KOCHI: Mekkileri Kumaran says he doesn’t know what fear means. “What is that?” he asks, as he gazes out, fixing his eyes on the death well in the circus tent. Years ago, while doing a stunt in the very ring, his motorbike tore into half. The incident is still etched in his memory. “The shoe I was wearing was solid. It saved me,” says Kumaran. But those accidents never mattered.
Later when he progressed to performing many other death-defying tricks that he was asked to stop the antics at the death well by his instructor Gemini Shankaran asked him to stop performing at the death well. “You can get impaled easily, he told me. And that there was more that I could do,” he says. And thus began a stellar career, which spanned several decades, till he moved on to become a trainer in his late fifties.
At 13, Kumaran joined the circus. Then, circus was more of an emotion. “It was while in school that I saw circus for the first time. And that got me hooked,” he says. Back home, he started practising various tricks, trying to enact what the circus folks were performing. He joined Keeleri Kunhikannan’s kalari and learnt a few tricks. “I used to climb a lot of trees. I was also flexible. And that helped,” he says. He then joined circus, putting an end to his education. “I don’t know why I love the circus. I still don’t. Now my children ask me to leave the circus and live with them, but I can never leave it,” he says.
Kumaran isin Thiruvananthapuram, accompanying the Jumbo Circus which has pitched the tent in the city. During his performance years, Kumaran performed in many African countries and Malaysia.
“Circus is celebrated there. So the response was exhilarating. I had curly hair then. While going out in the streets, they would pull my hair and carefully examine it,” he chuckles.
But the circus has changed a great deal. He is sad how circus has lost its charm and how youngsters are giving a shrug to joining the circus milieu. “I try my best to teach them whatever I can. But not many are interested, and they are unwilling to take the risk. By teaching, I am giving back all I learnt. And I will continue to do it till I can,” he says.