dear baba

dear baba, you tell me you had to leave because you cannot speak here, that in karachi you have a tongue again. baba, i have been losing words. this morning i woke up and there were all these words that went missing. baba, what is the word for longing in urdu? baba, teach me how to write my name again.

baba, do not leave me in this city where my skin gets lost. what about me, baba? where do i run to? where is the land that reaches out to me, calls me child? where my tongue can speak without betrayal? the urdu is disappearing, baba, from my mouth and my fingertips.

baba, must the children of diaspora dream of homelands only in poetry? are we scattered seeds that will never take root? baba, my generation is giving up on the notion of home. yesterday, a fellow child of diaspora looked at me through a computer screen and confessed with red eyes, you are my home. baba, maybe we are each other’s homes and maybe that is enough. maybe we need to hold each other across oceans and speak tenderness in our broken languages.

dear baba, i have little tolerance for people who are sticklers for grammar. i think it’s because you always asked me to edit your emails. waited every day for me to come home and make sure your response to the craigslist ad was professional and correct, and i kept telling you it doesn’t matter. don’t make it matter.

baba, why is it that centuries after their invasion we still cannot shake off the trauma of white supremacy? if trauma can be inherited, so can racism. and rebellion. the white colonizers never learned my language half as well after they invaded and plundered us, and then fed insecurities into our bloodstreams. why must we try so hard?

baba, i write in english because it is what i have, but i will break it. i will break this language, pull it open and tuck in phrases too foreign. mera wada he. i promise to write in bad grammar and not speak all good and misspell in every craigslist email and every school assignment i can get away with. i will place at least one intentional, seditious error in all my assignments. just for us, baba.

baba, it has been raining for weeks. i wish i could send some over to you. i remember the word for rain. barish. ba rish. The pause of ba as the monsoon clouds loom. rish, relief felt as water kisses parched land. the way the entire city smells like rain. karachi knows the poetry of rain. the way we ran onto the roof, our heads upturned, mouths open for the first drops of water. do you remember when chachu sent me an umbrella from america and i took it to the roof after spotting a gray cloud? i waited for hours under my american umbrella. i have never seen anyone use an umbrella in karachi, baba. i wonder if that has changed or whether the neighborhood children still swarm onto the streets, heads skyward, anticipating the first rain drop.

dear baba, there is no word for des in english. nation? homeland? no, not quite. english cannot fully comprehend its own oppression. you are my des, baba. call me when it rains. i remember the word for it. barish. taste of rain on my tongue. barish on my zaban.

First published in Issue 79 of Tin House, 2019