Covid-19 may have put the final nail in the coffin of the circus. In 2013, the government banned the use of animals, one of the main attractions for audiences, and the pandemic seems to have finished what was left of a form of entertainment that combined gymnastics, dance and aerobic skills with magic tricks, trained animals and tomfoolery by clowns.
With their income almost completely dried up, circus owners are struggling to ensure that artistes and permitted animals do not go hungry.
Sujit Dilip, the proprietor of Rambo Circus in Mumbai, who had written an appeal for help to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, says he has not given up on a response. Dilip told The Indian Express that he had to sell off his flat to bail out his circus. He has to put food on the table for 80 mouths.
There are a total 110 staff. Thirty of them have gone back while the rest 80 are staying in tents in a compound in Airoli, Navi Mumbai. There are two families with small children, 17 dogs, one pony, support staff, animal keepers, cooks, electricians, designers and tent makers. In the initial phase of the lockdown, those hailing from nearby towns in the state went back home. Others, who did not want to risk crossing state borders amid the pandemic stayed back.
“The government refuses to recognise our art. No help has come from the government or local bodies even during the pandemic. God is our last hope. We are just under the sky, waiting for our end,” said 49-year-old Biju Pushkaran Nair, who plays the clown.
Baby Kesari, now a 50-year-old woman, started as a gymnast when she was six years old. She still performs at shows — few and far between — and trains young girls who join the circus. She has been with Rambo Circus for 27 years now. Her husband Durga Prasad is a jockey at the same circus. He now trains young boys in gymnastics and does other odd jobs. With no income, he wonders how he will send money home every month to his ageing, dependent parents back in a village in Rampurhat, West Bengal.
Rajkumar, from Nepal is a porter in the circus, sitting in his dark, dingy tent, waiting for the last 90 days for the border to open so that he can go back home. He knows there is no hope left for him any more in this city of dreams.
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