Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore, Hitesh Harisinghani and Afsar Dayatar return moist-eyed, elevated, after spending an evening with clowns and derring-do stunt artistes at Rambo Circus.
The headline sounds paradoxical? Clichéd?
Biju Pushkaran, 53, has been living this paradox ever since he realised he was a hungry 10 year old in Mumbai, out of the cocoon-like embrace of his hometown in Kerala, in search of a living.
"Hunger is why I entered the (circus) arena at 10 and never looked back," says Biju, reminiscing how he began his career as a clown when he was just about 10.
"I was all on my own in Mumbai," says Biju, who traveled from Kerala in search of a living. This particular day he was quite hungry and accidentally popped inside a circus tent at Apollo Circus in search of food. "It was somewhere in Vashi (Navi Mumbai)," he says cleaning the hazy cobwebs of memories.
What he found instead -- along with food -- was life, a cherished one.
"I hadn't eaten enough for three days and I don't remember today who it was but that person gave me as much food as I asked for that day. My hunger taken care of he took me under his wings and thus began my career in the circus," recounts Biju as he briskly wipes off the makeup on his face.
"I was made to do all kind of work that is the fate of someone as poor as and as miserable as I was then," remembers Biju, who for the better part of his four-decade career has worked with Rambo Circus.
This particular evening, he, along with his troupe of gymnasts, trapeze artists, cyclists, jugglers, bunch of clowns, and derring-doers was busy packing off after a hectic day of 'mini shows' at St Andrew's auditorium in suburban Bandra, Mumbai.
His crew is hungry and while he wants to go on and on about his troupe, their adventures, their lives, he drops hints that he needs to rush.
It's already 30 minutes past 8 pm and half of his artistes are already waiting for him -- some even called him to wrap up quickly -- inside a bus heading off to Borivali, a north west Mumbai suburb, where the Rambo Circus is playing at its full strength.
"There are almost 250 of us," says Biju about the total strength of the Rambo Circus crew, a majority of who are doing 'full shows' at Borivali.
Despite the time-challenge Biju quickly recalls how he became a clown and how he landed at Rambo Circus. "I did a few stints after Apollo, but I found my true calling and a family-like environment at Rambo Circus," says he.
"I always admired the clowns whose presence would make the audience spark up like kids. I was in awe of all the jokers at Apollo. I wanted to be like them. Make people laugh. Make them jump in their seats," Biju goes into flashback mode.
"I told my caretakers (at Apollo Circus) about my dream, my aspiration and they made fun of me," he says.
"'Tere jaisa kaliya kabhi joker nahi ban sakta hai (A dark complexioned person like you can never become a clown)'," they derided me. "That further strengthened my resolve," he says as he removes the last patch of makeup from his face exposing his dark visage.
"Look at me; look how kaliya I am," he lets out a hearty laugh at his self-flagellation.
But a quiet satisfaction is clearly visible layered under his twinkling eyes.
"'You can do it'; I have been telling myself this every single day I sit on a chair and transform myself into a multi-coloured clown," says Biju more to himself then for the benefit of those who are hearing his story.
"The path was full of ups and downs but I accepted the challenge. I am thankful I got the chance to work with Rambo Circus whose owner, P T Dilip Sir, gave me not only an opportunity to become a clown but also treated all of us like family," he says.
P T Dilip, who himself worked in a circus as a child and then founded his own circus, passed away in 2022 aged 74.
"Today his son, Sujith Dilip takes care of all of us like family," says Sachin Waghchoure, Biju's associate, who has been with the Rambo Circus for 12 years.
"Sir takes our good care. We all have proper medical insurance now," says Waghcoure when asked about the security of working in a circus that is so prone to accidental injuries that one might have while performing daring stunts.
"Would you believe that I have travelled in an aeroplane more than five times till now, and if all goes well, will as well fly to America to be part of Rambo Circus?" asks Waghchoure unable to hide the pride in what he has achieved in life ever since he left his small village in Maharashtra and headed off to Mumbai.
"We are happy that we are a part of Rambo Circus," says Waghchoure who hails from Maharashtra's rural hinterland of Latur.
Ask him to narrate his story and he says, "most of us have share similar stories," pointing towards Biju, who is now all primed up for his hour-long journey to Borivali in peak traffic hour.
Waghchoure and Anil Kumar Nishad had the audience in laughter with their comic skit earlier in the evening. Both were hot selfie property with the young kids who had come in droves to watch the mini show at St Andrew's auditorium with their parents.
"We couldn't study much as children. We lived a life of poverty as kids but we are happy with what we have become in life now. People call us jokers, clowns with love. They love us so much. This warmth is what helps us go on and on," says Nishad, whose defies his dwarf-sized body when he is on stage with his comic acts.
Anil, who hails from Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur, left his family many, many years ago.
Ask him if it pains or hurts when his fellow clowns hit him hard, even if comically, and pat comes the paradoxical response: "When we cry in pain, people laugh. That gives us joy."
"Ha, Ha, Ha," Anil bolts out thunderous laughter after a brief pause to cheer up the non-circus people around him who are trying to fathom the paradox that he, like Biju and Anil, have been living all their working lives.
"We do this (laugh dramatically, thunderously to distract people from the gloominess surrounding our lives) every time people (like this correspondent) ask us such silly questions," Biju adds as he and his troupe bid good night.