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September 12, 2011

The Circus

It must be at least 20 years since I saw a live circus. I wondered what it is like now. Here are 3 links to the modern circus that I found online.

When I was a schoolgirl - a million years ago - the circus came to town once a year. We made sure to visit the circus at least once. Some lucky children got to see it twice. The tents were pitched on the biggest maidan in town. Hawkers set up small stalls and handcarts around them. Some squatted at strategic spots and displayed their  wares to catch the attention of the children. My personal favourite was the puggawala (balloon man), with coloured balloons twisted into different shapes and helium balloons that floated upright. 

A kid does not watch a circus without something to munch.  Candy floss, called Buddhi ka Bal (old woman's hair) was a general favourite. A bar of ice candy or dudh candy to lick was almost mandatory. Ice cream at 4 annas (a quarter of a rupee) was a luxury available in perhaps two or three outlets in town . Hot roasted chana was sold in small paper cones. You got one cone for a mukkalu, a 3-paisa bronze coin with a hole in the middle. Sweet vendors sold coconut toffee, lemon drops and striped peppermints. I do not recall seeing popcorn or chocolate bars at such fairs.   

Inside the circus tent, the huge ring  was the center of attraction. And once, there came the Kamala Circus, with not one, but Three Rings! At one end, on a raised platform brightly decorated in red, a live band played. Below this was a colourful velvet or satin curtain, behind which exciting preparations could be heard. Cages and props being trundled, animal noises, men dashing about doing mysterious things with ropes, pulleys, pails and whatnot. We sat around in tiers, our feet resting on the uneven ground partially covered with sawdust, wooden planks and matting. The band played on. The clowns did their slapstick routines. When the ringmaster arrived to the sound of fanfare from the band, the lights came on and the curtains opened. The show had begun.

Tigers, lions, elephants, camels, bears, horses, dogs, birds - in my mind's eye, I see them all. The wonder of it! I guess we were too young and innocent to realise the cruelty to the magnificent beasts of the forest.  But somehow, I felt sorry for the performing bears. Even at that young age, the ignominy of being prodded by a stick to perform ridiculous acts bothered  me. And I waited impatiently for the horses. 

I admired the lithe beauty of  handsome riders in fancy gear, who performed marvellous stunts on horseback to the accompaniment of the band. I can close my eyes at this moment and hear the sounds of galloping horses keeping pace to the rhythm of the drums. The clowns (many of them dwarfs) ran along helter skelter, with shrill cries and laughter. We clapped and cheered, as the animal acts ended with a grand procession. On the back of the biggest elephant rode a queenly lady waving and smiling.

Then one after the other, came the acrobats, knife-throwers, fire-eaters, jugglers and of course, the cyclists. Beneath their flouncy short skirts, shorts and tight tops in bright pinks, blues and whites the cyclists had taut muscular bodies. What amazing tricks and balancing acts they performed! Then there was a noisy motorbike act in a hollow sphere. Specially the boys  loved to watch as one and sometimes two motorbikes, whirled round and round,  faster and faster, inside the sphere.

The grand finale was the trapeze performance . Special safety nets were fastened in place. The artistes, dressed in white bodysuits, clambered up the rope ladders to their allotted corners way above our heads, towards the top of the tent. The lights dimmed and spotlights were trained upwards.  Then to slow, throbbing music, the trapeze swings began to go back and forth. Breathless with excitement, we gazed up. The artistes performed their magic with perfect timing and co-ordination.  An occasional clown pretended  to miss the extended hands of his partner and came tumbling down to the safety net. This gave us a chance to laugh and release tension. Immediately after the climactic trapeze act, the lights came on. The show was over. 


sam's renaissance said...

Havent seen a live circus ever...but i could actually see all your words come alive!!

Rhoda said...

Sam: Thanks. Glad you liked my post.

At a live circus you not only see, but breathe in the atmosphere - the dust, the smells, the sweat, the crowd. You even get to see the clowns pretending to play, while they clean up elephant droppings in the ring! A digital circus gives you none of that.

Gertrude Martins said...

Hi Rhoda,
That was indeed a vivid picture of the circus many many years ago. I am your classmate and do agree when you say it was a million years ago. How simple was our life and how little we needed to be happy! Here we are after all that life had to throw our way, and yet feeling alive and young again with your description of the circus! Thank you Rhoda your article brought tears to my eyes remembering those innocent days of our lives! Gerty

Rhoda said...

Gerty: Thanks. A bonus for me post reconnected us!

aasim said...

the feel and vibe of your post could have been used as a script of a malgudi days episode :-)

Rhoda said...

Aasim: Thanks. Ta na na ... When I'm dead and gone, like R.K.Narayan's house in Mysore, perhaps people will argue over the fate of my humble dwelling in Bangalore!

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