My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The travelling stuntmen and spider-girls

My years of early childhood were spent in an obscure town in Assam. Television was not yet available and the only source of change from daily routine would be religious festivals like Durga puja and weddings. And then there were the traveling stuntmen and fairs. Every two or three months, a stuntman would come across the town and set up his camp in the field behind my house. Sometimes he would dig a small hole, go inside, and go without food and drinks for thirty days. Sometimes he would eat glass from broken fluorescent lamps, show bicycle tricks and walk on fire. We used to think that such men had all the answers in life. Though few gave them money for their efforts, when they were in town, everyone would be talking of them, particularly speculating of them getting ill from continuous fasting.

Also once every year, a fair called “Anandamela” meaning The Fair of Happiness, would take place in the large open field near the police station. This fair would have many rides, but our parents typically forbid us from enjoying those. They thought that we might lose some of our intelligence when our head spun too fast. Instead they would take us to the stalls which exhibited the ‘wonders of life’: a cow with five legs; a crocodile; cockatoos; the girl who could play guitar, sew clothes, and eat with her feet; and the girl with just a head and spider legs. I have vivid memories of the spider girl: a young face, with lots of make-up, a paper crown on her head, and eight thick half-feet-long legs protruding from the base of her neck. She would never smile and would be without any expression; only her battling eyelids would indicate life. Only when I was old enough I could realize that the rest of her body was behind the wall and I would feel sad for her; how did it feel to be standing (probably sitting) in the same pose for so many hours, letting the world watch you.

By the early 90s, many houses had television. And even though we got only public elevision, we found even shows for farmers riveting. And the all knowing stuntmen had no answer for the tele and they would have the same fate as Kafka’s Hunger Artist. Now, many years on, I wonder how such stuntmen and spider-girls make their living. Does the spider-girl finally get to smile?

No comments: