Delhi’s transit system just launched a series of ettiquette-focused puppet shows for kids.
In etiquette, as in advertising, it’s best to get ‘em while they’re young. That’s the approach Delhi has taken to improve the commuter experience—the city’s metro system just launched a puppet show program to teach transit etiquette to kids.
In this scripted show performed by puppeteers from Delhi’s legendary Kathputli Colony, siblings Raju and Bubbly learn the rules the hard way. They push and shove, litter, and hog the elevator and seats designated for disabled passengers. When Bubbly hesitates, her brother Raju tells her to “stop overthinking everything.”
But in the end, the siblings get a taste of their own medicine. A mustachioed jerk takes a seat in the ladies’ compartment (Delhi’s trains reserve seats for women) and refuses to give it to Bubbly: “What’s the big deal if I take one seat? I’m super tired. Let me sit here. I got here before, and no one can make me get up.” Raju wants to fight him, but Bubbly talks him down. “We only understand the importance of rules once we, ourselves, have to bear the consequences of someone breaking them,” she says. “If we all monitor our own actions and make ourselves better commuters, we’ll improve the metro experience as a whole.”
Delhi Metro Rail spokesman Anuj Dayal describes the city’s metro culture as “tough.” “You require a lot of discipline,” he says. “You must let people get down first before you board. You must keep seats for elderly and for ladies. There’s so many issues involved, so we thought using puppets as a medium of communication would be good.”
The 15-minute scripted shows feature songs from popular movies to make the do’s and don’ts entertaining for kids. The target audience is between the ages of 10 and 15, and the performances are organized free of charge for schools throughout the Delhi metropolitan area. So far the program is serving ten institutions, but Dayal wants to expand to two or three thousand.
Not only will kids grow up to be more considerate riders but, Dayal hopes, they’ll also bring the lessons home to their parents: “Children tend to converse in their houses, and if parents absorb things from the children, then that culture spreads.”
India has a long and rich tradition of using this form of storytelling as an educational tool. In recent years, for example, puppets have been used to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and to promote environmental initiatives.
In the U.S., too, we know that puppet shows can deliver lasting educational benefits: A recent University of Maryland study found that watching Sesame Street significantly improved children’s school readiness and performance, especially in low-income communities. Perhaps American cities would have better luck fighting subway aisle-blocking and manspreading if they took a page from Jim Henson.