Sunday, January 10, 2010
"Shiloh Angoubi!", The name rang out of the megaphone loudspeakers placed at the four corners of the circus tent, each connected to the microphone by a confusing profusion of wires ..like distant cousins who dislike each other, yet held together because none wants to disappoint the sentimental family matriarch.
In a nation of Raos , Kapoors and Singhs, she always had to enunciate her Manipuri name atleast twice before people pretended that they'd got it. Inspite of the the harsh loudspeaker, she was pretty sure not too many of the two thousand people in the tent seated spread over thirty rows in little arcs of lazy expectancy quite figured out her name..or even bothered.
", on the tightrope ....", the voice continued.
She kept telling herself that there is a first time for everyone. Another inner voice responding that no amount of encouraging cliches would help her, and that now what happened to her would be beyond her control.
Was it really beyond her control?
She shook her head in a futile attempt to throw off the little women clutched to her head, the voices...... Maybe that did help.......
She could hear the dusky Moushami Sheikh, the 41 year old artist, whose realm she was treading on for the first time, somewhere below the safety net.
Moushami, who never missed her prayer...her eyelids lined with kohl and her eyes with sadness. The cat calls and whistles had started to wane away inspite of her last ditch attempt to use the semi transparent nylon bodysuit which she borrowed form Elena, the alcoholic Russian trapeze artist.
Two years ago, she had been told that Shiloh would be her understudy to whom she would pass on the secrets of the rope, and this was the day she had been dreading.
The circus would no longer need her, and the world where she came from, no one who dared wear a semi transparent nylon body suit would ever be allowed to fit in. She wondered if her eyes betrayed her inner thoughts... that she wanted a big hole in the ground to swallow her, that she almost wanted Shiloh to fail.
High up on the pole, Shiloh mechanically flexed her toes inside her rubber soled shoe.She rubbed her sweaty palms on her new silver frock, which had been thrust into her dressing room by Gupta, the manager. The uninviting nylon only made her sweat more.She gripped her balancing pole and put one foot over the rope, trying to find the sweet spot, waiting for her mind to zone out before she put out her other foot into the point of no return.....
Another ironic voice told her that she was already at the point of no return.
She'd fallen a hundred times over with a little more than a sprained neck and a sore ankle which enabled her to get a week long break from her training routine with Moushami...
It was the falling now bit that she was petrified about. She'd heard endless pontification about how failures are stepping stones to success and other similar blah blah.
Life had taught her that there are some failures which mortally wound......Which bleed for a long time, which no tourniquet can quell..
She had a feeling that this would be one..She falls today, she'll never be able to walk the rope in front another audience ever.
The tent lights dimmed, the white focus light turned on her, which made her silver gown shimmer, like a moon in the distant Manipuri skies, Moushami sighed, a circus quietened.... Shiloh put out her other foot on the rope.. her master, her slave.
That night, Moushami slept in peace........