Circus in days of yore

A huge, brightly coloured marquee would be erected on the grounds of the local school during the summer vacations, when there were no classes. Numerous, dusty tents which served as temporary shelters would be scattered a little distance from the main one. These housed the performers and their families writes Pallavi Singh
None | By Pallavi Singh
UPDATED ON MAR 11, 2014 11:59 AM IST

I recently saw a poignant film called 'Water For Elephants'. With wonderful actors and a fantastic screenplay, it brought back sweet memories of childhood visits to the circus.

I remember the first time I went to the circus, all agog, clutching my brother's hand, slightly scared of the animals. I kept imagining them breaking loose or overpowering the trainers. We bought the tickets from a booth manned by a man wearing a black patch on one eye who kept shouting loudly, in sporadic intervals, frightening us all. We walked into the stifling hot tent and sat down, dry mouthed with excitement and anticipation waiting for the show to begin. There was loud music and the ringmaster, dressed in a tall hat and a long robe entered, brandishing a stick and a megaphone. Behind him trooped the various actors, trapeze artists and the omnipresent Pomeranian on a miniature bicycle, followed by other animals. I recognised the ticket seller. He was a dwarf and had probably been propped up on a high stool to reach the ticket window. They circled around the tent in all their regalia, eliciting whistles and claps from the audience. The show began and we were enthralled!

As we settled down in our seats a boy came and passed grubby pamphlets around, describing each act. Behind him was another, who without so much as a by your leave, started thrusting ice-cream cups into our hands, one by one. Surprised, we looked around and saw everyone eating, so we did too, assuming it was included in the ticket. Imagine our consternation when, a few minutes later he returned and sharply started asking us for money! It was a clever ploy to make a quick buck and we unsuspecting youngsters had fallen for it.

The circus today is facing a bleak future and an imminent demise with People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and various other organisations wanting it banned on humanitarian grounds. Keeping animals away from their environs, in confined spaces and cruelly training them for unnatural acts is a terrible thing. Also life on the road, a dwindling audience, no fixed timings or income must be taking its toll on the performers with very few wanting to continue or take it up as a profession, but in the days of yore, with no cable TV, console games or the internet, it was an unparalleled form of entertainment for young and old alike and still makes me wistfully stare at some rare poster proclaiming, 'The circus is back in town!'

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