Nana I have Written

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.

I did.

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.

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Shalim M Hussain
Shalim M Hussain is a writer, translator and researcher. He is a doctoral candidate at the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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