Following the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Write me down, I am an Arab, Ajmal Khan wrote “Write me down, I am an Indian” in the wake of the CAA-NRC protests. It was translated into Hindi by lyricist Varun Grover, and into many other regional languages. The Mappila Verses is Khan’s new collection of poems.

Portrait of a Bastard

Your collar bone protrudes like a Somalian Child
and the arm muscles anaemic
but lungi, from the Malabar Coast.

Texture of your skin is the mixture of Pulaya and Cheruman
converted to Islam
sweat with a scent beyond Arabian sea from Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Saudi Arabia.

How do you speak English this well?
You guys rebelled against them
and boycotted even their language.

How did you get this resilient yet deep eyes
and rage? somewhat remotely similar to Palestinians and Kashmiris
You were never occupied.

Your chin remotely resembles
a clever north Indian Bania man
which disappear like a mirage.

They murmur, you are a bastard
in the confluence between the Arabian Coast
and the Malabar before Portuguese and Dutch mastered maritime.

Do bastards have documents?
Of the unholy nights
Or do they and their children and their children and their children remain bastards forever?

Where do we go?

Where should we go after the last frontiers?
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
Where should the plants sleep after the last breath of air?

— Mahmoud Darwish

After the Isha Namaz
Chanting prayers sitting in her Musalla
Keeping her copy of Quran aside with the Thasbeeh, she asks
Where do we go if our names are not in the list?

Where do coconut trees go when their roots are declared illegal?
How does Hibiscus flower if you ask them go back where they come from?
Can you ask Tapioca to go back to Brazil?
Do you ask tea and coffee to go back where they come from?
Where do Great Pied Hornbills go when you tell monsoons are illegal to them?
Where do Mackerels and Sardines go when you inform them, they are illegal in the water?
Do Malabar elephant have identity card to enter Maasai Mara?
Where do Lion-tailed macaques go if they are asked to vacate the Silent Valley?
Can Mundakan and Puncha paddy be cultivated in Saudi Arabia?
Which water Giant Danio’s swim if rivers are made illegal to them?
Is there a list of snakes that are allowed only on the Western Ghats?
On which seas Hassinar fish if you ask him documents to enter the Arabian sea?

Where do we go?
The sword breaks my silence, she asks again
I reminded her
“For your father, Adam, was created with dirt from the surface of the earth.
You also will be returned to the earth”
We came from soil
We go to soil, until then
We live here.

Mappila Verse

The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was... The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

— Milan Kundera

Centuries ago
Even before Baba Sahib was born
My ancestors searched for caste annihilation – they became Mappila.

Malik Dinar came to my coast with light
Cheraman Perumal – lit Diya
Cheramaan Juma Mosque – first masjid on the subcontinent
Two lights merged between the Mecca and Ponnani.

Quadi Muhammed weaved songs when Portuguese arrived
Like Cannons on my disposal
Before anyone know anything about songs of resistance on my coast.

Kunjali Marakkar, Variyankunnath and Ali Musliyar
Might sound just Muslim names for you
– the light houses of self-respect and freedom for my land.

The brave children of Eranadu and Valluvanadu who poured their blood
The land that showed chest to the cannons in 1921
The brave children of Eranadu and Valluvanadu who poured their blood
The land that showed chest to the cannons in 1921

My lullaby
Anglo-Mappila war – My bedtime stories
When my ancestors fought against the sons of the empire
On which the sun never set
On another sunset Wagon massacre paintings were removed from Tirur railway station
How do you remove the wounds?

This land is built with the blood of my ancestors
The water we drink – their sweat
Their blood on my nerve
You – stand stable on their dead bodies.

I have become an orphan in my own home
Or it wasn’t – home?
I now dig names graves and blood stains
Of my people to get all of us free – certificates of loyalty
I stand alone at the Ghat of this country
With all the documents and history
For my citizenship approval.

On the way back

Staring at stars, the cosmos and beyond
We went to colleges and universities like curious children following constellations.
Some of us – the only one of our kind
The rest had something similar – their surnames, parents’ jobs
Or the names of the cities they hailed
The kind of dress they wore, the way they spoke English
The brands of cigarettes they smoked and the scent of their sweat.
Some dropped out
Few missing
Others came home as dead bodies like – Shambuka
Those survived were picked up and
The remaining – untouchables in the job market.
On the way back to the village
The road is long with the heavy burden of degree certificates.

The Mappila Verses

Excerpted with permission from The Mappila Verses, Ajmal Khan AT, Hawakal Publishers.