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  • Silky Jaiswal

A Face Behind the Mask

His miserable face was splattered with cheap acrylic colours, painted white with a big smile touching the corner of his eyes. A wobbly red rubber ball was stuck to his nose. A crown of rainbow-coloured strands was attached to his thinning hair. Vivid colours on a blank canvas; a grey costume and a tired body; a mask to hide the real truth. There he was, ready for his performance, that of a clown in a travelling circus.

His parents had disowned him due to his physical disabilities. He couldn’t walk or talk the way his friends did. He was short, stubby and his limbs weak…he was a dwarf. He soon found work as a child labourer in a dilapidated tea shack. However, due to his slow ways and sluggishness, he was kicked out by his owner. The children on the roads taunted him, called him ‘joker’ but he was a joker indeed, his life had become the biggest joke.

Finding no other opportunities for work, he decided to join the circus. One of his colleagues had told him that people liked him and he could easily join as a clown.

Once a part of the circus, he began to understand what family, love and togetherness meant. All the circus members were his family to him, the only one he had. However, he grew exceptionally close to Chotu, the trapeze artist.

He would look in awe at Chotu as Chotu swung from pole to pole, free-flying like a bird in the air. One day he hoped to be as graceful as him and as high-rated as an artist like Chotu. Slowly, Chotu became more than his friend, he became his idol. They ate, slept and moved together. Chotu loved how he could make the children laugh with his funny jokes and nuances. Chotu too knew what he had gone through. After being rejected several times, he was finally accepted.

However, the circus was not doing well. Not enough people were coming to see the acts. This meant all the highly paid artists had to be done away with, as tragedy would have it…Chotu had to leave.

One evening, under the dimly lit circus tent, the Joker and Chotu sat together, their faces illuminated by the soft glow of the lantern, Chotu’s painted face making it difficult to understand his expressions as everyone prepared to say last goodbye to Chotu. “Chotu, I will miss the days when we used to make everyone laugh together. I can’t bear the thought of you leaving. You are not just a friend; you are my anchor in this chaos.”

“You will be fine my dear friend. Perhaps my time spent here ends today and what lies beyond these canvas walls will help me earn real money”, saying that Chotu started gathering his luggage.

“Beyond the circus? What are you saying, Chotu? This is our family…your support is very much required.”

“Joker, it is time we think about ourselves. We have given our all to this circus, and what have we got in return? Barely enough to survive. I am leaving for a better life. I have had enough of scraping by.”

As Chotu made preparations to depart, the Joker could not shake the feeling of betrayal. He had always believed in the bonds of their circus family, but Chotu’s departure for the promise of more money shattered that belief.

The Joker’s life was miserable then, but now it seemed he had no reason to live. His family was shattered just like his dreams and aspirations of having his circus one day. He was made to do menial jobs and worked doubly hard to earn a meagre sum of money to sustain himself.

Now the face behind the mask of happiness and laughter was distorted with grief, pain, weakness, and confusion. He found it increasingly difficult to put on his mask and perform, with the inner turmoil he was going through. This bipolar personality of his was beginning to tell on him.

Sometimes he would meaninglessly laugh and other times cry endlessly and curse his wretched face. He was losing himself behind his mask. He became so determined to make others laugh that he turned completely insane doing it.

He splattered the paints, and put on his prosthetic nose and his rainbow wig yet again…but there was no face behind the mask…the mask had become the face and the face…the mask…

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