The great Indian circus, considered non-viable by local artistes, is catching the fancy of performers from Africa too. A group of six school dropouts from Kenya — known as ‘Blood Brothers’ — are pulling crowds with their acrobatics and poleclimbing skills in the ongoing Asiad Circus at Manimajra, a relatively new dimension to the circus in which foreigners mostly meant white-skinned Russians and Europeans.
“I have been entertaining people for the past 10 years at home and abroad. In India, too, we are getting good response and money. As for Chandigarh or the surrounding areas, this is our first time here,” said Daniel Andera, 32, who has studied till Class 12. “We are a group of school dropouts who have learnt the skill of entertaining people through our gymnastic formations.”
“The demand for foreign artistes has increased over the years and we come on an annual contract,” added Kasera, another 32-year-old has studied till Class 7. “The expenses of our stay and travel are taken care of by the organisers. We earn more here than what we get back home.”
As for the Indian performers, circus is not something most of them want their future generations to pursue.
“We rope in more and varied foreign artistes to give a new lease of life to the dying circus industry. These artistes come under the exchange programme on a fixed contract which varies from six months to a year,” said MD Shamshad from Kolkata, who acts as a coordinator for all prominent circuses in India, including Asiad, Empire, Gemini and Kohinoor.
Charan Singh, who is performing as a clown in the circus, puts it out succinctly, “We are following in the footsteps of our elders, who were also performers. But I do not want my children to take to circus as there is no future in this profession. We have entertained people for years, but now they are not very interested.”
The ban on use of many animals has contributed to decreased interest over the years. But, despite having three elephants, several horses and over 150 mouths to feed, circus manager Sunil Goel says he won’t shut shop. “I cannot abandon the artistes. It’s my moral responsibility to look after them as long as I can,” Goel said. “It was a lucrative business when I started it three decades ago, but over the years, the profit is declining.”
Another circus artiste, who identified himself only as Raju, too said he did not want his children to join circus. “Where is the money? The government levies so many taxes that we are unable to even make ends meet. We need Rs 50,000 a day to run the circus, including fodder for animals and other expenses.”