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76-YO Grandmom Gives Makeovers to Barbie Dolls to Recreate Indian Mythological Tales

S Devaki decided to utilise the spare time she had during the lockdown to recreate beautiful scenes from Indian mythological tales using old Barbie dolls.

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There is never a right age to do what you desire — a lesson that keeps getting reiterated after reading a plethora of such stories.

Whether it is the over 100-year-old grandmother who paints on sarees or, in this case, 76-year-old S Devaki who is recreating Indian mythological tales using old Barbie dolls — the list of senior citizens who inspire us to live life fully is endless.

Devaki’s son, Abhay, an architect based in Kerala, describes his mother as a ‘voracious reader.’ He says it was all the reading that she did that inspired her to recreate some of those literary themes into beautiful scenes. The Better India caught up with Devaki who speaks about why she started doing this and the happiness that it has brought to her.

Devaki starts by introducing herself, tells me her husband’s name, Sukumaran Achary, and even the name of her home — Naalukettil. She also speaks very fondly of her two offspring.

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Devaki with her family during Onam.

The BSc graduate in Chemistry chose to be a homemaker and look after her children. Her son, Abhay Kumar, says, “All her energy went into ensuring that my sister and I studied well. I am glad that we have been able to justify her stint as a homemaker.” Devaki says that she was always interested in arts and crafts but only looked at it as something she would take up in her free time. She says, “While the children were growing up, there wasn’t much time on hand so everything was put on hold.”

“As a parent, my sole aim was to be able to give the children maximum time for them to be able to realise their potential,” says Devaki. Despite everything, her enthusiasm to learn and do things never dimmed. She continued to immerse herself in literature and found that to be a great source of learning. Once her children were married, she dedicated her time to her grandchildren and, in a sense, the cycle repeated itself. But she doesn’t regret any of it.

“Now that the grandchildren are also grown up I realised that I had entered my retirement phase, and that was when I started looking for things to do. Somehow, my childhood came back to me and I recollected all the handiwork I would do and decided to try my hands at it again,” she shares, adding that the 2020 lockdown provided her with the much-needed free time.

“The lockdown was a boon in one way because no one could step out for anything and that meant that I could pace myself and do things at leisure without having to worry about anyone else’s schedule,” she adds. She found some of her younger granddaughters’ Barbie dolls lying around the house. That’s when an idea struck her.

Giving Barbie Dolls a Makeover

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Barbie dolls recreated to be Shakuntala.

“I did not pick up the doll with the intention of doing this, it just happened,” she says with a smile. The first project she worked on was the ‘Brides of Kerala’, in which she has used three Barbie dolls to depict three different communities in Kerala. “I decided to use the dolls to depict the brides of the three major religious communities in Kerala – Christians, Hindu, Muslim. I used material that was lying around at home to make their sarees and jewellery. I did not have to spend anything additional on putting their looks together. Since all the Barbie dolls have golden hair, I had to ensure that I painted it black,” she says, giving them a desi touch.

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With the confidence she got from making the first set, she started experimenting with various themes. “I enjoyed making the ‘Hamsa Damayanti’ scene from the famous Ravi Varma painting. I dressed up the doll in a saree and made the swan using plaster of Paris,” she says.

She goes on to speak about the Chandalabhikshuki doll, which is a part of the poem written by Kumaran Asan. It is a poem about an untouchable beggar-woman named Chandalabhikshuki and her encounter with one of Buddha’s disciples — Upagupta.

“I enjoy thinking about the story behind each doll I make. It takes me back to all the literary work I have grown up reading,” she adds.

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Chandalabhikshuki and Upagupta

The detailing in each doll is what makes her work stand out. Whether it is colouring the hair of the doll black or making the small bouquet that the Christian bride carries in her hand, Devaki gives a lot of attention to detail. The work, by itself, requires patience and a meticulous hand. Each piece of jewellery that the doll is adorned with has to be cut with precision and since it is all made with upcycled products from home, Devaki spends a lot of time just gathering them.

She then begins to count the number of dolls she has dressed up so far, “One… two… three…I have made 16 so far and now have run out of Barbie dolls.”

While she has not been making these with the intention of selling them, she says she would be happy to take on orders, as long as the doll is provided to her. “It was never meant to be a business but a passion that I happened to rekindle,” she concludes.

You can reach Devaki via her Instagram page, here.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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