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A 'moving village' stops: Rambo Circus faces heat amid coronavirus outbreak
An empty tent is a circus group's worst nightmare but the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus has compounded the problems of an already struggling business, says Sujit Dilip, the proprietor of Rambo Circus, who had to put out an appeal for help.
Dilip said he was initially "embarrassed" to ask for help but decided to reach out to public as they were grounded in Airoli, Navi Mumbai from March 13, when the state and later the nation announced the lockdown due to the pandemic.
With no shows possible and the responsibility of around 80 artistes and 20 animals, Dilip said they were staring at an uncertain future as the pandemic has taken away their chance to earn money during the peak summer season.
"We were about to start our circus when the CM announced the lockdown from March 13 and we had to close. It'll take at least three-four months for the situation to settle down but by then monsoon will start and it'll be a bad time for us again," Dilip told PTI in an interview.
Circuses in the country, Dilip said, have two primary seasons: the summers and Diwali.
Last year, Rambo Circus braved the Aurangabad floodswhich damaged their tents and lightsfaced heavy rainfall in Pune and finally arrived in the suburban Malad here during Diwali to make up for the losses.
"I had to sell off my flat to bail out the circus. But even the festive period earning was hit. So we finally decided to focus on the summer of 2020. Who would've thought this would happen?" he wondered.
The staff of 80, residing in a gated wall compound venue, includes two families with small childrenwho don't perform25 women and as many men. There are 17 dogs, including seven who are under retirement and one pony.
Then there is the support staff: animal keepers, cooks, electricians, designers and tent makers.
In the initial phase of the lockdown, those hailing from nearby towns in the state headed home. Others, who had to risk crossing state borders amid the pandemic, chose to stay back, Dilip said.
"Indian circus is like a moving village. We are like vagabonds. Every 45 days, we change our location. But where can we go today? There are no trucks available, everything's shut. It's wise to stay here and wait for the permission. It's the safest to stay inside," he said.
As soon as the word spread on WhatsApp that the Rambo Circus was feeling the heat of the lockdown, many admirers and longtime well wishers of these artistes offered help, Dilip said.
"For the staff, circus is the home. 'Jeena yahan marna yahan.' They can't go anywhere else... But right now, we all are so happy. The artistes always felt they're the neglected part of the society. But today for the first time we are feeling proud that so many people are thinking about us."
In a day, Rambo Circus requires at least 55 kg rice for its staff and animals, and a ration of such magnitude was impossible for them to procure.
Dilip, who has been looking after the circus for over 25 years now, was stunned by the offers of help via social media.
A cancer trust contributed Rs 50,000, while a government servant donated her pension of Rs 30,000 to the circus, he said.
Politicians too stepped in, Dilip said, with Cabinet Minister Chhagan Bhujbal providing them with ration, Shiv Sena leader Vijay Chougule pitching in to help and even the Thane deputy collector reaching out, asking if they needed animal food.
The local municipality is providing the artistes with food packets and drinking water every day.
"The circus would have just died had people not helped, if the NGOs, government wouldn't have come forward."
With no possibility of any shows for at least four months, the challenge now is to raise funds to pay the staff their salaries.
A fan from Bengaluru suggested Rambo Circus should set up a donation fund on crowdfunding platform Ketto, co-founded by actor Kunal Kapoor.
"We then drew a budget of Rs 8.5 lakh for the salary and food of our staff for two months.
"Once the target is achieved, we will get the money and then distribute it among them. Some have their families in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha. I need to give them money so that they can help their families back home."
So far, Rambo Circus has raised over Rs 5 lakh, with even actor-filmmaker Renuka Shahane donating for them.
"I've never seen an entire community taking care of us. This can only happen in India. We have spread happiness to so many people over the years. I think now they are giving us back. In cash, kind and smiles," Dilip said.
- by Associated Press
- by Associated Press
- by Associated Press