This Hyderabad puppeteer has bagged a fellowship to manage waste and help the needy

If you are from Hyderabad and like puppetry, then you must have surely heard about Padmini Rangarajan. Her latest project is quite different from everything else she has taken up though. Check it out
With puppets | (Pic: STEPARC)
With puppets | (Pic: STEPARC)

There is so much Padmini Rangarajan has done to advance the cause of puppetry and storytelling, especially among students and teachers, that it's difficult to ascertain the extent. But for the sake of introductions, I suppose we'll have to try. 

Since her introduction to puppetry in 2005, thanks to her father who is from a traditional performance art background, Padmini has in turn introduced puppetry to at least 8,000 teachers, at least that's the figure the last time she checked. And as far as students go, the number is beyond computational abilities. Most know her best for starting Sphoorthi Theatre for Educational Puppetry, Arts and Crafts (STEPARC), launched in 2005. But why are we talking to one of India's best-known puppeteers today? Because she has bagged the Swachhta Saarthi Fellowship, started by the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India under its Waste to Wealth Mission recently and is now determined to do something for underprivileged women.

In the making

While online classes were going on in full flow, Padmini started working on 'the idea' that got her the fellowship only in July last year. "Actually, it all started during one of my puppetry sessions. I was talking about environmental awareness and one of my students asked me what I'm doing for the environment. And that really got me thinking," says the artist who was born in Hubballi but has been in Hyderabad since 1998. So the idea she pitched for the fellowship was putting kitchen waste to good use by making incense (dhoop) cones. Instead of simply discarding the peels of fruits and veggies like onion, garlic, orange, carrot, and tea or coffee powder, what Padmini meticulously does is sun-dry them for days together, sometimes three or sometimes more. After every bit of moisture is drawn from them, she powders them and mixes this proportionately with sawdust and coconut fibre. "I throw in some essential oils even though I know it's expensive and the process of drying starts all over again, right after I shape them into cones," says the master of educational puppetry. After about three to four days, depending on how merciful the climate gods are, it is ready to use. We hear that for some time now, these cones have been in demand among Padmini's neighbours, so much so that they even started handing over their kitchen waste to her and for good reason. Why this idea works is because there is no additional purchase involved, in fact, it puts our waste to brilliant use. "The challenge is it takes more than one matchstick to get lit, but I am working on that," says the powerhouse of a woman who will turn 50 next year.

With Gopu and Popu 

As a Faculty Trainer and a Resource Person with Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT), Hyderabad, Guest Expert Speaker at The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, and many others, the fact that Padmini is a pro in the classroom setting is a given. So how is she adapting to online classes, we wonder. Very well, it turns out. "That's because I have ample help from Gopu, his father Popu and his friend Lopu," she says with childlike glee. These three are the latest additions to the vast puppet family that Padmini has created. Gopu is the funny guy who does funny things and makes kids giggle. But he is very demanding too, mind you. He loves bananas and mangoes and constantly asks for them, even in between classes. It is these antics that help Padmini keep the online classes light yet effective. "Even in between classes, children ask me what Gopu is up to. These techniques help in keeping things interesting," says Padmini. Take it from her, people, she would know!

How many kinds of puppets are there?
- Glove puppet: Each finger can be a different puppet or the whole hand could be one — the possibilities are endless
- Stick puppet: Stirrers, ice cream sticks or even wooden cutlery, plus some glue, and you have your stick puppet
- Paper bag puppet: You know those brown bags? Just stick on googly eyes and draw a face and there you have it
- Shadow puppets: Just ensure you have a backlit screen and silhouettes of characters, that's all you need

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