You would think that in the midst of the circus that is our life - we would hardly have time ... for well, a circus.
But lo and behold: the intrepid 4 Eichers made their way to the Gemini Circus this afternoon.
We made our way out to a scrubby wasteland that lies near the Kalwa Bridge in Thane. Sure enough a huge tent materialised in front of us and the sparkle razzle of the circus was around us. The kids have never been to one - and so we plunged in.
Looking at the circus as an adult has its own sad twinge to it. There was a sparse crowd for the 4 PM show - so we could see things clearly. I was struck by how sad many of the performers looked. They came - did their thing and left. Who are they really? Doing what they do three times a day - for people in various cities across the country. Where do they stay? When do they eat? What relationships criss-cross between them.
There was so little applause. The announcements were unintelligible. The place was hot - we bought plastic fans to fan ourselves with.
But it was a circus.
The real thing. We were there looking at it all unfold before our eyes.
Since our dear Menaka Gandhi managed to stop almost all wild animals in circuses (no more thrilling lions and tigers as I remember from my boyhood trips to Azad Maidan) - we were not expecting much by way of animals. (by the way - that is not a picture of Menaka being lofted up by a pachyderm - though I am sure many circus owners would be happy for their ele-friends to do that to her).
Oh yes, we did have 3 rather tired looking elephants made occasional appearances - as did 2 camels and a hippo. But as far as animals - there were probably more on the streets than in the big tent.
Instead we got lots of gymnastics. Some of it really heady stuff. Hats off to these men and women who put themselves through so much. The show just kept going on. Act after act. Finally ending with the trapeze artists whirling above us - some 50 feet or so high up near the top of the tent. They finished with a memorable 'black light' effect where they swirled through the air with the lights off...
Enoch liked the motorcyclists best. Four of them driving in crazy loops around the metal ball - the angry buzz of the bikes forcing little hands to quickly stop-up little ears.
Artists on bicycles. The obligatory bare back riding. Jugglers. The odd clown magician. The two and a half hours whizzed by.
This particular show had its smattering of foreign artists too - mainly slavic looking ladies who did acrobatic stuff with ropes - and a jubilant group of African tumblers. A number of others looked oriental - but that could mean Nepal, any of the 7 sisters - or folks from East Asia.
As each act made way for the next, a small army of workers made sure props were ready, cables were swung here and there... The band - up in their tent above the show entrance - warbled away with a vaguely circussy sound - spiced up masala style.
In the midst of all of this - the shabbiness of it all kept coming through. The tent was massive - but our shoddy seating on uneven ground brought us back to earth. As breath-taking as many of the stunts were - so much was shot through with sadness.
The clowns were mainly midgets. You just wonder what their life is like. The constant gaping they go through as people stare at them.
Their jokes were mainly burlesque. Crude hitting of each other. What redeemed them for me was the participation they seem to have in the other acts - often serving as assistants - and occasionally showing their own gymnastic skills.
It was perhaps appropriate that once we exited the tent we could not get an auto-rickshaw for love of money. As a family we trudged past the outer wall of the Thane jail - ending up at the main gate having done a good half-way round circumbulation - before the long awaited Auto was successfully hailed.
Seeing the prison brings the question to my mind: how many of the men and women in that circus are living in their own private prisons? Sparkly costume changes apart - it doesn't take much to see that all is not well.
Our kids were strangely subdued too. I think that their eyes have also picked up a lot about the real state of affairs.
Coming home to our beautiful home. A warm bath and a good meal later. We crash into our soft beds. So amazingly and totally blessed.
Half way across the city the last show of the day is probably still on... And then the tents will be packed up and the circus will move on to the next town.