Circus musings and animal welfare

The new circus set-up is as entertaining as ever, even as it prods one to consider the hypocrisy of animal welfare activists
Circus entertainment sans animals.
Circus entertainment sans animals.Pic courtesy Augusto Rodrigues

Augusto Rodrigues

There were lights, there was music, there were artists, and it was houseful. The moment the jokers walked in, laughter drowned the music, and many in the hall were taken back to a few days before the pandemic was declared.

That was when the Jumbo Circus was about to open in Mapusa. The circus ground was prepared, and banners and hoardings adorned vantage points in villages in the North. A few animals – mostly horses, dogs and cats – were seen in the circus camp, and blaring music announced the return of the circus in Goa.

The circus years back was different from the one staged recently in Ravindra Bhavan in Margao, where the Rambo Circus presented its performances on stage, without animals, without tents, without the buzz of bikes and minus the smell of animal urine.

Circus entertainment sans animals.
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The children and the elderly were witnesses to a transformed circus in Margao. It was fun, thrill and laughter for the youngsters and a mind-bender for those who were entertained by another type of circus cycle – a cycle without pedals.

A circus on a stage, in a closed, air-conditioned auditorium, has elements of a circus of the past, but it lacks the basics – like eating food cooked by wood and an LPG cylinder. The fun is there, and the loud laughter of children can be heard. The lights are more attractive, and the music is more vibrant, but the space constraint and the lack of the presence of animals dulls the “C” of the circus.

Animals are now being seen less in circuses because the voice of animal welfare activists is loud. So loud that it obfuscates the difference between love for animals and love for oneself and shows how humans try to distract each other from reality.

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As the children laughed and cheered the artists during the circus on Sunday, my mind pondered on the life animals lived in the past in circuses and the life pets have in our houses. For sure, animals in circus could not be treated badly if they were expected to perform well – a simple rational line of thinking.

I grew up admiring and visiting every circus that tented in Goa, and my first inclination was always to see the animals. The tigers and lions scared me, the elephants left me in awe and the horses captivated me. Their sounds and smell always attracted me as they did hundreds of others. A circus then was incomplete without animals, and if we are witnessing the circus without animals, it is because of the thrust of animal welfare activists trying to protect them.

As my daughter and wife giggled, laughed and clapped at the theatrics during the circus on Sunday, my mind raced to the different cats and dogs domesticated in Goa. After all, they too are animals and many of them are chained. Some are even taken on a leash to defecate, and my mind began to swim, thinking about how we feign and mix animal welfare with self-gratification.

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Today we splurge money on pets. Pets confined within walls. And the same people will not think of helping another human. For example, a dog will be provided edible treats when he listens and is obedient, and all with a public display of love. The same is not true when the pet does not listen and similar is his fate in terms of care and attention.

As the circus clowns left, all in a burst of emotions my mind searched for answers to whether keeping pets at home was not akin to making animals being part of a circus family. For once, it appeared that we were the circus masters who had left the trapeze artists behind.

We are made to believe that a domesticated animal lives a fulsome life. How can any chained animal live a fulsome life? We know that animals are made to suffer – to learn to behave, we are made to believe – to learn. An animal cannot differentiate between the rich and poor but can surely know pain from care.

Circus entertainment sans animals.
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Just like the animals in a circus, my mind clapped.

As the circus came to an end and the younger children left the auditorium with innocent smiles still on their faces, the thought that we are robbing our own of their youth raced through; the thought that activism should be structured on individual behaviour. Had we been honest, we as animals would live a life aimed at positive change and thus would allow animals to be animals. And, the circus would come a full circle.

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