My Son has Learnt to Cuss like the City

Siraj Khan

When I leave the chars for the city
They ask, ‘Oi, where is your house?’
How do I say, ‘In the heart of the Borogang
Amid silvery sands
Flickering between stalks of jhau grass
Where there are no roads, no chariots
Where the feet of big men seldom fall
Where the air is a grassy green
There, there is my home.’

When I leave the chars for the city
They ask, ‘Oi, what is your language?’
Just as the tongues of beasts and birds
Have no books, my language has no school
I draw a tune from my mother’s mouth
And sing Bhatiyali. I match rhythm with rhythm
Pain with pain
Clasp the sounds of the land close to my heart
And speak the whispers of the sand
The language of earth is the same everywhere.

They ask, ‘Oi, what is your jati?’
How do I tell them that my jati is man
That we are Hindu or Musalman
Until the earth makes us one.

They try to scare me, ‘Oi, when did you come here?’
I came from no ‘somewhere’
When Bajan left the chars for the city
With a bundle of jute leaves on his head
The police jumped on him without reason
And the examination
Of pieces of paper began
Every time Bajan passed with laurels.

Just because he was a sandman
They gave him many, many colourful names:
Choruwa they called him, Pamua, Mymensinghia
Some called him a Na-Asomiya
And some ‘Bideshi Miyah’
He carried these rashes on his heart
To his grave.

The rashes combined, raised their collective head and hissed at me.

O mister snake charmer
How long will you slither and slide
My son goes to college now
He has learnt to cuss like the city
He knows little but he knows well
The sweet twists and the sweet turns of poetry.

translated from the Char Chapori dialect by Shalim M Hussain