22 Jul Series Feature: An Invitation to India, Pt. 4
An Invitation to India – Part Four
The Greatest Show Unearthed
Written and Photographed by: James Artaius
It had been a long time since I’d gone to a funfair. Like, probably 30 years. Unless you count Winter Wonderland, the gloriously gaudy (and expensive, even by London standards) German Christmas market that takes over Hyde Park every Yule, which I visited at Christmas. An honest to goodness funfair, though? With a big top and rickety rides and performers and all the other bells and whistles? Yeah, a good three decades.
I must have been seven years old. It was a super-sticky summer of the kind that only exists in the cobwebbed memories of middle-aged men, who remember the summers always being better and brighter (and more specifically, in the minds of middle-aged British men, hotter and summery-er) in the good old days than they are now.
It was my first time eating candy floss, which I didn’t particularly care for. A giant spiderweb, folded onto a stick, made of sugar – it really wasn’t my thing. Candy apples didn’t do much for me, either, seeming like a waste of both good candy and good apples. I do remember, however, being very taken with all the fantastic goodies you could win for hooking a duck, or hitting a coconut with a ball, or whatever other activities promised penny-prising prizes.
I can’t rightly recall what carnival quest I’d bested that day (though I have a sneaking suspicion it was a water pistol “shoot the clown’s mouth and fill the balloon” affair), as the prize itself has engulfed most of my memory of the day: I won my first ever pet, Freddie the goldfish, who was handed to me in his luxury travel case (a plastic baggie half-filled with water).
Alas, poor Freddie wasn’t long for the world. Shortly after getting him a friend, Eddie, and moving him into his new crib (a great big tank with castles and plants and all the other cool things a goldfish would want festooned about its pad), he came a cropper when somebody forgot to put the lid back on top of the tank after feeding him. When I came down stairs the next morning, Freddie had literally suicide dived out of the tank and had dried like a slice of stale toast on the floor.
But I digress. That was the legacy of my last visit to the funfair, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that it took me 30 years and 4,700 miles to go to another one. However, if there’s one thing that this trip has taught me (and, by proxy, that this series feature has taught you good readers) it’s that, when Jaz Delorean says that you should do something, it’s probably something you really, really should do.
Jaz and Adele, his beautiful other half, had just returned from a day out on the moped exploring the area. “There’s a FUNFAIR,” Jaz exclaimed, his wild hair freed from the crash helmet and becoming positively unruly with excitement. “And they have a MAGIC SHOW. We have to go!”
Indeed, the carnival had come to town in perfect sync with our visit. Well, I say it had come to town – it had actually come a few towns over, to Mapusa. Pronounced “Mapsa”, it had a proud tradition as one of the region’s most colourful – and authentically local – market towns. Indeed, every Friday sees the weekly spectacle of Mapusa Market going into full Old Bazaar in Cairo mode, with everything from antiques to baby shark (and, no doubt, to genuine Bedouin carpet with a pile) up for grabs.
All in all, an excellent reason to make the trip. Of course, Jaz and Adele could make it slightly more easily, since they had a moped; I, alas, did not, so my compadre Cheryl and I had to brave 23 stops on a local Indian bus. I could easily write an entire article trying to describe this experience, but the truth of the matter is that taking a bus in India is like The Matrix – nobody can tell you what it is, you have to see it for yourself.
Many hours, many stops and one collapsed passenger later (not to mention another one ready to start punching people), Cheryl and I arrived in Mapusa. By now it was the evening, so many of the stalls were starting to empty. We grabbed a drink and a seat to recover from our ordeal of a journey, while Jaz and Adele started testing out rides.
Their “favourite” was an old ferris wheel that would fail each and every health and safety regulation in the western world, not least the speed at which the thing moved around. Or the total lack of doors on each car. Or the lack of any kind of measure to prevent people waving their arms or heads out of the windows, whereby they could be (and no doubt have been) lopped off by the central rim structure, which the cars passed perilously close to.
Deciding to live vicariously through their reports, we headed straight for the Ghost Palace magic show featuring SK Sarkar. After paying our 50 rupees (60 pence sterling) for front row tickets, we experienced a magic act quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Accompanied by a jingle befitting a ringtone on a child’s phone, Mister Sarkar would “choo choo” dance on and off a stage styled after a giant psychedelic mouth. Boasting numerous bedazzled outfits, and seemingly at points wearing yellowface makeup like an oriental mystic, his act featured everything from stacking an eight-foot high pile of plastic plates to making live doves appear and disappear to setting fire to a small pot, for some reason.
The local audience lapped it up. We westerners looked on bemused. And Mr Sarkar’s two glamorous assistants looked on totally disinterested. As if to prove a point, both to us and them, his next tricks proceeded to blow away almost any live performance I’ve ever witnessed.
First he dropped the stage curtain to reveal a giant buzzsaw. Oh yes, he was going to punish the girls’ disinterest by sawing one of them in half. You’ve all seen the gag on TV before, but seeing it in person – and seeing it at this funfair, with its animal rights-ignoring magic acts and decapitating ferris wheel – added a whole nother dimension to it. And if that wasn’t near the damnedest thing I ever saw, he then made the other girl levitate – and just writing that sentence seems like an exercise in litotes, because what he did was so much more.
Laying her flat on a table, first he made her float ten feet in the air, raising his hands all the while like WWE’s Undertaker commanding his supernatural powers. Oh, it’s the old wire gag, right? Or there’s a crane behind the curtain lifting her up. Some gimmick, for sure. Well, Mister Sarkar intended to disprove that by passing a steel hoop around her prone, floating body – and he did so by first LEVITATING IN THE AIR HIMSELF and then moving the hoop around her.
Still shellshocked from what we’d just seen, we ambled out of the auditorium like zombies. And that’s when we saw something that would top the untoppable – the wall of death. And again, this being the crazy rule-free funfair in Mapusa, it was no regular wall of death. Everybody’s seen the motorbikes riding around the walls of the silo (and if you do a bit of YouTube searching, you can find a video of Jaz Delorean sitting on the handlebars while a biker rides up the wall), but never have I ever seen a CAR drive up and around the damned thing. Let alone with a girl from the crowd hanging out of it and waving.
In this already alien land, it was yet another unearthly experience. No candy floss, no goldfish, no clown’s mouth to fill with water… but after 30 years, the funfair had redeemed itself unreservedly.
About the Author/Photographer:
As it says on his business card, James is a “Maître Jacques” – jack of all trades. An Olympus-addicted photographer, long-in-the-tooth model, lapsed journalist and recovering videogame addict, he currently makes his residence in the birthplace of catch wrestling, Wigan, in the northwest of England. He enjoys deciphering David Lynch and listening to The Midnight.
Check out his portfolio on PurplePort: James Artaius Portfolio