Subdrift East Bay

20 April 2019
4 min read

I decided to share some of my poetry at a South Asian Open Mic Night. Although I signed up with some form of raw adrenaline, I was literally shaking when I read my two pieces out loud. I haven't been that vulnerable in front of an audience in a long time. The performances I've done in the last couple months have always been in a group context, where I've been able to hide my nerves behind other people. This was not the case here.

I started writing poetry a little over 6 months ago, as I started processing some feelings around a relationship that had ended. I started with Rupi Kaur's books and soon was flung into the world of modern poetry. Some of my friends came out of the woodwork, sharing and suggesting poetry that had influenced them over the years, which encouraged me to keep reading and eventually start writing.

We've been led to believe that both the color of our skin and gender are what define us. This is an ode to that. 

I thought a lot of things as a South Asian female.

Accommodating, flexible, malleable

I thought I was an adaptive person, molding to the needs of those in power

Even clay creates beautiful forms but hardens when put it into the fire 

Anxious, organized, perfectionist

I thought I collected worries that would be validated in times of need

Even piggy banks collect change to eventually be broken indeed 

Committed, loyal, dutiful

I thought you would have stood up for me, so what if you didn’t have a platform

Even legislation moves slowly, but it’s still trying to change the norm 

Fair, lovely, docile

I thought I didn't roar because I was abstaining from poking the bear

Even grasshoppers become locusts, when pushed to their utmost fear 

Smart, competitive, masculine

I thought my parents overeducated me but they still wanted to pay someone for marriage

Even used muscle cars have a lifespan before they are put into a carriage 

Thick, hairy, voluptuous

I thought bollywood gave me unrealistic expectations of love, life, and men

Even tooth fairies get some street cred now and then again 

Exotic, pure, suitable

I thought I didn't have any stains, did exactly as I was told

Even porcelain loses its shimmer over time, just as everything gets old 

I thought a lot of things as a South Asian female.

This piece is a combination of Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Punjabi, and Sindhi words. I'm not going to be giving definitions of each of the words but I think everyone will be able to get a pretty good understanding if you've ever been in love.

 Untranslatable words in the cycle of love

Seedhi sadhiwas the word you used when you met me. Uncorrupted, naive, and full of love to give to you.

Besharam was the sass and freedom with which we courted each other, text after text, call after call

Maaza was the lighthearded fun we had singing Bollywood songs in our own world

Jism was the carnal desire we had for each other like eating jalebis day after day

Rimjhim is that memory of us dancing in the rain only to catch a cold, and take care of each other for the next week  

Masti was the possession of uncontrollable laughter when we were giggle bandits

Kanjoos makhichoos was our money mantra, always cooking while yelling at each other in the kitchen

Bhau was the trust and importance I placed in you, opening up my soul for inspection

Zabardast was what you used to describe my adulting and aunty skills 

Intezaar was the patience with which I thought you would change

Zindabaad was the word I wanted to put after our names to signify our bond

Jiwan was the word I used because that’s how long I thought I had with you

Badmaash was what I used to describe her when you let her come between us  

Ullu was me, introducing you to my loved ones

Chari was what I called myself for letting it get as far as it did

Kinni was how I felt: used, tainted, and forgotten

Jhootha was how I made you out to be my enemy so I could get over you  

Theek Thak is what I say when a nosy aunty asks about my dating life

Bholi bhaliis how I feel when someone tries to hit on me in a bar

Unees-Beesis what I say to my dates to split the bill and dash out

Himmat is courage, bravery, and defiance with which I walked away from you  

Pyaar, ishq and mohabaat are all the things I felt for you.

But my love can only be explained in these untranslatable words.


Thanks to Jasdeep Singh Arneja for the recording


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I acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Custodians on whose land I live, play, and work. I pay my deepest respects to all Indigenous Elders past, present and emerging.

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