It was a quite Sunday morning in 1995, when my friend Sohaib knocked on my door. Sohaib was part of a music band and they also sold music equipment as a side business. They had recently sold some equipment to the famous Lucky Irani Circus and the staff there were having some problems setting it up. So he asked me if I could give them a ride to Sharaqpur, where the circus was playing. Since I had nothing to do that Sunday, I happily agreed. Another two of our friends Moeen and Waris were to accompany us.
When four of us arrived at the venue, we were given a VIP welcome. While Sohaib and Moeen went to check the equipment, Waris and I were offered a chance to see the circus, which we happily accepted. As VIP guests, we were seated inside the ring just at the edge of the entrance. The ring was guarded by a 10 foot high cage, outside which the villagers had gathered in hundreds to enjoy the circus. Acrobats on trapeze were the first act. Then came the clowns who were very funny indeed. After their exit, there was a brief break during which Waris and I were chit chatting. And then, all of a sudden, a lion walked passed me. Then another, and another, and another. Waris and I were totally frozen in our seats as one after the other lions walked passed us into the ring. It was the ’12 lions in the ring’ act for which the Lucky Irani Circus was famous. The last one was a lioness who, unfortunately, unlike her male colleagues, noticed our presence and stopped right at the entrance to take a “better look” at us. We wanted to run but there was only one exit and a rather large and curious cat was blocking our way. By then the other lions had also noticed us and were now starting to ‘check us out’, perhaps contemplating lunch ideas. I had seen lions a hundred times, and thrown peanuts at them, but that was when I was outside their cage, not inside with them. My mind was totally numb and I wasn’t able to think of anything to do.
Then, just as I was about to say my prayers for the last time, their handler walked into the ring. Although he saw us only for a brief moment, I am amazed how quickly he judged the situation and moved quickly between us and the lioness and started waving his steel wand, which had spikes on it, at her to push her back. After some protesting roars, the disappointed lioness decided to leave us alone and joined other lions who were still starring at us with not-so-friendly looks.
It was all the chance we needed. I don’t think I ever ran that fast in my life. I was out of the ring in a flash uttering all the four-lettered curse words I knew, and Waris was right behind me with Punjabi version of the curse words.
That was the last time I ever went to a circus. Now that I look back, I realize how disrespectful we are towards these animals. We can train them to amuse us; put them in cages and throw food at them, but only when we stand face to face, without the power of weapons or the protection of iron bars, that we learn our place in the animal kingdom.