the best of our abilities? What did we do wrong!”
Jane, the sensitive soul that she was, just said “let it go John, just let it go.”
And John said, in a quivering voice, “I don’t hold the strings Jane, I never did.”