Juggling is the art of manipulating multiple objects at once and it also has become synonymous with handling different tasks at the same time. This is exactly what Mani Muthu, a city-based software engineer, does, as he is also a professional juggler, who juggles both his professions with ease. For Mani, the seeds of juggling were sown when he was a child as his father was a professional juggler too. “I used to be captivated by my father performing and I aspired to be a juggler like him; so, I started juggling when I was nine and it was my father who taught me the basics of juggling,” shares Mani.
Having started off learning at that tender age, Mani also started performing a short while later, by doing small acts in bigger shows. It was when he was 12 that he decided he wanted to do solo shows and he started performing at bigger venues like Ravindra Bharathi and Children’s Film Festival and more.
But, how did he manage his studies along with learning this difficult art form? To this, the 25-year-old says, “It became a habit of sorts. I used to practise for an hour every day after school and also whenever I had time. In fact, in the 16 years that I have been juggling, I don’t recall ever taking a break for more than a few days at a time.”
While his father taught him the basics with handling three objects at once, he slowly progressed and now he can handle six objects at a time and these items range from balls to clubs to devil sticks to knives to fire juggling. Out of these, Mani says his favourite is juggling clubs and LED juggling. Claiming he is the only person in Telangana who does LED juggling, he says, “I got these special LED clubs imported a few years ago and, as far as my knowledge goes, I’m the only one in the State who’s doing it with these.”
Additionally, Mani also does something called hat manipulation, as he explains: “I like hat manipulation aka hat juggling as it can be made interactive with the audience. I actively engage the audience when I do it.” His skill at hat manipulation caught the attention of filmmakers and he was also roped in to train Daggubati Rana for a film.
As to how he got that opportunity, the veteran of over 500 shows says, “I always had connections with event managers because of my father and through those connections, this happened and I trained Rana for a movie called Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum. Later, I also acted in an ad film where I juggled.”
But, just juggling didn’t satisfy him as he wanted to push himself further. That is when he started learning to perform tricks on a unicycle. “I was 15 when I realised I should do something bigger and that’s when I went to a juggling festival in Goa and there I met an American unicyclist. From him, I learnt how to balance a unicycle and juggle on a unicycle. It was a fun experience as I fell many times but that’s the beauty of it. You fall and you rise back again,” shares the juggler who also started balloon sculpture around the same age.
According to Mani, juggling is a lot more than just a performing art as it has many benefits to practitioners. “In India, we see juggling as something that’s just done in a circus or street show but it has many benefits. In fact, many universities abroad like MIT and more have juggling clubs because of its benefits. My juggling is the sole reason why I can do many things at a time because it taught me multitasking and stress management. I believe if school kids are taught how to juggle, it will benefit them a lot,” shares the juggler who won the Bala Ratna award when he was a child.
“Anyone can take up juggling at any age and it is also a great exercise as just a few minutes of it will make one break a sweat. It improves hand-eye coordination, balance, memory and concentration. There is also proven research to substantiate this and that is why I believe everyone should take up juggling,” he adds.
He now wants to conduct workshops on juggling in schools and is currently working on establishing a juggling club in the city where anyone can come to meet-ups and learn for free. In fact, he is already in the process as he regularly teaches juggling for free on the weekends. “I want it to become more mainstream and I will work towards that goal forever. In fact, when I have kids, I would want them to take this up too,” he shares.