Of Bright Circus Lights and Dark Tales.

Of Bright Circus Lights and Dark Tales. 1

 

The pink ribbons flutter wildly as she raises her arms and spins. Her skirt moves in the same direction as her. And her eyes- they are shimmering manifestations of that orb of light that shines in the night sky. If only the shine was real, and not just frozen images of the tears she has been holding back.

It is believed that the Circus is a place for dreamers. People who walk with glitter in their eyes, looking for an escape from the ordinary world they live in, experience a transition from the mundane to the exciting. The transition from basic existence to exhilarating life. For the sheer pleasure of traveling through the cities and performing. For the applause. And for all the beauty this wonderful art form stands for. Well, I guess the light is always as bright as it appears to be on the outside.

How could we not know what goes on backstage? About what happens when the big top is taken down.

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Sarah Gruen’s award-winning book Water for Elephants takes on fantastically the circus’ dark world. As the novel progresses with the protagonist’s love story, it also takes the reader along on a journey to the unknown lanes of the circus’s sinister city.

The Benzini Brother’s Most Spectacular Show On Earth reduces a human being to a performer- and whether you’re on the stage or off, you’re nothing more than that. Animals are beaten into submission, and men are thrown off a moving train when they can no longer serve their purpose.

Uncle Al, the circus owner, mentally demarcates his employees into two, the dispensable and the indispensable. The latter figures human oddities, unusual acrobats, and trained performers. Uncle Al wishes to hold these people to the circus and is willing to go to any extent. The protagonist is caught between the vicious Uncle Al and the cruelty the circus casually inflicts on what it calls its own.

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PETA’s research points to various heinous animal abuse instances that are carried on regularly by some leading circuses. Rajkamal Circus, Bangalore, kept animals jam-packed in filthy cages. The Grand National Circus crammed four lion cubs into a single cage.

The elephants, horses, dogs, and cockatoos in the Empire Circus were forced to spend all their time in physical bondages. The Kohinoor Circus was found to be using an endangered animal- a pregnant Royal Bengal tiger, in a clear violation of the Supreme Court ruling. Lakshmi, a 22-year-old chimpanzee owned by the Great Royal Circus, was discovered lying in a blood-stained bed.

Lakshmi died a few days after being rescued by Blue Cross, Chennai, and People for Animals. Another startling incident came into view in 2004, in the Great Roman Circus in Gonda district of Uttar Pradesh, which had held 23 children in captivity. Reports showed that the children had been cruelly treated and exploited, and girls had written to their parents about being repeatedly raped.

On receiving the letters about sexual abuse, the parents had sought Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Mr. Satyarthi, along with his team, was assaulted by the circus’ goons, and the group had to escape to save their lives.

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As children, we have all admired the breathtaking enigma the circus presented us with. We have been in awe of the performers and have smiled back at their happy faces. As adolescents, we have admired their courage and their expertise in expressing themselves. But as adults, I believe it is imperative to take note of the other side we have been missing all along, for it is only then that we could ask for a change.

The blazing lights that you see were probably fuelled by the cries of a child snatched from childhood covers. Those wild somersaults that you admired so much were probably his ways of hiding the scars that still linger. And who knows, your own shouts of appreciation might be helping them conceal the cries of the pain they just inflicted on that little boy.

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