Photo of Lasting Interest: The Fearless Sushila Sundari
At the dawn of the 20th century when women were confined to their homes and zenana chambers, and generally crushed by patriarchy, there were those who rose up to challenge gendered norms. Sushila Sundari was one of them.
Born in the 1880s in Calcutta, Sushila Sundari was hired and trained by Priyanath Bose, who was the owner and ringmaster of the Great Bengal Circus. She captivated audiences with her deft double trapeze and double bar act and then rode bareback on a horse into the arena, amidst rapturous applause. She was also India’s first woman lion tamer. But what transfixed legions of circus-goers was her tiger act. Bereft of any protection or a whip, Sushila would enter a cage with a royal Bengal tiger, and perform with utmost grace and fearlessness, leaving her audiences spellbound.