And no, that's not a typo up there- the circus' tickets, posters and internal signboards indicate that the name has nothing to do with compass points. The external hoarding , confusingly, calls it the Western Circus. Let's go the democratic way and follow the majority, shall we?
It's currently running 3 shows a day (1pm, 4pm, and 7pm) at the Parade ground, Dehradun and is more fun than I thought it would be. The excitement began early when we sat and waited for the show to begin. The tent was torn, but the light was perfect, and it felt as if we were sitting under the sky on a planet where the stars burn fierce and bright. Of course, I could be influenced by the naked enthusiasm of my colleague who was super-excited to be there, though he was a little disappointed that there were no elephant acts.
The circus does have a couple of elephants, but they seem to be mainly for welcoming the guests. I was happy not seeing them balancing on tiny stools. The sight of animals being forced -with cruel training- to perform acts always seemed a brutality to me. There are those who say that Supreme Court ruling prohibiting animal acts has brought the circus to its knees. The argument that animal acts entertained the audience can also be an argument for bear baiting. It is more likely that our being accustomed to the digitized possibilities and perfection of television has made us insensible to live acts with all their humanity and this has led to the decline of the circus.
Because we are not used to seeing the black safety cable during stunts..here we do. We wait as the artistes set up their apparatus and test it. We see the chap sitting in the scaffolding away from the spotlight and making the acts possible. We see the man in charge of safety for the trapeze act bowing to each support before setting up the nets.
The woman walking the tightrope was new, I think. At any rate she was unsure. A man walked by her throughout the act, hand outstretched in case she needed to grab it. She didn't , but I think that is because that hand was there ready and waiting to help. She didn't make any mistakes, didn't drop any of the crockery she was balancing on her head.
And that was pretty much the exception, because these artists do make errors. They drop the objects they are juggling with, miss passes, drive their cycles straight into the poles. But then they redo it till it is perfect. And yes, the applause then is louder, the audience seeing themselves in a human who commits errors. There were times when I felt that these errors were part of the act, because showmen are nothing if not masters of psychology. But it doesn't matter. All this makes the circus what it should be- a celebration of human skill, perseverance and team spirit.
The clown acts too, had the theme of the underdog who wins. And this made the audience respond with victory cheers. I need to admit though, that I am always uptight and uncomfortable around the circus clown concept. The whole idea of hiring someone who is fatter/thinner/shorter/taller than a mythical perfect for the job of being laughed at is disturbing to me.
But I should not be talking of acceptance, because to my utter shock and shame I realized that I have size-stereotypes. Me! I should be the last person judging people by their appearance! This was a bitter pill, alright. Two women ran into the ring for what I realised to be a contortionist act. One of the two had a body that fit in with what my assumption was a contortionist needs to be: petite. The other did not, and I found myself assuming that she was there in an assistant role; this assumption was strengthened when she stood there as her thin friend put her body into a series of knots . Another one of those times when I am gladly wrong, because she turned out to be the star of the act. She did all that was done earlier with a glass full of water on her forehead.
But this circus was non-discriminatory in other ways as well. The only gender-specific things I saw were the initial parade (women) and apparatus carrying (men). Most other roles were handled equally, including sharpshooting. It also did not discriminate between its audience, enthralling all equally.
There was an additional treat in store for me. Throughout the show, various vendors came by with things to eat and drink. None of those tempted me. Until, that is, this came along.
Cotton candy. It's pink and fluffy. It's made of sugar and some strange fluorescent chemical dye. What's not to like? I liked very much.