The sun was in for an early morning. Sunil rubbed his eyes and sat up in bed. His back ached a little, courtesy the stiff cushion that had been his pillow. Now that Rambo Circus was packing up for a move, all the bedding had been strapped and kept under the water-proof tin ceiling.
It was Sunil’s third year in the circus, his first starting when he had been lured into easy money-making by a village-friend. “All you need to do is roll some cart balls and they pay for food and stay. Unbelievable isn’t it?” Sunil was not doing anything worthwhile and was – “a twenty-one year old box of rubbish” as his father said. Lifting weights for the Sunday tamasha paid zilch and thus, he had decided, he would join Rambo Circus.
That was a long time back, he reflected. Looking out from his tent, Sunil found the circus had woken up with the sun.
Rani, the dog trainer, was busy feeding her canines some biscuits. The elephants were chomping and stamping in wonderful sync, while Dadi (she was the mother of the newest Rambo acrobat, whose name Sunil had a habit of forgetting) was almost done with her clothes washing. She had signed up for the job voluntarily, – washing clothes for the entire crew – unwilling to let her twelve-year-old struggle alone. Wise of her, mused Sunil, considering the duo had no one but each other to count upon.
“When will you get going Sir?” the manager screamed just then, his face one huge sarcastic smile. “Or perhaps you’d like some morning tea in bed?”
Apologizing hurriedly, Sunil scampered off to the main stage area. He had to help dismantle the whole setup and with much of the crew busy in wrapping up other odds and ends, only a few burly men were left to get the job done. Sunil wasn’t burly – at least not yet – but he prided himself his muscular arms.
A sudden whiff of air tugged at the clothesline and some of the costumes flipped to the muddy ground. Dadi looked on pitifully; she could have almost sobbed.
The Deccan bridge was a popular hangout. Come evening, and couples would seemingly mushroom at all corners. College kids would chatter incessantly and children would nibble at bhelpuri bought by parents from the long queue of vendors.
Sunil found city life fascinating. “City life” he grinned to himself, as he stared up at the bridge from the circus ground deep down. Formerly, he had only heard of the big city in fables and folklore. So much so that when, after a performance in the tiny village of Wai, the manager announced the Pune visit, Sunil almost jumped up in joy.
The past four months of performance had been, to put it lightly, thrilling. The audience here paid more – the tickets were priced at ’50’ Fifty, unlike the mere five the villagers paid. That meant for the crew – better living and more, much more food.
“The manager hogs all the money you moron. And you jump about in glee with your false assumptions.” Joshi, the clown, said to him one day. Sunil stared as his face paint cracked with a scowl and his stage grin faded into a frown.
What gives, he surmised. He was content in the circus. Yes, he sometimes wished to go up there on the bridge and walk from one end to the other with a packet of spicy bhelpuri in hand. Standing by the Deccan “lake”, Sunil wondered what Nariman point would be like. Would they ever travel to Mumbai? Or was it plainly a ghost city, invented one summer afternoon by his deceased grandfather?
Lights had come up everywhere. Rani’s dogs ran around, woofing and barking for all they were worth. Dadi was already preparing to snuggle up in bed. Her acrobat son was, however, nowhere to be seen.
A “Ranka Jewellers” signboard flashed red and gold. Sunil closed his eyes. Tomorrow, he thought, the city lights above would be too distant for him to watch.