What’s winter in Calcutta without getting under the Big Top to watch the acrobatics and tricks of man and animal alike? Ajanta Circus has pitched its tent at Tallah Park, about 20 minutes from the Ultadanga crossing. Other than human performers including some from far-off lands like Ethiopia, Vietnam, Russia, Mongolia and Nepal, it has on its rolls three lumbering jumbos, half a dozen clever cockatoos and macaws, spitz and horses.
The circus starts with a trapeze act. “There are 12 of us,” says Biswajit Sarkar, the most experienced of the lot.
One of the trinity of jokers adds a dash of humour to the derring-do happening overhead. He is Sajahan Sheikh from Mathurapur. Despite a heavily painted face, one can make out that he has seen many a winter pass by from under the tent — 45 to be precise. “I still remember when they banned performance of big animals in circus in 2001. The tigers which used to sit on chairs were taken away. I was in Samrat Circus then. It was as if the soul went of the show. Now the owners have compensated the loss of the animals with artistes from abroad,” he says.
Ethiopian Hussein Ibrahim is one of them. He is a master balancer, placing box atop box over a cylindrical roller and then standing up on them. “I do roller balancing and stilt walking back home in ceremonies. This is my first time in India,” says the 22-year-old.
He is amazed seeing animals perform in the circus. “I have never seen this in my country or in Turkey and Iran where I have worked,” he said, adding that he was planning to train a few dogs back home to start his own show.
Manipur boy Surjit Singh just needs a gulp of water to make his throat slippery. After that he can slide down a blunt knife 13 inches long. No visual tricks there. He repeated the feat in broad daylight for us. “I learnt to do this from my martial arts guru,” says the shy boy, who lives an hour’s drive away from celebrity boxer Mary Kom’s house. He is one of the group of four boys and three girls from the state.
Bharat Dogra came to the circus through family connections. “My father was a juggler and trapeze artist. He was against me joining the profession. Par mere sar pe circus ka bhoot sawar tha,” he says, while taking off his skates after completing his show. Now he does not want his children to follow suit. “There is no future in this line once your youth is gone,” the Punjabi lad sighs.
But the seven Australian cockatoos and the two macaws show no signs of fatigue or boredom setting in. They are happy as long as their favourite feed of grapes and corn are ready as soon as they return after their performance of cycling and walking on mini rollers. “They will bring the tent down squealing if food is a minute late,” says Kalyani Poddar, their keeper. And of course the elephants have to be fed as long as they are awake.
The circus has three shows daily at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are priced Rs 60, Rs 100, Rs 200 and Rs 300. “We are here till end-January,” says owner Rabiul Haq.