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Circus by Anushka Jasraj

Posted on 27/02/2017
By Commonwealth Foundation
Circus Illustration

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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