Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Dolls Speak

Published by Better World Publications. Co published in association with the Ecumenical 

Association of Third World Theologians - EATWOT - 2000.

The Dolls Speak;  Pp 193; Rs 450/- in India; US $ 30/- outside India

At present the book is out of print.

Introductions to 'The Dolls Speak'

1. Taken from the back side of the book cover

This book presents a collection of dolls made over a period of twenty years by Francoise Bosteels a Belgian by birth who came to India more that 35 years ago.

“The Dolls Speak. Their images speak too. They bid us listen. They speak of the common people and their every day life. They represent phases of our human condition, and facets of our domestic, social, religious and aesthetic life. They are not dolls in the dictionary sense of ‘models for children to play with’. They show us around and guide us towards a deeper awareness of the ‘other India’, the India of the excluded, the oppressed and the despised. They make problems present and challenge us to responsible intervention. We stand summoned to probe, grasp and disclose the human depths and the hidden riches of people’s daily life. These dolls urge us to join the masses in their struggle to change what ill accords with human dignity and hurts the wholeness of the human family”.

The dolls are created from the author’s real experiences in India. Born of compassion and love, “They are a part of me”, their maker tells us touchingly, “and I a part of them”.

~ Samuel Rayan

2. Taken from: book review in Vidyajyoti, a journal of theological reflection

The title “The Dolls Speak” might raise eye-brows. Is it not true of dolls what is said of the old idols, that “They have mouths, but they do not see…” (Ps 135:15)?  And how can dolls be of interest to the highest form of speech, the speech about God, ‘theology’, and therefore to a theological journal? What have dolls to do with theology? Theology seems to concern itself with God’s decrees, scriptural records, Church’s pronouncements, and interpretations by theologians. Yet, here is a book that is a work of art, a work that speaks and a text for theologizing. The author, a Belgian religious sister who has made India her home since 1974, expresses her experiences, searching and questioning through the medium of hand-made dolls created from very ordinary materials. (The dolls are born out of the inspiration from the day-to-day struggles of the poor, and from the conviction that in India, Christ must be seen and experienced as Indian). The book contains photographs of eighty- five of Francoise’s dolls interspaced with poems, prayers, musings and meditations by many lay people and religious, by famous figures like Rabindranath Tagore and Arundhati Roy, as well as by poor people like Razia Bi, who lost her husband in the Bhopal gas tragedy, and Lilly who works as a domestic help. The host of contributors to this work makes for diversity and dialogue while expressing life’s moods and rhythms. Five main themes are developed: the artistic and the creative, the household and the village, atrocities and exploitation, signs of hope and liberation and the religious quest. The dolls’ statements encompass the sociological, political, cultural, theological and other dimensions of human life.

In the Foreword to the book, Samuel Rayan writes, ‘The dolls/images should be seen as metaphors, parables, symbols. Indeed, each doll tells tales of love and life, of tears and triumphs, of poverty and protest, of hunger and hope, of selfishness and solidarity. The reader is provided with a rich panorama of Indian life that spans the realms of the divine and the human. Like the Atman of old, these dolls ‘one should see and hear, and on them one should reflect and concentrate’. The images of the dolls create thoughts, thoughts evoke emotions, and feelings will hopefully fructify into action. These speaking dolls have a capacity to launch readers into reflection and action.

What strikes one is the fact that though the dolls are meticulously handcrafted, they do not have eyes. The dolls depict those faceless, nameless, voiceless, helpless people who live on the margins of society but who prick our collective conscience. Do the eyeless dolls bid us open our eyes and see? Furthermore, the dolls seem to stress a point: that theology is not only taught through scriptures and in universities, but through human ‘histories’ and ‘herstories’ that are told and re-told in slums, villages, brothels, streets, railway stations and the like.
High quality art paper is used and the colour photographs are excellent. That perhaps explains the high price of the book. Poets, artists, social workers and theologians, in particular, will find the book captivating and challenging. The dolls speak. Let them unfold worlds of meaning. 

-Francis Gonsalves, sj

3. Taken from:  A Doll’s World. Book review in The Marxist Review; Occasional Letters.

At the first glance, the name of the book “The Dolls Speak” can be rather deceptive. With beautiful coloured photo images of dolls of every shape and pose in each page, the first impression one gets is that this book is for children –a book of fantasy. But as one leafs through it, the real picture emerges. Through multi-coloured images of dolls, this book tells stories of stark reality –stories about struggle, survival and solidarity of the downtrodden in our country, whose life rarely finds much colour beyond black and white. It presents a vivid picture of that great multitude for whom globalization has not ushered in a sense of euphoria. Rather it has spelt fewer avenues of livelihood, greater deprivation and poverty.

This is a book by Francoise Bosteels. Born in Belgium, she came to India more than 25 years ago to work as a nurse in southern states. This book presents a collection of 85 dolls that Francoise has been making all these years with pieces of wood, wool, paper ribbon, coconut and banana fibers and various other throw-away items as well as cheap ready-made toys. The inspiration for making these dolls largely came from the day to day life and struggles of the poor in villages among whom she works, their unfailing grit to survive and their optimism.

The idea of producing this book emerged when these dolls were exhibited in December 1996 in the Philippines at an international ecumenical meeting on globalization and its impact on people. Some of the women participants felt that a book with pictures of these dolls and brief write-ups accompanying them could be a useful contribution to the understanding of various aspects of globalization and their impact on third world countries. Subsequently social activists, grass roots workers, students, etc. were approached, who contributed short poems, prose, etc each relating to one of the dolls. Some of the contributors, however, are well-known writers, researchers, theologians and so on.

The 85 dolls in this book broadly illustrate five themes, namely the creative aspects of people’s lives, village households, atrocities and exploitation, signs of hope and liberation, and religious quest.

Hence, we find a fisherwoman with her paraphernalia while the accompanying verse tells us of those hapless women, who sell fish everyday, but have non to feed their children. A sari-clad doll hanging form a ceiling fan with noose around her neck jolts us to think about the social malaise called dowry death. The text beside is presented in the form of musing of  the ceiling fan, which did not fail the girl, when she finally chose it as her last refuge. A doll embracing a tree trunk with birds nesting in it refers to the Chipko movement, in which women are playing a powerful role –resisting often successfully- the powerful timber lobbies and TNCs.

There are dozens of other issues that Francoise brings forth with the help of her dolls and with short literary contributions from 43 contributors.

In Francoise’s own language, these figures are an expression of her integration with India, each one of which has a story to tell. They are an Indian expression of the Gospel for the poor. Even as one cannot help admire her deftness in creating these beautiful dolls, the greater value of this book lies in the fact that it makes one sit up, become aware and interested in exploring ‘the other India’ that is still struggling to be seen. Sensitive contents apart, printed on quality art papers and with faultless colour reproductions, the  publication will be an invaluable possession of booklovers.

~ Ajit Roy


A Sampling of poems and dolls from the book:


My daughter is at school;
I learn at home.
I get my child
to tell me
what she has been told.

Today I wrote my name;
my address too.
But I must hurry
and learn much more.

The moneylender
keeps showing me
figures I cannot read.
He tells me I’m not quits yet
though I pay him every week.

I need to read what he writes down
in that book of his;
he fudges figures; this I know
but I cannot
match his trick.

                                                  ~ Jyoti Sanyal



Go away!
What do you want?
Season after season,
we see you.
The likes of you.

What do you want to know?
             no, we are Outcastes,
             if you call it so.
             no, No, NO,

Do you want to know something?
Give us land.
Some land.
Not promises, but land.
Land we can call our own.
Land with no landlord.
Land we could work on.
Land whose product we could own.

So, no one could throw us out.
             burn our homes
             rape our women
             roast us alive.

Yes, give us land,
Then we will have food.
May be, we have a caste too.

Right now,
           we have nothing.
           we are landless

~ Hari Sharma



The dawn breaks over
the dam I build.
There is no flour
in the grinding stone.

I collect yesterday’s husk
for today’s meal.
The sun rises.
and my spirit sinks.
I hide my baby under a basket;
my tears beneath a grin;
I go to build the dam.

The dam.
It feeds the sugarcane
crop lush and juicy;
But I walk miles of forest
for fire-wood.
I water my plants with drops of sweat;
dry leaves fill my parched yard.

~ Daya Payar


Anonymous said...

truly touching!! excellently crafted and supported by sensitive poems portraying the pain and needs of the marginalized folks in our society. Thank you madam for the dolls and publication of these books.

Anonymous said...

greetings and good wishes to you madam. i was greatly affected by seeing your beautifully crafted dolls and sensitively written poems and bought several copies of your book 'Through the Needle's Eye' to gift. i am unable to get copies of 'The Dolls Speak',are they out of print? when and where can i get them? Hope that several more editions will be printed. Thank you for the Dolls and the message!