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How Hyderabad’s Nori Art and Puppet Centre will keep kids engaged at home amid the pandemic

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“This difficult time of COVID-19 can be turned into a family bonding time with puppets,” says Ratnamala Nori of Hyderabad-based Nori Art and Puppet Centre. For the past two months, the 69-year-old former teacher and puppeteer has been reaching out to puppet lovers through her YouTube channel. From some old puppet shows on Panchatantra tales to puppet making sessions with newspapers and plastic balls, the sessions promise to be of interest to children and adults.

Created during the lockdown period, Alan’s Big Scary Teeth was a special puppet show made with throw away boxes and papers. In the ‘How to make an instant ball puppet’ session, Ratnamala teaches how to bring a puppet to life with things available at home — a plastic ball, bright coloured cloth, a few rubber bands and some decorative material.

Based on a Panchatantra tale, the puppet show When Mice Ate Iron tells the story of a rich merchant Natuka and how he teaches his friend Lakshmana a lesson. Ratnamala’s voiceover for Natuka keeps the children enthralled. “Simple lessons in life can be narrated easily through stories,” shares Ratnamala, who had to up her online presence during the pandemic. “I wasn’t creating much for my existing YouTube channel, but as there were many enquiries, I took it up,” she says.

Her workshops for teachers gave them an insight into the world of puppets. When some teachers were unable to attend, they requested her to put it on YouTube. “Everyone loved the online workshop but that was also the time when we were getting used to Zoom classes, so we had to take another session to complete it,” she recalls adding how she learnt to be more systematic online. “Unlike a physical workshop, communication in an online workshop is through signs; participants have to keep their systems on mute and the workshop facilitator has to be alert to follow signs. For example a thumbs-up if you have understood, show the palm if you have finished, and so on.”

Simple paper cat puppet

The Lonely Elephant was a story where simple puppets were created with paper folded in an easy four-cups Origami fold. A basic design of the same puppet fold helped create other animals — rabbit, deer and tiger. “Origami is simple and easy to make without much glue. One can make these with colour paper too. I adapt the story depending on the style of puppet,” she says.

When children are cooped up in their homes, these sessions can create delightful family time. “These sessions are for teachers, parents and children. Also, unless accompanied by adults, the little ones cannot make these on their own. It is like a family thing; I was happy to see so many of them participating in this family workshop. My demonstrations made them so happy and they kept asking me for more. I was lazy and not doing much,” she laughs.

Enjoying this online stint, Ratnamala’s son is providing technical support . She says, “I make sure I create with things mostly available at home as I am also running short of material.”

Now she is working on another story and wants her grandchildren in the U.S. to record voices for it.

(Follow Ratnamala Nori’s Facebook page and YouTube channel for more fun with puppets)

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