Awwal Kalima

Published on: August 1, 2010
– By Yakoob

You won’t believe us

but no one’s talking about our problems

now, again, it’s the tenth or eleventh-generation scions

of those who lost glories

who are speaking for all of us.

 

Is this what they call the loot of experience?!

In reality, Nawab, Muslim, Sahib, Turk –

whoever’s called by those names belongs to those classes –

those who lost power, jagirs, nawabi and patel splendours

they have retained, at least, traces of those honours

while our lives have always been caged between our limbs and our bellies.

We never had anything to save.

What would we have to recount…?

We who called our mothers ‘amma’

never knew she was to be called ‘Ammijaan’.

Abba, Abbajaan, Papa – that’s how fathers are to be called, we’re told

How would we know – our ayyas never taught us that.

Haveli, chaardiwar, khilwat, purdah –

how could we of the thatched palaces know about them?

To perform Namaaz is to bow and rise, my grandfather said!

The language of Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim, Allah-o-Akbar, Roza

we never learnt all that.

 

A festival meant rice and pickle for us

Biryanis, fried meats, pilaus and sheer-kormas for you

You in Sherwanis, Rumi topis, Salim Shahi shoes

and dresses soaked in itr

We, resplendent in our old rags.

 

You won’t believe us if we tell you

and we might end up only embarrassing ourselves.

 

Scentusaabu, Uddandu, Dastagiri, Naagulu, China Adaam,

Laaloo, Pedamaula, Chinamaula, Sheik Srinivasu,

Bethamcharla Moinu, Paatikatta Malsooru – aren’t these our names.

 

Sheikh, Syed, Pathan – flaunting the glories of your khandaans

did you ever let us come closer to you!

Laddaf, Dudekula, Kasab, Pinjari…

we remained relics of the time when our work bit us as caste.

We became ‘Binishtis’ carrying water to your homes

and ‘Dhobis’ and ‘Dhobans’ who washed your clothes,

‘Hajaams’ when we cut your hair

and ‘Mehtars, Mehtaranis’ when we cleaned your toilets

as relics of the age when our work bit us as caste

we remained.

 

As you say, we’re all ‘Mussalmans’!

We don’t disagree – but what about this discrimination?

 

We like it too – if these excavations will unearth those accounts

which had remained buried for long, why would we object!

What more do we need to know about the common enemy,

we need to discover the secret of this common friendship now!

We agree: all those who are oppressed are Dalits,

but we need to define what’s oppression now!

 

Surprise – the language we know isn’t ours, we’re told!

We don’t know the language you call ours

We’ve ended up as a people without a mother tongue.

Cast out for speaking Telugu.

‘You speak good Telugu despite being a Mussalman’

Should I laugh or cry!

 

All our dreams are Telugu, our tears are Telugu too

when we cry out in hunger, or in pain

all our expression is Telugu!

 

We stood clueless when asked to perform Namaaz

jumped up in surprise when we heard the Azaans.

We searched for only ragas in the Surahs.

When told to worship in a language we didn’t know

we lost the right to the bliss of worship.

 

You won’t believe us,

no one’s talking about our problems.

 

Self-respect is a ‘dastarkhan’ spread before everyone.

It isn’t a privilege that belongs only to the high-born.

No matter who belittles a fellow man’s honour, betrayal’s betrayal

 

the loot of experience is a bigger betrayal.

Archived from Communalism Combat,July-August 2010, Anniversary Issue (17th) Year 17    No.153, Voices