February 20, 2014 | Comments Off on Merry and not so merry-go-rounds | Betsy Woodman
Long after we returned from India, my mother used to brag about the birthday parties we’d had there. She pitied the poor pathetic kids who had grown up in the States, since they didn’t have the resources for a bang-up celebration. Such as street entertainers—dancers, snake charmers, performing monkeys, stilt-walkers, acrobats, puppeteers, jugglers….you name it.
Best of all, in my mom’s opinion, was having a merry-go-around set up in the yard, and that was always my favorite, too. There’s a romance to a carousel, even if it’s only a simple wooden structure with four or six animals. It’s mysterious why this ride should be fun—you’re certainly not going anywhere, and you’ve always got the same view, the rear end of the animal in front of you and the back of the rider. Yet, it is wonderful.
Here’s Jane, trying out a wooden lion before her fifth birthday party, in Delhi.
Now she’s scrubbed up, with her hair tightly braided.
I mentioned dancing bears at birthday parties in my biographical notes at the back of Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes (the essay is downloadable here). After publication, I got a letter from an animal rights activist saying that for years she had been working against the practice of making bears “dance” and wanted to know how I felt about the issue.
That gave me pause. Yes, of course, there had to be a dark side to what was going on in those sunny days. What was going on in the minds of those dancing bears? How well were they treated, kept, fed? Had they been captured in the wild as infants? And how about the humans? What kind of a living did the keepers make?
Our old black-and-white photos suggest that some of the humans weren’t having much fun. Here are the two men who set up the merry-go-round for Jane’s party. I presume that the older one (on the left) was the boss, and the younger one his son, or nephew, or reluctant underling. Perhaps both men in the picture were the poorly paid and abused employees of the owner of the equipment. On the other hand, maybe they were doing quite well and having a reasonably good time. I’ll never know now.
I continue to sift through these photos of strangers photographed more than a half century ago. This young woman, accompanied by a drummer, danced into our driveway in Chennai and out again.