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

    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