Updated: Jan 25
The term “Talpatar Shepai” is a term in Bengali used to associate a person- weak and rickety showing bravado. In West Bengal, there was a time, when this particular delicate toy “Talpatar Shepai”, made from dried palm (Taal) leaf in the form of a soldier/police in uniform was a favorite toy both in rural as well as urban areas; it occupied a distinct place in the treasure-trove of toys and vied for attention from onlookers. A stick attached at the back of the toy with strings tied to its head, feet and hands enabled the holder to maneuver the toy’s movements and this was a great attraction for the kids once upon a time.
During fairs, hawkers selling Talpatar Shepai and other toys would attract a big crowd of children and their guardians who invariably bought these cheap toys in bulk for the children in the family and also as gift items for neighborhood kids. In fact, the toy was so popular that it entered Bengali vocabulary.
The art of making Talpatar Shepai was practiced widely in rural Bengal. The entire process required a lot of patience and creativity. The palm leaves would be sun-dried and then measured and cut into small pieces in the shape of various human body parts. These parts would be joined with bits of thread. Finally, the physical features of each soldier would be drawn meticulously using sketch pens or paint brush. Although a particular pattern was followed to drawn the figures, but each toy had distinct features and facial expressions depending on the handiwork of the artisan who painted each Shepai. After the paint dried, a stick would be attached at the back of the toy and the strings would be tied to make it mobile.
But the home-crafted Talpatar Shepai is now lost in the annals of history. Times have changed and so have tastes. These local toys were replaced by more attractive plastic and rubber toys and then by video games. It was easy to hook children to newer modes of entertainment so no one plays with these toy soldiers any more.
Mr. Gourango Das, in the Raipur village in the Birbhum district of West Bengal has not given up on his “Talpatar Shepais” yet. He still makes these delicate toys with the same amount of precision, and has made his sons learn the art as well so that even after him his Shepais’ can carry on the legacy. He has also tried to bring in more innovation into these toys, and his Shepai’s range from being human soldiers to animal figures as well. He visits the Shonajhuri Haat every Saturday and Sunday in order to sell these toys to more people. However, most kids are unaware about the history of these toys and their attention has shifted to the plastic ones, the more popular ones.
Mr. Gourango Das believes in our model of connecting traditional with global and has given us his blessings in our path for innovation. We aspire to live up to his faith in every step of the way. We believe that the people all around the world can still make a tiny place in their home for our little Shepais.