My SIL had 12 VIP tickets to the circus that had come to our locality, don’t ask me why or how. She just had and plans were being made rigorously to go for one of the shows. Since S and I were already shuttling between two houses and were lack of any spare time, we asked them to go ahead without us. On the way back to my in-laws from my parents’, S told me that we are heading straight to the circus and everyone is already there.
S looked at me gulp and blink, soon realizing that I have never been to a circus in my life. Actually wrong. When I was 7 or 8 yrs old, my dad took us to the Jumbo Circus that happens near Chennai Central every year (even now I guess?) I vaguely remember few things – clowns, strong cigarette + beedi smell, seeing one elephant and few birds. As we kids couldn’t tolerate the smell, we were out very soon. I had never gone back to a circus. That is until last Sunday.
My first thought on seeing the circus tent was the long queue at every ticket counter. Being Pongal and all that, 70 & 80 rs tickets were sold out but that didn’t stop people from thronging the 150 and 200 rs counters. As we had the VIP tickets, we got seated within the first couple of rows and had to watch the proceedings up close.
The Great Indian Circus, it was called. As we sat down, we saw a group of people suspended on wooden planks held by huge ropes. Effortlessly, they swung from one end to the other finally jumping on to the net below. With glee, I clapped just like the 100s of others present there. From a distance, we heard an unclear announcement on the next item being some march. Little did I know that girls aged not more than 15 would walk in glittery, tight mini dresses all over the center stage. As soon as the first four girls walked out, the crowd erupted screaming, whistling and clapping. I wondered why and soon, with ~20 girls walking all over the place, the crowd went berserk. They did nothing but walk. Walk without any emotions. Not as much as a smile on their faces. The fact that they were girls clad in tight, small clothes was enough to draw this reaction from the crowd. My heart felt heavy and was dreading the rest of the evening in that tent surrounded by uncivilized animals.
Barring a dance show by four boys, a comedy skit by two clowns + the owner himself, three 2 minute performances by 4 African men, a walk by two camels + one small horse, a small juggling act, one bike adventure, one knife show, a regurgitator show, a short show by Pomeranian dogs – rest of the show was carried on with girls. The show lasted 2 hrs 15 mins and the girls performed for more than 1 hr 45 mins.
Girls with different talents, girls who were suspended mid-air, girls who could balance 7 other girls on their bicycles, girls who could do hoopla tricks for more than 10 mins, girls who could rope walk, girls who could tame the animals, girls who could effortlessly climb ropes, girls who could jump from the top of the tent, girls who could drink kerosene to perform fire tricks, girls who could form human pyramids and girls who could replace the clowns. I was in awe with their highly talented performances, clapped hard for them as they risked the lives. But my heart kept sinking lower and lower with every performance. Looking at their smile-less faces. Looking at them perform stuff mechanically. Looking at the men (and women) around making snide remarks. Thinking of their past and their future. The breaking point was when a healthy looking girl (in contrast to the other thin, sleek girls) was made to ride a tiny cycle on the raised platform around the stage. People laughed at her mercilessly as she tried to balance herself on that tiny cycle and fell at a couple of places. If there can be a human face made out of stone, it was hers. She never looked up nor seemed to care for the laughing people. I was sitting teary eyed trying to make sense of what I was watching. Why would they make a girl do some stuff otherwise done by a clown or a monkey? *no offense to neither*
It is clear that people these days come to circus, not for the clowns or the animals but for the girls. It is the sad truth. Otherwise, why would they keep clicking pictures of these girls time and again, even after strict warnings? The couple of clowns on the show were also ill-treated or were given constant slapping in their backs and why is it supposed to be funny? I couldn’t stand someone inserting 6 knives into his throat and I swear I was about to puke seeing the regurgitator act. For the unknown, this is something where a man drinks a bucket full of water and spits it out in a thick stream at his own will. Oh he didn’t stop there. He drank colored solutions and puked them back into their respective containers. And he gulped a live fish and puked it back to life. I closed my eyes and ears all through this, even writing about it here makes me feel queasy.
Back to the girls. All in their teens. Brought from North East. Where were their parents? When did they join the circus? How long were they tortured to learn these tricks? What happens when they cross this age and can no longer perform? How do they do manage doing this 4 times a day 7 days a week? Are they fed properly? Are they paid? Would someone abuse them? Are they happy at all? The questions on my mind never stopped. Sadly, there are animal right groups to fight for the animals but we don’t have anyone to fight for fellow human beings.
I understand how this circus pays for the livelihood of many people but is it ethical? I don’t know. For me, it was not the Great Indian Circus. I will never ever go for a circus again in my life.