There is a sense of excitement in the air as multi-coloured striped tents billow by the beach. The 96-year-old Great Bombay Circus, founded by Baburao Kadam, is here in town for 45 days. Walk in and you’re welcomed by an elevated stage surrounded by numerous chairs. A live orchestra plays music from a cabin over the stage and one is simply left in awe of the various acts being performed. Rope dancers twist and turn breathtakingly, and adorable dogs walk around with umbrellas. The hawkers selling freshly made popcorn and chips are barely a distraction.
The circus that has travelled here from Hyderabad has been hit by the demonetisation hard and is doing its best to survive. While their longest stint was in Chennai for a total of 105 days, they wonder if they can manage to get a good response here. Nonetheless, filled with nothing but optimism, the carny folk welcome us in with open arms. They let Yo! Vizag experience not just a spectacular show, but also let us peek behind the curtains to know some of their stories.
Tulasi Das, Clown
Tulasi Das is a veteran when it comes to the Great Bombay Circus, he has been with them since he was 13. He is a little person from Bihar and has been with the circus for 56 long years.
“There used to be a circus on my way to school that I would go to everyday. I would watch the little people there dress up as clowns and make people roll with laughter. Back then, we were ostracised by society and no one would offer us jobs. The circus was the only place I could gain employment and respect. This is why the circus is, and will always be my family.”
Poonam Jadav, Ring Dancer
Dancing in glittery outfits while twirling 25 colourful hula hoops at once, Poonam Jadav’s act is one that leaves people mesmerised.
“I hail from Ahmedabad and I’ve travelled with the circus since childhood. While twirling hoops was just a hobby at first I decided to turn it into a profession. I married a colleague of mine, the juggler, and we have a baby too. We’re allowed to take leaves as long as there’s an extra prepared enough to stand in. There circus works 365 days a year, after all, the show must go on!”
This Indian-Chinese has been performing in circuses since she was three. Situ has grown up in carnivals and for her this life is truly just home.
“My father was a circus performer from China. When he met my mother, they fell in love, and he never left India. I was born here and decided to stay even after they both passed away, I’ve never been to China. I’m married to a trapeze artist from Kerala and we have two little boys. I’ve learnt many languages while travelling with the circus but I want my children to have a stable education.”
Shiva Prasad, Animal Trainer
Shiva Prasad takes care of the animals here like they were his children. A circus animal trainer for 50 years, the 66-year-old looks forward to retirement.
“I hail from a village near Vijayawada and used to train bulls for fights. I visited a circus and looking at the trainer managing lions with ease, I wanted to learn how to do it too. I ran away from home to join the Great Oriental circus but the performers there turned me away. I was so stubborn that I wouldn’t budge for a week. I love animals and I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. I did eventually go on to train lions, tigers, elephants and more. It broke my heart when they were taken away from me because it became illegal to use wild animals in acts.”
In spite of the absence of the ‘big cats’, the circus is just as fascinating and enthralling as ever. With the circus folk performing breathtakingly awesome feats as well as highly comical acts, an evening spent here with the kids is worth the visit.