Sunday, 20 January 2008

gLadYs aT tHe ciRcUs

It was like part of a childhood dream come true. There was no sawdust in the ring, just nice red Karnataka dust--but it was a circus ring, a real live circus ring. There were acrobats doing flips on a trampoline, one girl sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle and riding backwards, there were men and women up on the trapeze.

And down in the dust, the nice red dust, Gladys and Miss Rose met the clowns of the Jumbo Russian Circus! We spent two hours with them, telling them about how we work as hospital clowns, we played together, practised together, and had a lot of fun in spite of my pitiful attempts to translate. Quite a complicated procedure all of it went through, really. From French to Franglais to English to Hinglish and finally to Hindi. But as clowns do, we all managed to communicate with each other. And even when we miscommunicated, it was okay. Clowns are cool with mistakes.

There were about eight of them. Three of them were little. They were from all over India - Nepal, Madras, Bombay .. they were Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and one of them was from phoren--"William from Belgium"--we thought he was just joking, as he said this in nothing like a Belgian accent, but it turned out he was the last of a Belgian circus family, and he'd been born and brought up here in India. His wife is Indian and none of his children are in the circus. Not surprisingly, I suppose. Circus people don't look very well off. But they smile a lot.

Some of the clowns were once trapeze artists or acrobats, who turned to clowning as they got older. They were all lovely people and enthusiastic, but very shy. They were amazed at the fact that Severine and I were clowns--"there are no lady clowns in India," we were informed.

There are now! So it looks like Gladys is India's very first home-grown "lady clown". Although to tell the truth, she ain't much of a lady. You should hear the language she uses when children aren't around.

At the end of our session, one of the clowns, Chandrashekhar, rushed off to bring us his photo albums and showed us pictures from his past. There was an amazing old black and white shot of him in white leotards (non-spangly), chest puffed out, good old seventies hair and pencil-thin moustache, from before he became a clown. And his clown pictures! Adorable! He had the most delightful costumes and the most to-die-for spiralled walking stick.

Before we left, the clowns invited us to join them in the ring at one of their shows! Not to do a full performance, but just to go around the ring once when they first come out.

THAT will be the childhood dream come true. Although in the childhood dream I was usually dressed in a spangly dress and standing on one foot atop a trotting horse, or else dressed in spangly tights and flying from a trapeze into the arms of one of the Cimarro brothers.

Ah, the Cimarro brothers .. they were the trapeze artists at Gerry Cottle's Circus, a British circus that I saw in the early seventies. I was nine. They were Italian and unshaven and they wore tights. I do not remember if the tights were spangly. I just remember falling madly in love with both brothers and wanting to run away and join the circus, if only I could remember how to get there. But I could not--remember--and so I did not--run away--and that was that. I still have a thing for Italian men.

Stay tuned for more on the circus ..

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