the forgetting began in 1858 and long before and everyday since the Redcoats
with their bayonets and bleach began scouring my motherland raw.
imperial lather to cleanse the savage. their slogan: Become us but you will never be us.
rinse and repeat. rinse and repeat. rid and repeat. how do i write rebellion
when i can no longer read it? the barbed wire of Angrezi wound around my tongue
bleeds words that are not my own. there is amnesia in my fingers as they trace
my ancestor’s verses right to left, alephs and ink tides i can no longer bend
myself into. the parchment will not hold me, tearing when i try to wear its poetry,
rubbing the browning pages against my skin, trying to darken my mouth with
the ink. i swim in these white pages, not cleansed enough, never cleansed enough.
grasping for colour to hold on to, my tongue falters for words to anchor me,
a washed-out-wreck set adrift without a flag or a call, this cry struggles for sound.
ghalib: forgive me, the bows and masts of nastaleeq i have forgotten how to write in.
i will write a ghazal when اُردُو returns, carries me home and colours me in.
By Zehra Naqvi. Published in Issue 40.2, “Our Rubble Our Loss”, Room, 2017
Winner of the Room 2016 Poetry Contest. Interview about the poem here.