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Brown girl in the circus by Swetha Amit

Those curious eyes. Their scrutiny. The gaze follows me as I walk to my desk. The teacher announces my arrival. The new girl in fifth grade. The class is quiet. The silence prolongs until the teacher speaks. She writes on the board. I squint. It’s my name. Written after the word welcome. I hear murmurs. Like water boiling in a pan. The girl next to me moves to the corner. I look around. Heads turn away. Some hushed whispers. I glance at my books. Ones that Mama bought. After toiling hard at those rich households. Scrubbing floors, toilets and washing utensils.

My Mams! That’s what my sister Peanut and I call her. How many nights we must have spent. Scared and alone. Waiting for Mams to come. The darkness creeping upon us. Drunk men. Laughing like hyenas. Ready to prey. Huts lit up with lanterns. Loud voices. My Papa seldom at home. Sometimes he’d arrive. Red eyes. Abusive words. Sound of beating. Mams’ silent cries. Our little slum world. Until Mams sent me here. She is stronger than I think. All she wants is my wings to soar. You are made for bigger things, she’d say. Scrapping every rupee, paisa, extra hours, babysitting, insomnia and fatigue.

And here I was. Ready to flap my wings. The bell rings. Recess time. Sound of footsteps. Surrounded by a swarm of faces. All brown. Just like mine. They look at me. Some cross-eyed. Some stick their tongues out. They pinch me. Pull my hair. Express disgust at the oil remains in their fingers. Fluent English words. Not so much in Hindi. They stare at my clothes. White but smeared with blots of blue. Stains that would remain. Remnants of my little horrors. I am called names.

For days, this goes on. One day the teacher sees them. She reprimands. Some sulky silences. But the gawking continues. I ask myself, how different am I? The same brown skin, eyes, nose and ears. Yet they treat me like a clown. I find it hard not to cry. Then I think of Mams. Stoic and independent. And I tell myself. I am no different. I too have a right to dream. To give my Mams the life she deserves. Of comfort and security. I too am human. An Indian. Even if I am the daughter of a maid.


Swetha Amit has a double Master’s degree in Psychology and is currently pursuing her MFA at University of San Francisco. She has completed certificate courses in creative nonfiction from Stanford continuing studies. As a writer, she has published her memoir titled 'A Turbulent Mind' and a few stories in anthologies. Her book has received recognition at various forums and won a couple of awards including the finalist in the International book awards 2021 by American book fest, honorable mentions at the San Francisco Book festival 2021, New York Book festival 2021. She is also an avid reader, runner and triathlete.

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