Oct 10, 2016

In Praise of Circuses

R Jayaraman

I don’t know when it was that you went to the last circus. Not to worry, even I can’t remember when I was under the big dome the last time. Must have been in Jamshedpur many years back, when one was in town for durga puja.

A circus is a great curiosity for a child. The different animals, the large-sized elephant, the ferocious tiger, the snarling lion, the tall and elegant giraffe, the beautifully and graciously running horses — all create a scene which one is not used to, either in a traffic ridden city or a field filled village. The sight of the many animals doing several unusual things is a delight for eyes used to track the fumes from a car or ears tuned to the sounds of a smoke belching truck.

A circus is an endeavour only the strong hearted should attempt. For one, the owner has to move along with the tents, animal vehicles, a large entourage of circus artistes of different skills and temperaments, a cash box which has no safety and a car or a truck in which he has to travel which can decide to behave erratically at any time. There is neither scope nor time for preventive maintenance. Truly for every circus owner, training on the various laws of Murphy is a must, as he is unaware what may hit him from any direction.

Take the case of Appu Raja. The circus clown is a midget, and he has a band of them, which every circus must have. In fact, the mainstay of a circus is often the comedy routines which really bring in the crowds, mostly children and teenagers accompanied by adults – and create an ambience of fun and frolic. It is the circus clowns, the comedians and the joker who enliven the proceedings to keep the show at a spirited level and the audience on the edge of their chairs. The dust, the circus dome/tent which is often of torn canvas and tarpaulin, the various struts zipping criss-cross to hold up the large tent, the steel framed cages holding the growling lions and tigers, the odd vehicles on wheels holding the zebras, horses and dogs before they are let out to do their stuff – a circus is a great act of logistics, supply chain management and operations scheduling. Resource planning is critical and efficiency is the mantra for a successful, safe show. Just imagine, the trapeze artistes, swinging from high to low and then again to high miss their swing at the switch!

In all circuses, the time when the horses come in is the one which really energises the whole place. Before that the lions, the tigers, whose routines are typically static and full of whiplash sounds, followed by the elephants which try to sit on stools which can’t even hold their bums. Then there is an air of speed, the atmosphere gets charged with spirit, then – bang – the cyclists appear with all kinds of two-wheelers, three-wheelers, four-wheelers and set the central plaza on fire! There is speed, there is danger, there is a lot of swishing, with the clowns intervening and showing off their multifarious talents. In fact, the comedians in a circus are the multi skilled individuals on whose shoulders the responsibility of success or failure lies. Like, just when things are trying to slacken off, you hear a loud “smack”, a clown has smacked the back of another with a cricket bat or a slim piece of wood, and then the first layer of the pants fall off – and all children are out of their seats, cheering the antics. This is followed by a loud sound, when the motorcyclist revs up for his stunt in the steel globe.

And so it goes. Act is followed by act, groups of artistes followed by another and another, animals and people mix in a myriad combinations, to mesmerise and entertain, with skills and thrills, truly a variety of offering to animate the mind, to energise the spirit, to tickle the senses, to fill the hearts with goodness and camaraderie. Verily a circus is a great experience indeed.

But lo and behold. There is a “down syndrome” to all this mirth-making. The PETA! The PETA people are not in sync with all this; they feel that animals are being harassed. Of course when chickens are being chopped and killed, they are not being harassed, maybe because they are put out of their misery once and for all. So are cattle, lambs and if you are in China, so are any and all movable creatures. This dichotomy, this irony, this double standard has had an adverse effect on the whole circus business, but I hope that the industry survives and convinces people that humans and animals can co-exist, and do what they can do well. And sometimes, some animals can entertain some of us, without the PETA or TEPA going up and down.

AppLy Now