Nana I have written attested countersigned
And been verified by a public notary
That I am a Miyah
Now see me rise
From flood waters
Float over landslides
March through sand and marsh and snakes
Break the earth’s will, draw trenches with spades
Crawl troughields of rice and diarrhea and sugarcane
And a 10% literacy rate
See me shrug my shoulders curl my hair
Read two lines of poetry one formula of math
Read confusion when the bullies call me Bangladeshi
And tell my revolutionary heart
But I am a Miyah
See me hold by my side the Constitution
Point a finger to Delhi
Walk to my Parliament my Supreme Court my Connaught Place
And tell the MPs the esteemed judges and the lady selling
Trinkets and charm on Janpath
Well I am a Miyah.
Visit me in Kolkatta in Nagpur in the Seemapuri slums
See me suited in Silicon Valley suited at McDonalds
Enslaved in Beerwa bride-trafficked in Mewat
See the stains on my childhood
The gold medals on my PhD certificate
Then call me Salma call me Aman call me BahatonNessa
Or call me Gulam.
See me catch a plane get a Visa catch a bullet train
Catch a bullet
Catch your drift
Catch a rocket
Wear a lungi to space
And there were no one can hear you scream
I am Miyah
I am proud!
After a long ride down a road newly raised
And porcupined against the river
We unload our cameras on a rice field half-India half-immigrant
It’s two weeks past the 26th of January-
And they are celebrating.
The rain came first and let me tell you it was cold, cold-
We had to postpone the Republic. His lungi is muddy, his ganji crusted with
Sweat. Looks like the map of Bangladesh, he laughs
Then asks if the camera is on.
I stand on the raised border- two endless lines of concertina
Four strings on each line, the space in between
Heaped with more coiled wire.
I wonder but don’t ask if they are electrified.
The border policeman on his bicycle stops, eats his lunch on the grass
He has never cycled across the lines.
The air from the other side filtered through metal screen should
But doesn’t smell different. I had more expectations
From my first international border, I guess.
There, on that raised mound
Where four lines of betelnut mark a rectangle
And still ripen every March, inside that was home.
Our phones catch the mobile phone signal from the other side.
He feeds us country chicken and fish. We sit on his wife’s furniture
Five years old but the varnish still glossy. The false ceiling, an old sari-could have been his late mother’s. And the door I lean against
Looks old, so old that it could be
The last remnant of the home across the lines.
Things being as they are
I now carry my forehead in my pocket
If I leave it home some punk might break in
And do the deed unmentionable with my forehead
So I keep a phone in one pocket, my forehead in the other
My pants remain well-balanced
My forehead remains safe.
A couple of months ago someone said
You have such a fine forehead
Lend it to me for a week
My forehead will learn new tricks from yours.
While taking it back I saw, O My God!
Bite marks on my forehead.
I caught the punk by the collar and said what’s this?
He replied you have a big forehead miyahbhai
You want to spread it across the country
Soon you will say now that I have the land,
Bring out your women.
He jerked himself free and ran to the police station
I ran the other way.
Later I heard that he had filed a case against me
Said I had stolen his forehead
Said if you look well milord
You will find my bite marks on it.
I wrapped the forehead in a banana leaf
Buried it underground
And left the country.
Days passed, people forgot
I dug out my half-rotted forehead
I couldn’t wear it in the open anymore,
So I carry it in my pocket
If someone slaps me now
My cheeks might sting
But my forehead will remain safe.
Note on the poems- The three poems attached here are part of what has been called The Miyah Poetry Series. The word Miyah is Assamese street slang for Assamese Muslims of Bengal origin. The word implies otherness, barbarism and uncouthness. As such, Miyah poetry is a set of poems written by poets of the community about the Miyah experience- about what it means to be looked down upon with suspicion in their own homeland.
Shalim M Hussain is a writer, translator and researcher. He is a doctoral candidate at the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia.