Set up by cartoonist K. Shankar Pillai (1902-1989), the Shankar’s International Dolls Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of dolls – over 60,000. Black, white, and brown; Bulgarian, Cuban, and Indian; walk past more than 160 glass cases and feel like Gulliver who is washed ashore during a shipwreck and awakens in a land with people one-twelfth of his size.
Meet the Kabuki dancer of Kyoto, Flamenco dancer of Barcelona, and the Jazz trumpeter of Harlem. Watch the Siberian hunter traveling on a sledge, the Norwegian witch riding a broom, and a Portuguese girl carrying a chicken on her head. Say hello to little Mozart and wave at the little astronaut.
In our intolerant world, it is nice to see all races, religions and sexes sharing a small space, so happily. French tourists might enjoy a sight that is nowadays rare in Paris: Muslim women in veil. Indophiles will be happy spotting sari-clad ladies, freedom fighters and kuchipudi dancers. For people watchers, there are farmers, dancers, kings, queens, priests, casanovas, housewives, lovers, jesters, violinists, fairies, witches, secretaries, society ladies and yes, barbies, too. Most dolls seem to throb with life. It could be because of the embroidery on their dresses, or the way their heads are tilted. The experience is intensified by little details: a housewife in crumpled check sari and mangalsutra, and a Brahmin hermit with a caste mark on the forehead.
A few dolls were presented to the museum by visiting first ladies of countries that have disappeared from the map. Madam Tito of Yugoslavia came to the museum in 1966 (it had opened a year earlier) and gifted a Balkan belle in peasant dress. The museum also has a doll-making workshop where you can watch the
craftsmen at work.