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  • Theresa Vernetti

The Indian Circus


April 27, 2006    Cochin, India

What did we expect to find at an Indian circus ?   I guess we were prepared for anything, mostly figuring that it wouldn’t be a high budget, polished affair.  The raggedy, faded tent flapped in the wind – entire walls lifting up to reveal gypsy-like tents on the grounds behind the circus where the performers lived.  Many openings let the light and air in…any breeze welcome in the ultra-sweltering heat.  The paper fan salesman did well, distributing a much needed personal cooling system for a mere ten rupees.   “Free Ice Cream” turned out to only be free for about ten minutes – when the guy came back to collect payment….no problem….we were soaking in the atmosphere and watching the crowd of small Indian children assemble to the rhythm of snake charmer music.

Here is a list of the marvels we witnessed:

*A series of female contortionists bending over backwards, their preferred maneuver

*Various girls and women balancing on each other in tall formations.

*A dwarf man with a black painted face and two sidekicks doing slapstick comedy routines—lots of spanking and slapping going on with a noise-producing cricket bat.

*A dog rolling a barrel, dog riding a horse (did I really just see a “dog and pony show” ?!), dog jumping through hoops

*Camels walking in a circle (neither camels nor elephants are unique or exciting to Indian audiences)

*A fire breather, dancer, limbo extraordinaire with moves to rival Napoeon Dynamite’s routine

*A motorcycle jumping off a ramp and riding circles inside a spherical cage

*A girl doing balancing acts on top of a trauma inflicting,  bouncy pony

*A troupe of girls and women all on unicycles and moving through formations—ending up with a 4 unicycle crash and pile-up…..complete with an audible hiss and sneer by the senior member of the group and subsequent giggles  by the other team members.

*Same group on bicycles—especially impressive when holding hands while doing wheelies.

*The grand finale. Six man trapeze team dressed in full body, jersey knit, loose-fitting tights accented by a pair of sequined, colored underwear.  We were afraid for their safety, having witnessed the assembly of the safety net made of coconut husk rope and staked into the hard ground.

All these stunts were difficult, no doubt, but done by performers in ill-fitting costumes wearing very serious expressions…..the same expressions that the audience wore.  I was the only one clapping and instead of being appreciative, the performers looked at me like I was an unruly distraction.  A small part of the audience joined in but only for the fire breather and trapeze guys and many spent a good part of the show examining the antics of a smiling, clapping, oddly-behaving foreigner.

Oppressive hawkers blocked the view often with constant offers of chips, water, soda, peanuts and popcorn.  My small neighbor, Regina, kept me amused with her excellent English and constant questions about what I liked in the show.  All in all, a good day of fun—no photos allowed….too bad.  Now I am in the airport, trying to keep my eyelids open long enough to get myself and my things situated on the 3:30am flight to Bombay and listening to “Let it Snow” on the airport sound system…a little hopeful don’t ya think?

places visited on this trip:  Cochin, Mysore, Ooty, Pondicherry, Mammallapuram, Periyar, Auroville

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