The Dolls That Speak of India

by Atula Gupta on September 14, 2009 · 9 comments

It is not often that you come across dolls that do not have any eyes, ears, lips or nose and that even adults can relate to. It is definitely not often when everyday life and incidents that changed a nation come alive in the form of dolls.

Thanks to the toiling of a dedicated Belgian nurse, Sr Francoise Bosteels, the myriad hues of India, its culture, society, lifestyle and perhaps its history is preserved in the shape of dolls that speak a thousand words in spite of being faceless.

Sister with some of her creations

Sister with some of her creations

When my family and I first heard of this unique exhibition of dolls being organized in our city Ahmedabad, India, it was just to suffice our curiosity that we went there. But what we saw changed our concept of dolls for ever.

There was this oldkir_0301_ani3 woman that I first saw, sitting on an easy chair and knitting, with her basket of yarns right by her side and another stool on which was placed a foldable box of other essentials. She captured my attention because the grand old lady was herself created of wool, just like all the other dolls knitted by Sr. Francoise, who is fondly known as ‘gombe sister’ – Gombe meaning dolls in the Kannada language spoken in Bangalore where she resides.


There was the depiction of Lord Krishna with his identifiable peacock feather head band and flute as if playing melodious tunes. There was a lady too playing the harp and another man playing drums. Peasants were busy harvekir_0301_ani23sting crops and so were the village women engaged with their kitchen chores. There were the children with scant resources fashioning things to play with and also the tailor who seemed to be stitching night and day to meet ends meet.

The flower man in the bicycle, the butcher, the fish seller, the painter, the laborer, the bamboo weavers and the grocer, they all had a story to tell, they all had life.


What astounded me most was the detailing that had gone into creating each of these dolls. It seemed the size of a few inches did not hamper the quest for perfection of Sister Francoise. It was evident she had spent hours on each of her creations and the materials she used were just regular items like bright piece of cloths, very small toys, silver and golden threads for the jewelry, ribbons, cotton etc.  From the pleats of the saree, to the flowers on the women’s tresses, the water hand pump to the earthen pots filled with water, common everyday items enthralled in their miniature forms.

kir_0301_ani21And as if these creative discoveries were not enough, Sr. Francois took the doll experience a step further by re-enacting some past tragedies that India witnessed not so long ago. There were the Tsunami survivor kids, who had lost their family but not the jest for life and who drew the catastrophe in their drawings. The communal riots that had shook the nation with its brutal killing of innocent women, children and men was depicted as dolls of all sizes lying around massacred as an aftermath to a tragedy.

kir_0301_ani20Domestic violence or pittance for a beggar, the harsh reality of a widow’s life or the lady who cleaned toilets for a living, nothing in the society went unobserved from the doll-makers eyes and she created a world that had all its goods and evils at one place.

We returned learning so many things from these dolls. That creativity has no boundaries. That size does not matter, what matters is the thought. That dolls are not just playthings but can do much more in portraying the good and bad of life and maybe even inspire people to building a better society so that the next doll that Sister weaves becomes the tale of happiness and peace.

If you wish to know more about Sr. Francoise and her incredible work, do visit these sites.



1 Meeta September 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I was intrigued by seeing and reading about the heart warming creations of Sister Francoise.
Thank you for sharing this with us.

2 chandana roy September 15, 2009 at 1:26 am

Great story – and very well researched. I had no idea that in India you can see a dool museum so unique.

3 Narendra September 15, 2009 at 5:04 am

Is the exhibition still running in Ahmadabad, I would like to visit it. Please confirm.

– NM

4 Arijit September 17, 2009 at 2:41 am

Look at the detailing, it seems every doll tells you a story..!! I wish i could buy some.

5 atula September 17, 2009 at 3:31 am

Dear Narendra,
Thanks for dropping by. The exhibtion was only held for two days in Ahmedabad, but you can still see the dolls if you get an oppurtunity to visit Bangalore, where Sr. Bosteel resides.
I am also sure her unique dolls will be exhibited in other parts of the country and the world too, for more to witness and appreciete her commendable efforts.

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