India has a rich cultural heritage of street performers which include snake charmers, fire eaters, dancers, jugglers, acrobats and tightrope walkers.
As a child I had witnessed many such performances with awe and delight but in recent times due to increased rush in the metropolitans and so-called advancement these artists have become a thing of the past and are limited to fairs and tourist attractions.
The familiar sound of the tambourine and the dholak (hand-made wooden drum) caught my attention on a hot winter day sometime back .I started to follow the sound in a trance. Just next to the main crossing I saw a crowd building up.
My heartbeat matched the beats of the tambourine; it was a street performance of the natas (street artists) as they are called in India. Nats are a tribal community and are nomads. I quickened my pace and edged my way through the crowd. Standing in the front row of the circle I felt the pulse of colorful rustic India.
Two small children aged from 5-8 were doing flour exercises with such dexterity and ability on the dusty hot road that I marveled at the way these children adapt themselves to the harsh life they lead.
The father had meanwhile erected the poles with the tight rope tied to their ends. The beats were getting louder and the crowd waited in anticipation of the thrilling act which was about to follow.
The young woman, with a figure to die for, climbed on the pole and balanced herself on the rope with the help of another long pole. The distance of the rope and the ground must be 10-12 feet approximately. The crowd held its breath as she started her act. I looked with rapt attention at the woman who seemed to have a perfect sense of balance. The rope swayed dangerously but she held her ground. Slowly she took another step and then gracefully balancing the pole she another few steps. The audience gasped as she swayed with the rope.
Anticipation stirred the adrenaline as the expectation grew on the crowd that a fall could be imminent. She lifted one foot off the rope and stayed in the precarious position for a while, the tambourine beats added to the thrill of the moment.
Slowly she placed the foot back and the crowd took a breath of relief. I wiped the sweat that had tricked down my forehead. It sure was a tense moment. Then she walked the rest of the length of the rope with ease and came down gliding from the pole. The applause was deafening.
The two small children, a boy and a girl had meanwhile kept the crowd glued with their acrobatic skills.
The crowd did not seem to mind the heat and dust nor did I. As I watched the little girl climb the rope with such agility and ease I wondered what kind of life these poor artists led. This was their source of livelihood and a dying art banned I most of the cities. For every meal there was a daily struggle and yet they smiled and showed no sign of their misery.
The girl walked till mid way without any pole support with her little skinny arms stretched out on both sides. Then started the courageous act of acrobats on the rope. I was not sure if what I saw was a dream or reality but the girl kept me glued to the act for the next ten minutes of my life.
As she descended down from the pole the crowd cheered and clapped. The mother had meanwhile started collecting money in an old hat and the Young man along with the children began to collect the belongings. The show was over but not forever, another place another city awaited them. Mesmerized by the performance I handed some apples and some money to the children who gave a bright toothy smile in return. My day was made.