DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to Marianne Fulton, senior curator of George Eastman House, who found me the backing to realize this dream, to Teri Barbero, for her hard work, to Dayanita Singh, without whom this book would not have been possible, and to my husband and best friend, Martin Bell, for always being so supportive. This book is also dedicated to India, the country I love most, and of course to its wonderful circus artists.

Mary Ellen Mark

FOREWORD

I was actually present for the taking of some of these photographs, for I was at the Great Royal Circus in Junagadh, Gujarat, in the winter of 1990 when Mary Ellen was working there. I was also "working," taking notes for both a screenplay and a novel-in-progress, but for my purposes I didn't need to work nearly as hard as Mary Ellen. For example, I know how many hours she invested in the photograph on page 74 (Great Royal Circus), and also Pinky, Shiva Ji and Laxmi,on page 41. And I was there when she shot Pratap Singh, the wild-animal trainer, with his lion Tex (Pratap Singh, the Wild-Animal Trainer, with His Lion Tex at Great Royal Circus, page 45), but I was quite comfortably standing outside the cage and Mary Ellen was standing inside the cage. As you can see by the photograph, Tex was not in a good temper that day.

But there is much more going on in these photographs of the small circuses of India than Mary Ellen's capacity for personal risk. What she has captured is a life of great daring and relentless hard work, but also the feeling of what a family the circus is to its performers--including its animals. The circus is an oasis within a country in turmoil; the circus is a cloister within a world of chaos. (Compare the other photographs to Crowd Outside Circus, page 2) If some of these dwarfs (or Ram Pyare at Empire Circus, page 79) appear grotesque to us, it is important to realize that within the circus family they are not grotesque, because they are at home.

The Indian circuses reflect an atavistic and compassionate life, which Mary Ellen has depicted with disturbing honesty and compelling affection. Who are most of the acrobats? They are children, mostly girls; for many of them, the alternative to this life would have been begging (or starving) or prostitution. And what is the circus life for them? It is three performances a day, every day. To bed about midnight, up about six. Yet there is only one photograph of an acutual performance in this book, for the real life here is not seen in performing; rather it is seen in the daily life in the troupe tents and in the dusty aisles between the tents--it is best seen as a life of practice, and rest, and more practice.

If you think you work hard, you should see what a day in the life of an Indian circus is like. I spent only a week at the Great Royal Circus in Junagadh; merely to observe the work that they do is exhausting--almost as exhausting as watching Mary Ellen.

John Irving



PREFACE

I fell in love with the Indian circus at the same time that I fell in love with India. It was 1969, my first trip there. I was in Bombay with a friend and we went to see a circus at Church Gate. I was immediately struck by the beauty and innocence of the show. I vividly remember seeing a huge hippo in a pink tutu being coached to walk around the ring with his mouth open. At the end, he (or she) was rewarded with an enormous cotton-candy cone that matched the tutu.

English is the second language in India. Although all of the circus proprietors and most of the trainers speak English, many of the performers do not. I was lucky to meet a very talented young Indian photographer named Dayanita Singh. The Hindi interviews and quotes were all translated by her and compiled by Dayanita, Martin Bell, and me.

HIPPO TRAINER, (about his hippo) THE EMPIRE CIRCUS, CALCUTTA, 1989

"He doesn't bite. He just damages property."

ANIMAL TRAINER'S ASSISTANT, THE EMPIRE CIRCUS, CALCUTTA, 1989


"You feed animals, they live with you, stay with you, and die with you. Everything that is on two feet is very immoral, but animals are not innocent. The more you look after them, the more treacherous they are, but the four-legged things are still better than the two-legged things.

"The woman I married only stayed with me two days when she saw the meat I cut up for the animals."

CLOWN (about another clown), THE EMPIRE CIRCUS, CALCUTTA, 1989


"Gadai is very moody. Unless he has his meat and fish every day he leaves and goes to another circus."

YOUNG ACROBAT, THE FAMOUS CIRCUS, CALCUTTA, 1989

"In the beginning we used to be very scared. We knew we could fall. If we break our hands and legs who will look after us then? One girl died. We thought she was only unconscious. We carried her to the tent and the doctor said she was dead. Her family came and took her and her four sisters away."

ACROBAT, THE FAMOUS CIRCUS, CALCUTTA, 1989


"To be a great acrobat you need a heart and your body needs to be strong. After each item [act] we scan the audience and look for attractive guys."

TULSI AND BASWARF BROTANT, DHERS, CLOWNS, THE FAMOUS CIRCUS, CALCUTTA, 1989


"In our home there were four brothers. The first and the fourth were tall. The second and the third were small. There was very little at home and we used to make people laugh so they brought us here."

LION TRAINER, THE FAMOUS CIRCUS, CALCUTTA, 1989

"I am more frightened by a dog than a lion because if a dog bites you have to get an injection afterwards. As soon as I see the animals mood is not right I attack him first."


Over the next twenty years I returned to India many times to photograph. I did several magazine articles and I produced a book on the prostitutes of Bombay called Falkland Road. I also worked extensively with the street performers in Bombay and Delhi and I made a second Indian book, Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity in Calcutta. On each occasion I would see if there was a circus in the vicinity and if there was, I would go and photograph. In Bombay, in the early seventies, I photographed at the Gemini Circus. There I met a trainer with his young chimp, Raja. I was struck by how much the trainer and the chimp looked alike and I was also very impressed by the daring inventiveness of Raja's act. During his performance he wheeled around a pram carrying the two year-old-daughter of another trainer. Chimpanzees are notoriously dangerous. I could see that this must be a very special animal for someone to trust it with a baby.

I always knew that one day I must return to India and devote a long period of time to photographing the circuses there. Finally, in 1989, I was able to fulfill this dream with the encouragement and support of Marianne Fulton and The George Eastman House and grants from the Eastman Kodak Company and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The organization of the project was extremely difficult. Dayanita researched and arranged the entire undertaking. This was very complex, because there are approximately twenty-five big top circuses and many smaller ones, which tour constantly. They might stay in a location from as short a time as two weeks to as long as two months.

The circuses are very competitive with each other and therefore secretive about their next site. They are also excessively protective, fearing other circuses will steal their performers and, even more importantly, their "items," or acts. Because of this they would often not tell us where they were going until the very last minute. The locations are carefully researched by their proprietors for many qualities, such as their accessibility, the population of the area, the length of time since another circus has visited the town, and how near to the possible location another circus is presently performing. One circus owner was so paranoid that he refused to let us know his location. It was a Bengal circus, and as they have a very special atmosphere, I was absolutely determined to find it. When we finally tracked down the circus several miles outside Benares, all we found was a big empty hole where the big top had been. We were one day too late.

MOTHER OF AN ACROBAT (the mother is ill and has come to the circus to take her daughter back to their village) THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989

"I have saved one lakh [100,000] of rupees. [This is about $3500.] All I need is to marry her off and then I am ready to go to god."

SAMPSON AND SOPHIA, WEIGHT LIFTERS, THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989

"When I married my wife she was very thin, but then I trained her to work with me because we could get more money and bigger accommodations. I thought that three was better in the act, so I trained her sister also. I used to let the elephant walk on me, but then I decided to let him walk on my wife, Sophia, because as she is a woman it becomes more daring. She did this act up until her seventh month of pregnancy. When our eight-year-old son comes to visit us he is very proud."

MONKEY TRAINER, THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989

"The monkey bit me yesterday, but I gave it right back to him."

ACROBAT, THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989

"I don't want a man with buck teeth or skin as black as coal. I want someone with medium-color skin who doesn't beat me or drink or play cards."

R.N. THORAT, CLOWN, THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989

"The hippo is a very pure soul. He has his bath three times a day."

P.K. BOSE, CLOWN, THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989

"Of course the hippo is pure. He eats only vegetables. He is a Brahmin. I don't touch circus animals. They only kill circus people. If one of these animals runs away, they won't kill anyone in town. They will wait until they catch a circus person."

LION TRAINER, THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989

"Last year the tiger escaped in Bombay. A crowd gathered around and the circus people lassoed him, but the tiger fainted. He was a new arrival and very frightened."

SUSHILA, ACROBAT THE GREAT RAYMAN CIRCUS, MADRAS, 1989


"When my five years is up in two months I'll go home. I don't want to be a plastic girl [contortionist] anymore. I want to play with my sister."


Some of the images in this book were taken in the seventies, but the major photography was done during a six-month period between January, 1989, and January, 1990. During this time we traveled by plane, train, and taxi all over India and I photographed eighteen different circuses. We worked in tiny villages and large cities. I photographed huge "A" class circuses with many wild animals and staff as large as four hundred people and I photographed tiny circuses with a pony, a monkey, an elephant, and ten people.

In October, 1992, I returned to the Indian circus with my husband, Martin Bell. I worked as a producer on a film that he made for "The National Geographic Television Explorer Series." The film which is called The Amazing Plastic Lady, is about Pratap Singh, who is a dedicated trainer, and his troupe of child acrobats. The major focus of the film is his relationship with ten-year-old Pinky, his most talented contortionist, known in India as a "plastic lady." I have known Pratap and Pinky since I first began to photograph the circus, and we felt they would be ideal subjects. The film captures the great charm of the circus, but it is also a moving document about the powerful "Guru Shishya Paranpara"--or master-student relationship--which is very much part of the Indian culture. During this trip I was also able to supplement my photography and interviews for this book.

Photographing the Indian circus was one of the most beautiful, joyous, and special times of my career. I was allowed to document a magic fantasy that was, at the same time, all so real. It was full of ironies, often humorous and sometimes sad, beautiful and ugly, loving and at times cruel, but always human. The Indian circus is a metaphor for everything that has always fascinated me visually.

BEAR TRAINER (about his dancing bear, Bobby), THE JUMBO CIRCUS, MANGALORE, 1989

"This good-for-nothing has destroyed ten of his handbags and several umbrellas. The last handbag cost me 140 rupees, so I don't let him carry a handbag and umbrella anymore.
"It would be difficult to find a bear as good as my last one. He used to wear a sari, carry a handbag and umbrella, and walk on his own. He died of food poisoning. He did his act one night. I gave him water and meat and the next morning he was dead."

CHIMPANZEE TRAINER (of Raja, the chimp), THE GEMINI CIRCUS, PERINTALMANNA, 1989

"You always have to watch their eyes . When someone has been in jail and just gets out, he is excited. It is exactly the same way for the animals. When they get out of the cage and go in the ring, they are excited. Animals are exactly like man and woman. You have to bring the husband to tame the wife.

"Raja is only afraid of the elephant because he is big. Everyone else he can just throw away. When the elephant is not there, he makes my life in the ring miserable.

"The only difference between him and a human being is that he can't talk. He treats everyone differently. With some women he reacts sexually but he treats my wife with great respect. He is very moody, especially around white people. Whenever there is a foreigner in the crowd, he will throw his motorbike over in front of him. Raja is the luckiest guy around. He gets all the women. No artist is treated so well. He is the star of the show. He is not my brother--he is my god and my stomach."

ANIMAL TRAINER, THE GEMINI CIRCUS, PERINTALMANNA, 1989

"We can't take the trained pigs in the ring when there are many Muslims in the audience. They get offended."

GLORIA (Belgian Acrobat who was born in India), THE GEMINI CIRCUS, PERINTALMANNA, 1989


"My sister is a beautician. She keeps saying: 'Come to Bombay and take beautician training and work with me.' But I don't want to leave the circus life. I love it. Sometimes I take a few weeks' leave to see her but then I think about the circus, the animals, and the music. I miss it and I must go back.

"I was married to an Anglo-Indian. He was a guard for the railway. He came to the circus and we did a bicycle act together, but then I found out he had another woman in Bombay."

PREM SINGH, RINGMASTER (about a dwarf clown), THE RAJ KAMAL CIRCUS, UPLETA, 1989

"Who would marry him? What does that sister fucker have that anyone would want? His wife would have to pick him up like a baby. So he is just hanging around."

SUMAN, SKY WALK ARTIST, THE GREAT ROYAL CIRCUS, HIMMATNAGAR, 1989

"Fear is there, but you have to remove all such thoughts and take God's name to have focus."

PRATAP SINGH, ACROBAT TRAINER AND WILD ANIMAL TRAINER, THE GREAT ROYAL CIRCUS, HIMMATNAGAR, 1989

"I don't train the lion cubs. My assistant does. I train only the older lions. It is very dangerous to train the young lions because when they are cubs sometimes you must beat them to train them. They remember this and when they get older they can turn on you. It is more dangerous to work with animals than to go on the high wire, because on the high wire it is all up to you. The lions can be unpredictable and turn on you. There is an expression: 'You can go into the cage but you are never sure that you will come out.'"

ARJUN, CHIMP TRAINER (about his various chimps), THE GREAT ROYAL CIRCUS, HIMMATNAGAR, 1989

"When I go home for two or three days I can't sleep thinking about them. What would they be doing? Are they ill? Have they eaten? Then my wife sees me and quietly asks:'What's the matter? Are you remembering them?'

"Mira is my favorite chimp. She doesn't like it when her sari falls and uncovers her breast. She fixes it immediately. Same when her frock rises up to show her blue shorts. She understands everything. Otherwise she has no morals; she will mate with anyone. The old lady chimp has morals. She won't mate with her sons."

PRATAP N. WALAVALKAR, OWNER OF THE GREAT ROYAL CIRCUS, HIMMATNAGAR, 1989

"I grew up in this circus and in all these years I have only witnessed two deaths. Once, without telling us, a trapeze artist was trying a two and one half before he was ready, and once from a lion. There is a famous old circus act called 'The Peacock Dance.' Two girls dress in peacock costumes and do a long dance performance. The lion act followed the Peacock Dance. That night the cage leading to the ring was not properly fastened. A lion got into the ring before the dance was over and, thinking he was watching real birds, he picked up a girl in her peacock costume by the back of her neck. The audience panicked. A pregnant woman in the front row fainted. The frightened lion dropped the girl and ran back into his cage. The girl died a few days later of a broken neck. The lion was so upset that he would not eat for a week."

SUMAM, SKYWALK ARTIST [she walks upside down through loops, eighty feet up, with no net] AND CYCLIST (talking about Mira the chimp after Mira bit my hand), THE GREAT ROYAL CIRCUS, HIMMATNAGAR, 1989


"She didn't used to bite but she does now because people tease her because she is a monkey."

ARJUN, CHIMP TRAINER (after his chimp Mira bit me), THE GREAT ROYAL CIRCUS, HIMMATNAGAR, 1989

"Let Mira inspect your bandage. It is important for her to understand what she has done. I am sure she will feel very badly and kiss your bandage." (She did.)


For me the Indian circuses were reminiscent of a purity of days gone by, an innocence impossible to find in Western cultures. In an attempt to head off the demands of the contemporary world, each circus clings to a simpler, older way of life, but the circuses, which were introduced from Europe in 1880, are disappearing quickly. In the mid-sixties there were fifty-two big tops. Today less than half that number remain. There is a great fear that the Indian circus, like the American circus, is a dying art. The circuses are being closed down by a rapidly changing modern India that considers them old-fashioned --even an embarrassment. Many of the owners finally decided this project might help their cause, but some were afraid they would be portrayed negatively. Dayanita had to contact and meet all of the different circus owners. She had to gain their trust and convince them that it was important for us to document the Indian circus and give it the credit as an art form that it deserves.

GUARD FOR THE WOMEN'S TENT, THE NATIONAL CIRCUS, GUJARAT, 1989

"First I was a trapeze artist, but it is now that I am doing the real dangerous job of protecting the girls."

ANITA, DWARF'S WIFE, THE AMAR CIRCUS, DELHI, 1989

"I buy film magazines secretly. I get ten magazines for five rupees. My husband doesn't like me to, so I ask someone else to buy them for me, but secretly."

SAMPSON, STRONG MAN (about Gloria, an acrobat in the Gemini Circus), THE BHARAT CIRCUS, BULANDSHAHAR, 1989

"She was married twice, once to an Anglo-Indian. He left her. Once to a Punjab. He left her. Now she is all alone and old age is coming. I've seen her at a young age, eighteen or nineteen. She was very beautiful. She had a beautiful body. She ran off for a few years and lost her body."

YOUNG ROLLER SKATER, THE BHARAT CIRCUS, BULANDSHAHR, 1989

"I want to earn a name for myself. I was so small when the news came that my mother had died, but I could not go home because the show would have stopped."

LION TRAINER, THE BHARAT CIRCUS, BULANDSHAHAR, 1989


"Just think about it. One lion roams free in the jungle, the other is all tied up for training. It's all fate. After all, he has to pay for his wrongs in his last birth."

GENERAL MANAGER, THE LION CIRCUS, BILSANDA, 1989

"These days the girls are becoming too expensive. Earlier on you could manage their expenses within one hundred rupees per month. Now they cost between one thousand and twelve hundred rupees. They want good soap, good food, and coconut hair oil. Coconut hair oil is okay in Kerala, but here it costs between seventy and one hundred rupees. Actually, Kerala is the problem. Too much Dubai money. The girls are spoiled. I'm going to remove this Kerala business and pull girls from Nepal and Bengal."

TRAPEZE ARTIST, THE GREAT ORIENTAL CIRCUS, KANPUR, 1989


"When we are on the wire it is total concentration. Everything else is a complete blank. We smile at the audience but we don't see them. If we did we would fall. We only see the audience when we salute them."

TRAPEZE ARTIST (about a dark-skinned acrobat), THE GREAT ORIENTAL CIRCUS, KANPUR, 1989


"She only responds when she is called Kali Ma [black mother], even though her name is Sarita."

BALANCING TRAPEZE ARTIST, THE GREAT ORIENTAL CIRCUS, KANPUR, 1989


"If I fall from the swing, death will happen. That's how I got this job thirty years ago. The girl fell and died."

PREM NARAYAN, DWARF CLOWN (about his dwarf baby daughter), THE GREAT ORIENTAL CIRCUS, KANPUR, 1989

"I don't feel bad for myself but I grieve for her because she's a girl. When she walks down the street she won't look nice. I'm a dwarf because when my mother conceived she must have seen a dwarf the next morning. That's why my wife had a dwarf baby, because she saw my face the next morning."

ACROBAT, THE APOLLO CIRCUS, GOA, 1989


"At a carnival last year, four armed men came and stole a small circus."

RAM PRAKASH SINGH, ELEPHANT TRAINER, THE GREAT GOLDEN CIRCUS, AHMEDABAD, 1990


"Whatever has a tail on his bottom cannot be trusted. When an elephant gets angry, two lobes form on the side of his head and a liquid flows out. If the liquid reaches his mouth he will kill. We put mustard oil on their heads so their brains don't dry."

DOG TRAINER, THE GREAT GOLDEN CIRCUS, AHMEDABAD, 1990


"My dog Shalu is mixed, half Indian, half foreign. She's Anglo-Indian.

FLOOR MANAGER (on his wife being away at the owner's daughter's wedding), THE GREAT GOLDEN CIRCUS, AHMEDABAD, 1990


"Don't take my photograph today. I'm alone. I don't even know how to open the trunk. I haven't eaten today. I even had to fetch my own bath water. Otherwise she does everything for me."

YESHODA MENON, WOMAN IN CHARGE OF THE GIRLS' COMPOUND, THE GREAT BOMBAY CIRCUS, LIMBDI, 1990

"In my village I am known as settlement 'auntie.' People bring their children to me. For the first six months we pay them three rupees per day. We feed, train, and do everything for them. After that they start to get from two hundred to three hundred rupees per month, depending on the item. Of course if they are 'beauty girls,' we give the parents from five hundred to one thousand rupees per month. 'Beauty girls,' you know, fair girls. There is no value for black skin. You can also get something if you find me some poor 'beauty girls.'"

PRATAP SINGH, ACROBAT TRAINER AND WILD ANIMAL TRAINER, THE GREAT ROYAL CIRCUS, JUNAGADH, 1990

"Ratna was a street child. She begged for food and slept anywhere. She came to me at the circus and said: 'Make me a star like Suman, the skywalk artist.'

"I have been hurt too many times. Once I had three boys who I not only made into great acrobats but also taught them about life. Then after five years their father arrived. The acrobats in the next tent were jealous and convinced their father to take them away. They went to another circus and got beaten. Now they hang around as clowns. It is hard because for years you invest time, effort, and money, and one fine day they just walk away. It's painful when someone turns on you like that. People think I'm snobbish because I don't mix around. It's just that I have been hurt too often. If I love someone I give my life for them.

"When I am angry I don't hit them. From the tone of my voice they understand that I am angry. That's my way with animals, too. I control them with my voice."


When I photographed the circuses in India, all of my senses were keenly alerted. I have such strong memories of the wonderful sounds, often Western popular music played on a worn saxophone and old drums, interspersed with lion roars and bells announcing acts. I think about the pungent smell of tiger urine and the exotic perfume of burning incense tinged with jasmine floating from every tent's tiny homemade temple shrine. I also recall extraordinary conversations, the laughter of the child performers, and the shouts of fighting clowns. I even got to meet Raja again.

In March, 1989, I photographed The Gemini Circus in Kerala. Raja was still there. He was a star, the most prized artist in the circus. He was treated like a king. His name, 'Raja,' even means king in Hindi. He had a huge, immaculate cage with a fan in front of it. Fresh pineapple, grapes, and oranges were always laid out neatly for him. He loved doing his act, which was to ride a big motorbike around the ring. I like to think that he recognized me . He would clap his hands for me to come to his cage. When I didn't come, he would shake his hands at me and cry. Sometimes he would kiss my lips gently. He was very ill with a stomach ulcer . Everyone was so concerned. Dr. M.S. Gopal, a circus veterinarian, came from Madras to give him an injection. It took nine men to hold the gates of the treatment cage. Only the threat of bringing the elephant (the only thing that Raja feared) could calm him down enough to get his shot. The day I left the Gemini, Raja misbehaved in the ring and the trainer did not want me to visit his cage. Raja somehow knew I was leaving and when he clapped his hands and I didn't come, he threw a tantrum. Finally his trainer let me say good-bye. When I scratched his head, he looked right in my eyes and gave me a kiss. He died a few days after we left. I was told that on the day of his death he did his usual motorcycle act, then returned to his cage and lay down holding his stomach. They took him outside and laid him on the ground. The circus owner and his trainer held his hands and massaged his feet and stayed with him until he died. Mr. Shankaran, the owner of the Great Gemini circus, still cries whenever he talks about Raja.

Most of the following quotes read much more like a narrative because they were edited from many hours of taped conversations with a troupe of circus performers that we interviewed previously and that I have known and photographed for four years. Some of this edited and translated dialogue was used in our Geographic film, The Amazing Plastic Lady. During Martin's shooting of the circus we also traveled to the native village of a ten year old girl called Pinky. She is a brilliantly talented child acrobat who is a member of the same troupe. In the village we filmed and interviewed Pinky's mother, who contracted her to a circus when she was five years old.

SUMI SINGH, CYCLIST, TRAINER OF ACROBATS, AND PRATAP SINGH'S WIFE, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 1992

"Nobody in my family was in the circus. I am the first one in my family to join. A small circus came next to our house. I saw it and liked it. I told my mother that I wanted to join the circus. Mother said: 'Don't go. They'll beat you up a lot.' So I said: 'Mother, you also hit me, so what's the difference?'

"Pratap and I give the children that we train a source of livelihood. We give them a reason for living. Your life is made over here. We raise them like our own children. When they leave, of course our heart breaks totally, it's shattered. See, the little girls come at the age of five and six. I have to tell them everything about a little girl becoming a woman. I have to explain all that. I can't look after my own children as much as I look after these children."

PINKY, TEN-YEAR-OLD ACROBAT, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 1992


"Only when I came to the circus, that's the life I remember. Before that I don't remember. Even when I'm old I'll be in the circus. Circus life is good. If I had not come here, it would not be good at all. Here nobody hits me. When I'm big, I'll become a superstar in the circus. Then I'll travel all over. Everywhere in the world. Everywhere.

"I'm not going to get married. I don't want children. I'm scared of marriage. He'll beat me. He'll hold my head and pull it. He'll get drunk. He'll abuse me.

"My mother lives in a village far away from the circus. I never want to go back. My father loved me very much. He never hit me. When my father died, we had to sell the shop. If we had the shop still we would not be poor like this. You can't imagine how small our house is. When my father died, there was nothing to cover him with, so they covered him with my mother's sari.

"One time when I visited my mother in the village, she put a cloth on the ground in front of the cinema hall and told me to do the plastic lady item. So I did it. It didn't feel good. I didn't like the way people threw money on me. If my mother comes to take me now, I won't go. Even when I'm old I'll look after myself."

MOTHER OF PINKY, A CHILD ACROBAT IN THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, PAITHAN, 1992


"Pinky is like a crocodile. She is very strong. When she was three years old she said: 'I'll be a very big person and I'll bring so much money for you, and then I'll feed you.' She used to get beaten by us a lot because she'd say: 'My name is God.' So we used to say, 'Which God?' She'd say, 'My name is Krishna.'

"Things got very difficult after my husband died. Someone said that people in the circus will take children and teach them things, and give them money, and their lives will improve. So I said why not? We won't have to see poor days anymore. I, of course, had mother's love to give, but that's all I had. All the things she said as a child are coming true. I get the money every month.

"Now it's a fifteen-year contract. See, we didn't even know that it was a fifteen-year contract. I don't read or write, so they showed me this paper and I just put my palm print on it. So after putting that thumb stamp, they told me that we've taken a contract for fifteen years. Pratap said: 'You are like my sister. I will look after these children like my own children and I will send you photos. I will send you letters and I will send you money.'

"I have not made any mistake in sending her to the circus. It was in her fate to go to the circus. It's in God's hands."

MR. WALLIS, EIGHTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD FORMER CIRCUS PROPRIETOR, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 1992

"I love the circus because there's no business like show business."

RATNA, SKYWALK TRAPEZE ARTIST, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 199
2

"I want to become a big person anywhere, not necessarily in the circus. My parents beat me and beat me with that thing you grind masala. They hit me on my head. Here you can see it above my eye. So I ran away from home. I was staying in front of this house of this woman who made liquor. She was very nice but she said that her sons were not nice so she sent me away. She told me that there's a circus in this town. She said, 'You go there and your whole life will improve.'

"When I first came to the circus I went into Pratap's tent. I sat down and he put me on his lap and gave me some food to eat. He said, 'What's the matter?' I started crying and I told him that I had nobody, that I had no parents. And that's when he thought of putting me in the circus. I said that my parents had died. Let them go to hell. Then my parents gave a letter saying: 'Send all our daughter's money to the house.'

"In the beginning I was scared. Now I'm not scared of anything not even the elephants. How can I be scared of the elephant? He's our god. He's Ganesh. But I'm scared of my parents.

"I have to hold the trapeze so hard that sometimes I get these knots in my hand and then the hand swells up so I have to have an operation. They stitched my finger with some thread. I was feeling scared because how would I do my item? I was lying in bed and thinking if I didn't do the item I wouldn't get money. So then I prayed to god. I said, Let my work go well, let my item continue. So then God listened to me and he was very nice, and my item was okay. If I fall down, I'll die, so that's why I have to pray every day.

"Of course sometimes my feet hurt when I do the sky walk, but once I start performing, then it doesn't hurt. Only when I get hurt on my hand, then I get scared, nothing else, because if my hand is hurt, then the trapeze will slip from my hand and all the public is there. It won't be nice if it slips in front of them."

HANSA, ACROBAT, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 1992


"The thing I like the most in this whole circus life is going from one world to the other world. If I get married to someone in the village I have to look after my husband, I have to look after my mother-in-law. Nobody will let me go out. I'll become a slave."

LAKSHMI, ACROBAT, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 1992


"I don't get tired of doing makeup three times a day. I like all makeup. Maybe lipstick a little more. I like red, pink, purplish pink, but most of all red."

PINKY, TEN-YEAR-OLD ACROBAT, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 1992


"A man came to our village. He bought my sister Radha new clothes. He didn't bring anything for me. From far away I saw him. I ran from in top of the slope in front of our house. I came running from the market to the house and I asked my mother, 'Why is she getting all these clothes?' So my mother said, 'She's going to the circus.' So I said, 'I must go also'. I don't know how old I was. At that time my mother used to carry me in her arms. When we went to the circus with Radha, Pratap said that I was too small, but Sumi said, 'No, she's fair, she's pretty, take her. She's sweet.'

"My mother used to beat me sometimes when I made a mistake. Once she hit me with this iron rod, that same thing that you pick up bowls with. She hit me on my foot and I got three holes.

"I used to get very scared and cry when I saw any violence on TV, you know, all that beating in the Hindi films. I used to feel that they will come and beat me also.

"I pray to God, after I have a bath, and I ask him that my circus acts should go well."

PRATAP SINGH, ACROBAT TRAINER AND WILD ANIMAL TRAINER, THE NEW GRAND CIRCUS, CHANGANACHERRY, 1992


"I've always loved the circus, right from the beginning. In every drop of my blood the circus is there. Both my parents were in the circus. When my father was fifteen or sixteen he ran away and joined the circus.

"The owner of the troupe was very happy with my father and he started teaching him items. That was the white people's time. They used to not teach Indians. So he learned with a lot of interest, and he learned very well. So in the same group my mother was also there. They fell in love and they had a love marriage, and then they made their own troupe. They collected children from here and there and made a very big troupe.

"My mother's work was very famous. She never used to get leave. So she was working right up to the ninth month. When my mother came down from the trapeze act, her labor pains started. When I was born there were rope marks all over my body because my mother had slid down the trapeze.

"I wanted my children to join the circus but they were not interested at all. They think this is no life. But now I am a trainer in the circus. Any animal I can train, any kind of child I can train. Where these children come from there's no future. Nothing. Nobody thinks about the poor. There's too many of them. It is my passion to see what is good in each one of them.

"See, my blood children are not with me. I can't look after them. My mother looks after them. They know from their childhood that these children, my circus children, they're all one family. They know that the circus children are as much my children. There is no question of them getting jealous.

"Deepa is the youngest of the troupe. She is about seven years old. She came to me because she used to carry the books for my children when they were coming home from school to my mother's house in Madras. She was very tiny, about two years old. Her father is a very big alcoholic. He drives a rickshaw. He used to beat up Deepa and her mother. Deepa's mother asked my mother to keep Deepa to work in the house. I mean what kind of housework can a two year old child do? Then when they got to know that we're from the circus, they said, 'Why don't you keep her in the circus?'

"I am also a trainer of wild animals. Three times a day I used to go into that cage. I know I'm going in but whether I'm going to come out, I don't know. They are wild animals. They may take a foot away. They may take a leg away. They may take me away.

"These children I train are made from whatever feeling I had in my heart. I have molded them like a sculptor, the kind of dedication he makes a piece of sculpture with. But see, that potter gets good clay. I don't even get good clay. I get bad clay and I have to make a beautiful pot out of that. It's not the fault of the children. It's the kind of gutters that they come from.

"It's hard to say what kind of relationship I have with the children. I mean it is filled with so much love. You have a certain feeling in your heart. You want to make a great artist and that is what you work towards. We've given them a certain discipline in their lives about bathing, about sleeping, about practice, about discipline of timing, and of waking up and praying. Without discipline the skywalk can't happen. We teach them to respect their costumes exactly like a musician respects his instrument. Then God will lead you to the very top.

"I'm not just teaching them to be good artists, but I'm telling them about a way of life: how to talk to elders, when to sleep, what to do morally. Most of all, religion, that's the main thing in life. In my religion it says do whatever good you can and if you can't do good then don't harm anyone at least. In our old culture you respected the guru. He was next to God. The guru's blessing was the biggest thing in life.

"We've kept them so tenderly, but when it comes time to leave, they turn their faces and they just go. What happens in my heart then is like the biggest mountain when they put the dynamite to break it. That's what it feels like, and then they just leave. Finally the mountain explodes and that's what I can't bear. Then I start all over again: find a new child, bring it up, train it. The whole circle starts again."


I feel very lucky because of the many wonderful life experiences that my work brings to me. I am allowed to touch a very rich world. I make my photographs to share these experiences . I hope the photographs in this book can convey in some way my love of the Indian circus and my warm feelings for the artists I was so fortunate to meet.

Mary Ellen Mark
February 27, 1993
New York City



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The Amar Circus - K.P. Hemraj
The Apollo Circus - K. Sahadevan
The Bharat Circus - Abdul Hameed Kahn
The Deepak Circus
The Empire Circus - Akhtar Hussain
The Famous Circus - S. Bannerjee
The Gemini Circus - M.V. Shankaran
The Great Bombay Circus - K.M. Balagopalan
The Great Golden Circus - A.A. John
The Great Oriental Circus - K.K. Achuthan
The Great Rayman Circus - Madan Gopal
The Great Royal Circus - Pratap N. Walavalkar
The Jumbo Circus - Ashok and Ajay Shankaran
The Lion Circus - Salim Baig
The National Circus - T.P. Narayanan
The New Grand Circus - The late M.D Haneef
The Raj Kamal Circus - M. Gopalan


Nancy Baker
Teri Barbero
Miles Barth
Martin Bell
Sreedharan Champad
Farrokh Chothia
Ray DeMoulin
Sunil Dutt
Victor Hasselblad, Inc.
John Irving
Sarah Jenkins
Madhu Kannan
Cherry Kim
Leica Camera, Inc.
David Liittschwager
Sal Lopes
Harsh Man Rei
Babu Bhai Shah
Dayanita Singh
Noni Singh
Pratap and Sumi Singh
Brian Velenchenko
Lou Anne Walker
Ernst Wildi

The Government of India Ministry of Tourism

Mr. Madhav Rao Scindia
Mr. B.K. Goswami

International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House

James L. Enyeart
Marianne Fulton
Jeanne Verhulst

The National Endowment for the Arts


Professional Photography Division of the Eastman Kodak Company


The Taj Hotel Group


Air India

Mr. Yogi Deveshvar
Michael Mascarenhas
Neela Talcherkar

Cox and Kings
Naomi Menezes
Nathaniel Waring

The Prints for this book were made by Sarah Jenkins.
Thank you for your beautiful work.




SELECTED BIOGRAPHY

Grants:

1965-66 Fuibright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey
1977  National Endowment for the Arts
1977 New York State Council for the Arts‑CAPS Grant
1979-80 National Endowment for the Arts
1990  National Endowment for the Arts

Solo Exhibitions:


1976 Bars, Photographers Gallery, London, England
1976-77 Ward 81, Gallery Forum, Stradpack, Graz, Austria
1977 Ward 81, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California
1978 Ward 81, Castelli Graphics, New York, New York
1979 Ward 81, Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
1979-80 Ward 81, Bars, Gallery Nagel, Berlin
1981 Falkland Road, Castelli Graphics, New York, New York
1982 Falkland Road, California Museum of Photography, Riverside, California
1983 Mother Teresa and Calcutta, Friends of Photography, Carmel, California
1987 Mary Ellen Mark: Photographs, Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
1988 Portraits, Photography Gallery, Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, California
1989 Portraits, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama
1991 Portraits, California Museum of Photography, Riverside, California
1991 Indian Circus: Platinum Prints, Castelli Graphics, New York, New York
1992 Mary Ellen Mark: Twenty‑five Years, International Center for Photography, New York, New York

1992 Indian Circus: Platinum Prints, Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, California; Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, California; RobertKlein Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, Illinois; Bentler Morgan Gallery, Houston, Texas; A Gallery For Fine Photography, New Orleans, Louisiana

1992 Mary Ellen Mark: Twenty‑five Years, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; Museum of Photographic Art, San Diego, California; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia; Instituto de Estudios Norteamericanos, Barcelona, Spain; Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, Illinois

1992 Mary Ellen Mark: Twenty‑five Years and Indian Circus, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France

1993 Mary Ellen Mark: Twenty‑five Years, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, California; the Reykjavik Municipal Art Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio Mary Ellen Mark: Photographs, Parco Exposure Gallery, Tokyo, Japan Indian Circus: Platinum Prints: Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii



Group Exhibitions:

1976 Women of Photography, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, New York
1977 Fifty prints in collection of Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
1977 Exhibit with Burk Uzzle, M.I.T. Creative Photography Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts
1979 Portraits and Permanent Collection, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
1980 Permanent Collection, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Australia
1981 Portraits, Klaus Honnef‑Lichtbildniffe, Rheinschef Landes Museum, Bonn, Germany
1982 Color as Form, History of Color Photography, Corcoran Gallery of Art and George Eastman House, Rochester, New York
1982 Floods of Light, "Flash Photography 1851‑1981,"Castelli Graphics, New York, New York
1982 American Photography Today, University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado
1983 Phototypes: The Development of Photography in New York City, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
1986 Miami Beach, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
1986 Miami Beach, Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida
1986 Miami Beach, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine
1987 Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition: Part II, Friends of Photography, Carmel, California
1987 American Dreams, Centro Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
1987 Ansel Adams and Friends, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, Scottsdale, Arizona
1988 Homeless in America, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, also New York Public Library, New York, New York, and in other cities across the United States
1989 Das Portrait in der Zeitgenossischen Photographie, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany
1992 Our Town, Burden Gallery, New York, New York



Awards:


1980 Page One Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Newspaper Guild of New York, "Children of Desire," New York Times Magazine, September 30, 1979; 1981 First Place Feature Picture Story, University of Missouri, "Mother Teresa in Calcutta" Life magazine, July 1980
1981 First Prize‑Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, "Mother Teresa in Calcutta," Life magazine, July 1980
1982 Leica Medal of Excellence, "Falkland Road"
1983 Canon Photo Essayist Award, "Streets of the Lost," Life magazine, July 1983
1985 First Prize‑Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, "Camp Good Times," Life magazine, September 1984
1986 The Phillipe Haisman Award for Photojournalism, ASMP
1987 Photographer of the Year Award, the Friends of Photography
1988 Creative Arts Awards Citation for Photography, Brandeis University
1988 World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work throughout the Years
1988 George W. Polk Award, Photojournalism
1992 Victor Hasselblad Cover Award



Books:

The Photojournalist: Two Woman Explore the Modern World and the Emotions of Individuals, Mark and Leibovitz, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1974
Passport, Mary Ellen Mark, Lustrum Press, 1974
Ward 81, Simon and Schuster, 1979
Falkland Road, Alfred A. Knopf, 1981
Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity in Calcutta,
Streetwise, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988
The Photo Essay: Photographers at Work, A Smithsonian Series, 1990
Mary Ellen Mark: Twenty‑five Years, Bulfinch Press (in conjunction with George Eastman House/Kodak), 1991
Streetwise (second edition), Aperture, 1992