Royal Dutch Resorts could be any cutesy cottage stay in the hills of Mukteshwar, in Uttarakhand. But we don’t care about the resort—it’s the onsite Doll Museum that is the main attraction. Run by 44-year-old Sarita Goel and her husband Anil, it houses 50 handmade newborn baby dolls amidst a sea of barbies.
Goel makes the dolls herself, first creating a clay skeleton mould, then using either hard plastic or soft rubber to make the outer shell. Each takes a month to prepare and costs from Rs. 5,000 to over Rs. 12,000 to fabricate. She sometimes stitches the clothes as well.
Some of the dolls are also (kinda) replicas of actual babies. Goel sculpts faces from photos of kids of her relatives, even from baby pictures in magazines. Sometimes she gets pictures of newborns from the nursery of her family gynaecologist. ”We ask the parents, and they really like it,” she said.
Such is the majesty of her babies that last year, she told VICE over the phone, “An old aunty visited the museum, and got super excited. She kissed my hands and hugged me.”
Goel has been sculpting babies for nearly 30 years. The museum, which opened in 2016, is the culmination of her life’s work. She picked up the art of moulding clay from her art teacher at school, and a Bal Bhavan in Delhi, which is where she’s from.
Before getting into doll-making, she had considered being a lawyer and even cleared her LLB exam, but somehow or other never made it to law school. But when her husband turned out to be an even bigger doll fanatic than she was, they began collecting. “He started getting home whichever new model he saw, wherever he went,” Goel told me. Over 12 years, the family has collected dolls from Germany, France, the US, China and Japan.
“I didn’t know that anyone would be interested in this. Only after coming to Mukhteshwar and setting up the museum, I realised that people like my work,” she said.
Goel’s son Atul now manages the resort, since his parents have begun focussing completely on the dolls. He says the museum has been a hit, with over 4,000 visitors this tourist season. They charge Rs. 40 per ticket.
“My mother has moulded art, tried to show how the tears of a crying child fall, how its lips get a little wet. We’ve tried to show that texture,” he said. “And everyone appreciates it.”
Goel is constantly looking out for new ways to improve her dolls. Currently she’s testing for authentic-looking silicon belly buttons. She wants to expand the museum, and maybe open a branch in Delhi someday.
Follow Parthshri Arora on Twitter.