I am reading a book about circus life. The author is a Japanese man who fell in love with a trapeze artist named Mala, and followed the circus around India for five years. That is two years longer than I have been married, and I am already planning my escape.

Every morning I eat five multi-vitamins and one tablet that stops ovulation, so I do not become pregnant. My husband’s name rhymes with heron, and he does not know I am on birth control. He is forgetful. He eats almonds with his breakfast, and fish curry for lunch, to improve his memory. It’s strange, I tell him, that fish are such forgetful beings, but we eat them to remember better.

I call him Heron because it is disrespectful to speak his name. When I am alone I say his name to myself: Kiran. I am expected to cook all his meals and have sex with him weekly. The unexpected consequence of such an arrangement: a desire to know and be known. There is a dissonance between his lack of affection, and the intimacy of our shared life. The closest Heron comes to expressing tenderness is when he says, You don’t eat enough. On Sundays, he watches my favourite TV show with me, without complaining.

I found the book at a used bookstore; the previous owner has drawn a moustache on all the animals, the binding is damaged, but the photographs have maintained their sheen. The Japanese man writes about a skeletal old woman who does not eat. At each performance, she walks around the ring, and the audience watches as the circus master offers her a glass of water. It sounds mundane, but it is one of the most dramatic moments in the show, because any day now the woman is expected to collapse. At night, the author watches the woman, expecting to find her sneaking food from a pocket hidden in the voluminous folds of her sari. Instead he discovers that she sleeps heavily and snores like a steam engine.

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Other project updates

  • Hot Pot by Jasmine Sealy

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     ‘You is not the first body to wash up at Hot Pot, belly bloat and eyes black like cast iron. Anywhere them got water people going find a way to drown’. Adda is a project of Commonwealth Writers, the Commonwealth Foundation’s cultural initiative and it offers an online gathering of stories. This month we feature a story by the Barbadian author Jasmine Sealy: when a girls body washes up at a local swimming spot in Barbados, her younger sister believes there’s more than a capricious current behind the death.

  • Special event: Writing the literature of Indenture and its legacies

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    To mark the centenary of the abolition of indenture in the British Empire, Commonwealth Writers is partnering with the School of Advanced Study, University of London, to host a high-level panel discussion with writers from across the indentured labour diaspora. The panellists include the Award winning writers Ananda Devi (Mauritius), Gaiutra Bahadur (Guyana), Lakshmi Persaud (Trinidad), Mary […]

  • Speaking of Partition by Rita Kothari

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    In the summer of 2014 a panel discussion titled “Partitioned Voices, Divided Tongues?” held in Delhi, invited the panellists to think of “What happens to a language when its land and people are partitioned?” In the organizers’ scheme of things, this comprised Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi and Bengali as languages that have undergone “the experience” of […]

  • The Full Picture: The Partner’s Learning Exchange 2017

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    As part of capacity development support to the South African Alliance on Youth Employment (SAAYE), the Commonwealth Foundation brokered a learning exchange with Citizens UK, trialling a new model of support. This multimedia story explores the techniques used in the exchange to help civil society to better organise. 

  • Luis by Jo-Anne Mason

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    ‘First you don’t use nails, hurricane eat them up and spit them out like little bones in your fried snapper.’ Adda is a project of Commonwealth Writers, the Commonwealth Foundation’s cultural initiative and it offers an online gathering of stories. This month we feature Jo-Anne Mason’s story of living through Hurricane Luis and the devastation it wrought on her island home of Anguilla.