Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part III

Tell these sons of the earth / That we are all bothers.

This week, as part of our ongoing feature on Indian poetry, tied to our Special Feature in the Winter 2017 Issue of Asymptote, we present two writers of the Miyah poetry movement, both translated here by Shalim M Hussain. Like Siraj Khan, featured in the new issue, they advocate the use of language to defend the rights of the marginalized Bengal-origin, Assamese Muslim community to which they belong. Miyah is a term used interchangeably to mean illegal immigrant or Bangladeshi, and is targeted at the Muslims who live in the Char Chapori region of Assam.  In the spring of 2016, members of the Char Chapori community began reclaiming the term Miyah via poetry posted on social media, and a movement was born. 

My Mother (1 May 2016)
by Rehna Sultana

I was dropped on your lap my mother
Just as my father, grandfather, great-grandfather
And yet you detest me, my mother,
For who I am.
Yes, I was dropped on your lap as
a cursed Miyah, my mother.

You can’t trust me
Because I have somehow grown this
Somehow slipped into a lungi
I am tired, tired of introducing myself
To you.
I bear all your insults and still shout,
Mother! I am yours!
Sometimes I wonder
What did I gain by falling in your lap?
I have no identity, no language
I have lost myself, lost everything
That could define me
And yet I hold you close
I try to melt into you
I need nothing, my mother.
Just a spot at your feet.
Open your eyes once mother
Open your lips
Tell these sons of the earth
That we are all bothers.
And yet I tell you again
I am just another child
I am not a ‘Miyah cunt’
Not a ‘Bangladeshi’
Miyah I am,
A Miyah.
I can’t string words through poetry
Can’t sing my pain in verse
This prayer, this is all I have.

My mother original


Brother, I am a man from the chars
by Ashraful Hussain

Brother, I am a man from the chars
On the Brahmaputra among kohua, jhau-ikra;
In the shade of nal-khagori is my jute-stick house.
People call me a choruwa, bhatiya, immigrant shaykh,
Neo-Asomiya, Mymensinghia,
Suspected Bangladeshi, non-aboriginal
Bangladeshi and what-not.

And though I was born in Assam and pride in
Calling myself an Assamese
The language doesn’t slide down my tongue
My father wears a blue-checked lungi
My mother wears a saree
My sister wears mekhela or churidar
And me, brother, I wear jeans pants.

My father wears on his chin a handful of beard
A topi on his head, a string of beads on his hand, a jute bag on his shoulders
But because he wears on his jaw broken Assamese,
He walks from work to the police station
Sometimes as a Bangladeshi, sometimes as a fundamentalist.
The big men say chacha-chacha and help him out of the lock-up.
The next day he’s off to work again
To repay the hefty bribe.

Brother orig.


Shalim M. Hussain is a writer, translator, and researcher based in New Delhi.

Rehna Sultana is a writer and social activist. She is currently a PhD scholar with the Department of Assamese, Gauhati University based in Guwahati and Sontoli.

Ashraful Hussain is a freelance journalist, social activist, and filmmaker. A junior engineer (Plastic technology), he is based around Guwahati and Haripur.


Read More Indian Language Poetry:

  • Main Uddin

    Who am I in Assam?
    @Main Uddin
    Why am I always
    reminded of my identity
    which was an unusual tactic
    for my forefathers.
    I am sure,
    OI,DV, DF are not the issues
    But the issue is that
    why I am being a believer
    Of the particular faith.
    Whether son of Pragjyotisha or Kamrupa
    Not the matter successor of Nisunda or Naraka
    No matter of being Dravidian ancestry
    But the matter is now, being an abroad faith believer.