The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From majestic stage to doghouse

Cooch Behar, Nov. 22: The sprawling Nataraj Circus tent at the Raash mela in the heritage town is agog with activity. Acrobats, contortionists, clowns and jugglers are going through the paces to ensure a perfect show, just a few hours away.

Ravi Sharma, however, sits in a corner absentmindedly puffing the bidi pinched between his fingers. With the other hand, he pats his “son”, Shankar, the former “star attraction”. Today he is nothing but dead weight.

The casualty of a government order, Shankar only has Ravi to console him.

Ravi, too, pours his heart out to Shankar. Though the lion-trainer has managed an alternative source of employment in training dogs to perform, the switch, from the majestic beasts to fancy canines, is something he has not been able to come to terms with.

Tipping the scales at 300 kg and measuring 16 feet, Ravi’s “docile son”, is an imposing seven-year-old Royal Bengal tiger. Like him, nine other felines, and a dozen lions languish in small cages, their bodies stiff and sore from doing nothing for months on end.

“The government ban on animal shows in circuses has taken the kick out of show business,” said Ravi, his voice tinged with asperity. “We rarely get more than a handful of spectators for our shows. They come to see the hippopotamus and dogs.”

“Babus told us that the order was issued because animals belonged to the wild and not cages. Some told us that it was because the beasts were endangered. The others felt it was done to prevent cruelty on animals. But then what about the animals in zoos'” asked Swapan Mazumdar, the manager of the circus.

“We bred animals and did not capture them from the wild,” he said. “Now we don’t because we cannot afford to keep them.”

“You can torture a prisoner, but only love and attention can get an animal to perform,” Mazumdar added.

The circus takes pains to ensure that the animals are always in the pink of health, unlike the “moving carcasses one finds in zoos”, said Ravi. “Each animal is fed 10 kg of meat and an equal amount of milk every day. We also have doctors on call 24 hours a day.”

The government order has all but killed the beasts. Crammed in small cages they are no longer brought out for training. Exercise, a necessity to keep them in good health, is no longer a part of the circadian routine.

With plans of setting up rehabilitation centres for circus animals not taking off, the lord of the jungle and the king of beasts are nothing but an unwanted lot.

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