Send In The Clowns
The following is an article that appeared in a New Zealand magazine some years ago about our clowning exploits. The clowning was part of fund-raising efforts to keep our meditation Centre financially afloat.
They go by the rather unlikely sounding names of Subarata Cunningham and Jogyata Dallas.
And they also answer readily if you call then Cleo and Koto... they're professional clowns.
Cleo and Koto clown around a lot . . . at children's parties, social events like rugby club socials where kids need entertaining, at playcentres and kindergartens, and at shopping malls.
Theirs is a slapstick approach, poking fun at their own lack of finesse in skills like juggling. They do a routine calling themselves The Greatest Jugglers on Earth in which they bumble and drop everything – much to the delight of the watching kiddies.
"Kids really love the most simple things, like when you fall off a chair," says Subarata (Cleo). "We do one thing with a big orange sponge like a hammer, and Koto comes up behind me and tries to hit me with it. And the kids go berserk yelling, 'He's behind you! He's behind you!!'."
"They're not nearly so impressed with how well you can juggle, or the magic you can do. They're not happy just sitting and watching. So we try to involve them in the magic, too. One thing we do is produce a magic silk hanky... and we might produce it from out of their sleeve. Or I'll say, 'It isn’t in my shoes, check your shoes', and they'll all take their shoes off to look."
Other tricks include passing a long needle through a balloon without popping it.
Balloons are stock in trade for Cleo and Koto. Another party-trick which never fails to fascinate the kiddies is contorting balloons into animal shapes.
"We learned to do it from a book," says Subarata. "We went through bags of balloons at first, though."
Younger children are the most fun and the easiest for the clowning couple to entertain. Beyond about 10 years old they aren't so readily charmed by conjuring and clowning capers.
"I once asked a 12-year-old what games he played. And he looked at me as though I was mad and said, 'We don't play games, we watch videos'," says Subarata.
"At that age they try to be cool at first, but after a while that usually wears off. Anyway, we did this party and we got them to paint their faces and stuff, and they had a great time."
They have appeared on stilts at fashion parades and their latest job is promoting the American craze – koosh balls. They're taking the colourful little pompom-like balls around shopping malls, and showing people what fun they are to play with.
"Shopping malls are amazing," says Subarata. "If you go there during the day, people are so busy and really stressed."
"But if you stop them and ask a silly question like 'What kind of vegetable do you never take on a ship' – to which the answer is 'a leek' – they can't help themselves and smile. And when they do, we get a lot of joy because it really does make them happier."
Cleo and Koto don't usually have to put in that kind of effort with children. "Clowning has really taught me to love kids," says Subarata. "I hadn't had much to do with them before. I love their spontaneity and open-heartedness."
Clowning may look all spontaneity and fun – but it isn't always easy. "It can be very tiring. We might have eight parties a day towards Christmas, which is really exhausting. And it's put me right off makeup. I never wear it anymore because I spend so much time with my face covered in greasepaint." says Subarata.
The couple began clowning because of an interest in meditation.
Years ago they did a meditation course at a Sri Chinmoy Centre in Australia. Over the years their interest has grown and now they, in turn, run free Sri Chinmoy meditation and self-awareness courses from their home.
For some years – money permitting – they have spent up to six weeks in New York, where Sri Chinmoy is based. Each year people from the 100 centres worldwide put on a show. Four years ago Subarata and Jogyata were part of a circus clown act for the annual show.
"The very first act we did was a bicycling act. I was cycling and Jogyata was standing on a platform on the back doing these balancing things and juggling," say Subarata.
"I panicked and went faster and faster . . . and everything he threw up into the air was just being thrown behind him! Then there were four of us on stilts, and we were accidentally falling off, which made the act funnier."
On the plane back home, they had the idea of clowning professionally. They got a turn as clowns in a Henderson Christmas parade and Cleo and Koto were born.
Clowning brings in enough money for a modest living, and any extra goes back into the Sri Chinmoy Centre. The couple are also in a stilt-walking troupe called High Flyers, which also puts its earnings into the Sri Chinmoy Centre.
"The High Flyers are an occasional thing," says Subarata. "Before Christmas there was a lot of work – but not now the summer is ending and the weather's not so good."
"It's okay in high-roofed indoor venues like shopping malls, but if you try stilting outside on soft, damp ground you just sink in and go straight over."
Says Jogyata: "If you want to know how we get on to our stilts, just look at the roof of our car."
Sure enough, the car roof is pocked with foot-sized dents from constant use as a launching pad!
After all this stilt-walking, clowning and meditation there is even some time left over for other interests. "I love running," says Subarata. "I've done quite a lot of ultra-distance – 24 hour runs, 50-milers, marathons. Running is an opportunity for me to go beyond what I believe I can do."
"In something like a 24-hour run your mind tries to stop you. Your feet are sore and you can't take another step – but that's your mind. If you let your heart do it then you can keep going. Meditation gives us the ability to do that."
Subarata's passion for running began with a dare from Jogyata that she couldn’t do an Ironman contest. "I hadn't swum for years, I don’t think I'd ridden a bike since I was about 10 and couldn’t afford a flash bike or anything. And when I first started I couldn’t even run around the block. I used to see people running and think they were crazy."
"But I decided to do it. Most people train for about a year and I had three months. Meditation helped me discipline myself to get up at 4.30 am to go cycling so I could fit in all three sports in a day. I thought it would take me about 17 hours to finish. I actually did it in 12½... and I'd had a puncture and had to change my first tyre!"
"It was torture for me, too," says Jogyata. "The house was littered with bike parts and manuals on how to train for a triathlon. And all conversation was about triathlons!"
But Subarata's in no danger of becoming obsessed with triathlons.
She says when it stops being fun – it stops. She adds that running is a great partner to meditation. Physical exercise rids her of excess energy and tension, then meditation calms her mind.
She and Jogyata also organised the New Zealand leg of an international torch relay – the World Harmony Run. The torch for the run was lit in New York at the start of the run on April 21. It arrived here on Anzac Day and was carried by runners from Auckland to Wellington and back.