We were in this tiny village to see a 57-foot naked man, towering over everything, but he wasn’t the only thing to catch my eye. Wheat-pasted to every surface — crumbling walls and old wooden shop doors — amazing Jumbo Circus posters!
Now I’m not a huge circus fan. It’s not that I have moral qualms… if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know this well… but it’s my own fragility. The dust, the animal hair, the crowds… it’s all too much for me. But these posters were gorgeous. Never have I wanted to circus more.
Garish neon colors slapped across dirty litho prints. In Kannada, in English, in various shades of awesome. A man in kurta jubba pajamas and a sweet top hat, projectile vomiting buckets of goldfish into a tiny tank. A blonde krasotka balances fifteen hula hoops on her remarkable hips, almost like a bangle-trapped fairy, while tricolor cardboard fireworks pop behind her. Elephants port garlands to cartoon Shiva linga. THIS IS A SHOW YOU CANNOT MISS, they cried.
Does it get better?
Oh yes it does — cos it features Russian and African Artists! Or so one poster proclaimed. Although it turns out it doesn’t.
“The Russians all went home,” admitted Shashi. He’s the head carnie, the ringmaster’s ringleader, the chief of the operation. “They had visa problems. Now we just have Africans.”
He sat in the three-ring tent, 12 kilometers away in Chanarayapattana, sipping a cup of tea. He didn’t look anything like a carnie should. Just a middle-aged man, drinking tea in a tent. He shouted across to one of the lazily moving circus hands. “Bring some posters,” he shouted in English to blank stares. Then he tried again in Hindi. No luck. He found someone to translate the command.
“I don’t speak the local language,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I speak Hindi, I speak Tamil, I speak English. But Kannada?” Kannada is the local language. “I have learned to become an actor. Now, I use my hands.” He did a dance, aping an ape.
“Like Charlie Chaplin?” I asked.
“Yes, exactly! I have to be like Charlie Chaplin!” He laughed loudly. Indians revere Chaplin.
There was an awkward silence while we waited for the posters to come. I should have had a million questions for a circus owner.
“So do you have tigers,” I asked. I felt like a fool.
“No,” he said with a sigh. “Not now. Now, we only have local animals. The government has banned tigers, lions, animals like that. Only they can have them. So we have elephants and camels and horses. Only local.”
He looked down into his tea while his friend Ashok shuffled his newspaper.
“You should come see the show,” said Shashi. “You will be my guest.”
I wanted to see his show. But then the posters arrived. And I had a bus to catch. And, as we all know, I’m fragile when it comes to a circus.
Jumbo Circus, coming to Bangalore Palace Grounds on December 21st.