August 28, 2016 12:53:05 am
Roshan Rahman cannot dream of a life outside of a circus tent. Since his childhood, the 16-year-old and his family have lived like nomads, moving from one circus to another. “At the age of five, I left our grandmother’s house in Sonarpur, West Bengal. My grandparents were acrobats. My father is a trapeze artiste, mother Najmal, a cyclist, and my sister Reshmi is a ball dancer,” he says. The circus is in his blood and it is his home. So much so that five years ago, Rahman joined India’s only circus academy in Thalassery, Kerala, known as the cradle of the Indian circus industry. “My father wanted me to join the circus as it is a family tradition. He heard about a circus academy in Thalassery. In 2011, I joined the academy along with nine other students,” he says. But last month, Rahman’s dream to become a circus performer was shattered when the academy shut down.
Rajkamal Talkies, a movie theatre at Chirakkuni village near Thalassery, which housed the circus academy, now wears a desolate look. Rajkamal circus has dismantled circus tents and dumped equipment at the theatre compound. The academy began with 10 students — six girls and four boys, aged between seven and 10 years — in August 2010. Over the past two years, students have been deserting the school. The only student to return to the institute after the summer vacation was Rahman.
“The government cannot run an institute with a single student. The academy has been closed. Rahman’s family wants their ward to complete the 10th standard. So, he is staying on at Thalassery, and studying at the government higher secondary school in Palayad,’’ says K Raghavan, 68, trainer.
When the academy began, the objective was to train children below the age of 14 in acrobatics. The movie theatre hall, owned by Rajkamal circus group, was converted into a training ground. A dilapidated house in the theatre compound was used as the hostel, and all the children attended the government higher secondary school in Palayad.
The students were mostly wards of circus artistes from Nepal, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. “There were sessions in body fitness in the morning and evening, which were held without affecting their general education. There was no proper syllabus for the academy and the government did not provide any infrastructure for the institute,” says K Raghavan, a former circus artiste who retired 12 years ago. “If this art has to be kept alive, the academy has to be revived. It was formed by the previous LDF government in 2010. We hope the new regime under the LDF would have a fresh look at the academy,” says K Raghu, a member of the governing body of the circus academy.
The previous state government had sanctioned Rs 1 crore for the academy, but last year, the finance department objected to continuing the funds. The proposal for acquiring four hectares of land to build a permanent facility for the academy was also abandoned. The Supreme Court verdict in April 2011, which banned the employment of child artistes below the age of 14 in circuses, resulted in a loss of students after the first batch. As they began to leave the academy, so did the trainers. Of the five trainers appointed in 2010, only one has stayed on at the school.
Some circus banners such as Gemini had partially borne the expenses of the academy and had encouraged children from circus families to get enrolled in the academy. Raghu, a manager with Gemini, says the students who have abandoned the institute appear to have joined the industry. “We have difficulty in getting new candidates in Kerala as parents are not willing to send their children for this life,” he says.
“My classmates have joined various circus firms. But my father wanted me to complete Class X,” said Rahman, who lived at the academy hostel until last year when it shut down as well. “My father contacted one of his former circus colleagues at Thalassery, and arranged accommodation for me as a paying guest at his house,” he says.
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