Awwal Kalima

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,
are speaking for all of us.

Is this what they call the  loot of experience?!

In reality, Nawab, Muslim, Saaheb, 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 been caged between our limbs and  bellies.
We never had anything to save.
What do 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, chardiwar, 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 Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem, Allahu Akbar, Roza-
we never learnt them.

A festival meant rice and pickle for us,
Biryanis, fried meat, pilaus and sheer khormas for you.
You, in Sherwanis, Rumi topis, Salim Shahi shoes,
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,
we remained as relics of the age when our
occupation swallowed us as caste .

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 that 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,  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 Suras.
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, a betrayal is a betrayal

And the loot of experience is a bigger betrayal.

Naren Bedide's translation of the Telugu poem 'Awwal Kalima' by Yakoob (from his 2002 book of poetry 'sarihaddu rEkha'). 
The original post appeared on The Shared Mirror on May 6, 2010. It can be accessed here

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