Circus Is In Town!
Asha Gopinathan describes how she turned 10 in the company of fifty wide eyed children.
On Oct 03, 2017

I happened to notice that Jumbo circus was in town. The tents were pitched in Putharikandam Maidanam during Onam. I really had to go and see it. What better way than to get around fifty students of class 5, 6 and 7th to join me? And so we did. 

I felt 10 again!

Most of these millenials, studying in Attakulangara School had never gone to a circus before. They did not know that Thalassery was a major centre of Indian circus giving birth to big companies like Kamala Three Ring Circus, Bharat circus, Gemini and Jumbo. They were not aware that at one time 20,000 out of nearly 35,000 circus artistes and nearly 90 percent of circus companies originated in Thalassery. Our kids only knew of Thalassery biriyani and associated Kannur with political violence. 

Shri Keeleri Kunhikannan the famous Kalaripayattu teacher who trained generations of circus artistes using his knowledge of Kalaripayattu and traditional Indian gymnastics and rope tricks have vanished from public memory. So has the name of the first circus camp in Kerala – Pariyalees Malabar Grant Circus. 

Kunnath Yasoda, the first woman performer from Kerala staged her show on the inaugural day itself. The children sat wide- eyed with amazement as they watched the trapeze artists swing from one end of the big top to the other with such ease. 
Students are awestruck

Jugglers, rope artistes, African acrobats with their nimble and fit bodies performed to the beat of African music. The motorcyclist in his cage driving up and down the round globe had them mesmerised. The clowns had them rolling in peals of laughter. The birds, dogs, camels and horse added to the fun.
Motorcylist riding in the globe

I felt they could have paraded their camels without getting them to perform tricks. After all, the camel contingent is the most distinguished group both in the Republic Day parade and the Beating the Retreat ceremonies. Women cyclists performing their group acts reminded me once again of the motorcyclists at the end of the Republic Day parade. I found myself straining to see a Malayali face among the artistes. Barring a few, most of the artistes come from Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nepal and Manipur.

The kids had some eats too thanks to my friends Josie and Ian Lacey in Sydney who had visited the school in January 2016. and interacted with the Kathakali students. They contributed some funds to this trip and insisted that the children be given treats. Ice- creams and lozenges made everyone happy. They did not litter their surroundings but collected it in a bag to be disposed off in the school.

On their way out, they looked at the gallery of famous people who had watched this circus in its heyday – Pandit Nehru, Chief Ministers EMS and Achutha Menon, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira and Feroze Gandhi, Zakir Hussain, S Radhakrishnan and even Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King! 

Photos from the photo gallery

Indeed what a glorious time that was for circuses in India. The political patronage seems to end with Chief Minister Nayanar. At least Trivandrum has a central space where they can pitch their tents. Many cities don't have space to hold circuses, fairs and the like. It would be a smart move to keep this space intact under the smart- city project. Our children need it. 

The children walked back double file to their school discussing amongst themselves which act they thought was the best one! Some of the kids started Kalaripayattu training on 30 September at CVN Kalari, also originally from Thalassery. I am sure the entire group will go and tell their families and friends about this outing and get other children to come and watch the circus. 

A group photo outside the circus tent

I felt transported back to my childhood. I hope you the reader will also go and spend some time under the big top the next time circus comes to town. I recommend taking a few children along. 

You too will feel 10 again!

All photos, Courtesy: Asha Gopinathan

Asha Gopinathan 

Asha Gopinathan has been part of the Attakulangara School Samrakshana Samiti for the past four years.
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