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Photos: Rakesh Kumar
CHENNAI : Colourful juggling clubs flying through the air, balls rising and falling and vibrant hula hoops looping and swirling, are what we observe at the Anna tower park on a weekday morning. Seven enthusiastic jugglers-cum-flow art enthusiasts, the core members of the Chennai juggling club, look seemingly exhausted, but are excited to tell us about their love for the art and their dexterity.
Rajarajan Chinnadurai, a 37-year-old working for a private company, has been juggling for over a decade. “It started as a hobby and I used to learn by watching videos on YouTube. There were times, when I used to hide behind a tree, in the same park and practice juggling...it was frowned upon and wasn’t considered even as a hobby. Now, it is receiving attention and people are aware,” he shares.
A few years into juggling, Rajarajan, along with another enthusiast decided to start a forum for the art form on Facebook. “We started the Facebook page about five years ago. There are over 400 members in the group, but only a handful of us are active,” he says pointing to the group, which comprises record holders and artists who specialise in variants of ball juggling, slacklining and unicycling.
Koteswari, a Bharatanatyam artist took to learning the hula hoop and has infused the two forms together. “I have been learning Bharatanatyam from a very young age. But, I wanted to create an identity for myself...so I began learning the hula hoop and now, I can do both together. Even foreigners learn it from me!” says the artiste, a triple world record holder, and begins to swirl a hoop on her leg while simultaneously juggling two balls in her hand. “Many people look at the hula hoop or anything to do with juggling as a circus prop. It’s a task to make them understand the nuances of the art form. But when they do, they are fascinated and want to learn,” she says.
Talking about the neuroscience of juggling, the physics and physicality of the art form, Rajarajan says, “Juggling improves the mind-hand coordination of a person, increases problem-solving skills and also keeps the brain alert.” He picks three balls, juggles and explains, “I have two hands and three balls, how am I going to juggle? It might look like an impossible task when you start out, but as you get a grip of it, you will be able to break it down and understand how to solve a multitude of problems in your daily life.”
It also increases one’s self-esteem and is a great stress buster. “This is one of the main reasons why schools invite us to conduct workshops for their students. It improves their concentration too,” says the artist, who conducts weekend workshops along with Karthik. Nagendran (38), a Parai and Oyilattam artist and Ramachandran (23), a chartered accountant student nod in agreement. “I was very interested in learning traditional arts. But I didn’t get the opportunity until two years ago. When I began learning Parai and other traditional dance forms, it was tough for me to understand the rhythm and beats,” he says.
Nagarajan chanced upon Rajajrajan at Anna tower park and began learning juggling. It made the process of learning other art forms easier for Nagarajan. “My motor skills improved multifold and today, I run my own traditional art troupe,” he smiles.Ramachandran credits juggling for helping him in clear his foundation exam. “I had failed several times. It was hard for me to have a clear mind and solve problems. I stumbled upon juggling about a year back and I visibly noticed that my problem-solving skills developed. I cleared my exam after!” says Ramachandran who specialises in three-ball juggling.
The art form has also become a source of happiness for people like forty-eight-year-old Thirunavukarasu, a payment collector who comes from an underprivileged background. “My family is in Kumbakonnam and I work here. When I saw CJC practice in the park, I was drawn to it. I used to practice with stones in the bypass road. It took me around two months to approach them. When I did, Rajarajan taught me everything I knew about juggling. Today, when I go back to my hometown, I teach my children. But the awareness there is very less and the other villagers call me circuskaran,” he rues.
Kishore, who works for a private firm in the city, is another record holder and specialises in slacklining and balancing act. He says that he dreams of making a career in juggling. The club is free and for anyone who is interested in juggling. “We are working with a vision and a responsibly to change the way people here perceive juggling. Anyone who is on the same page is welcome to join us,” he adds.