The corona-triggered current lockdown has thrown life out of gear for many in West Bengal, including that of circus owners, performers and the animals they keep, as most of them are struggling to make ends meet amid depleting food stock and other essential items.
Circus companies across the state have been out of business since early March when the scare over the pandemic started gaining ground. Performers of Ajanta Circus, one of the oldest in the state, are currently stranded in Kishanganj near the West Bengal-Bihar border, with just little food left in store.
“Since March 8, we are stranded in Kishanganj. We couldn’t move out as the panic had spread… Then came the lockdown… Every day, food, maintenance and lodging cost us around Rs 45,000. We havent earned a penny in the last one month,” Rabiqul Haq, owner of Ajanta Circus, told PTI.
Haq also said he has not been able to pay full salary to his 60 staff members. “We are facing immense hardship. It is getting tougher with each passing day. We have to feed the dogs and the birds, too. I don’t know for how long I will be able to manage,” he added.
Circuses usually get one or two shows every day. They move from one area to another every 10-15 days. Employees are paid around Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000, depending on their skills and the number of years they have put in. Empire Circus, a 40-year-old company, too is staring at an uncertain future, having run out of money.
Stranded in Haroa block of North 24 Parganas for the last 23 days, staffers and the animals there do not have enough resources to make ends meet. Luckily for the company, the local block development officer and panchayat members have come forward to provide them with food every day.
“We have run out of money and don’t have resources to feed our staff and animals, keep aside the question of paying salaries. If the situation continues, we will be forced to disband our circus,” Empire Circus manager Jahangir Molla said.
Apart from the 40 members in his team, Molla also has five children in his entourage. “The kids are the children of our employees; they are between five and 10 years old. The conditions in which we are living right now under the open sky with just a tarpaulin to shield ourselves are not just unhealthy but also unsafe,” Molla said.
According to Farid Jamad, the local panchayat head, villagers and other officials have been helping the circus employees with food and other essentials items over the past few weeks. “They came here as guests to entertain us and our children. They will not starve as long as we are here,” Jamad asserted.
Haq said the Centre banning the use of big cats for performances in circuses a few years ago had dealt a body blow to the business, forcing many small and medium-sized companies to shut shop. “We are apprehensive that COVID-19 may put the final nail in the coffin of this century-old form of entertainment – leaving trapeze artistes, clowns and knife-throwers jobless,” he added.