Nameera Anjum Khan: Fighting Islamophobia, one poem at a time



"The crowd shouting slogans of the massacre of Muslims at Jantar Mantar. The statement of Assam's Chief Minister on limiting the rise of Muslims in the state. The Supreme Court's decision to order an NRC in Assam or hand over the land of the Babri Masjid to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.


What do all of these have in common? Behind all this is hatred against Muslims. There is a tendency to regard their belongingness to the country as inferior to the rest. There is an objection to their existence. And it's not organic; it's planned. It is crafted, its wick- constantly soaked in oil is stirred when it grows dull. This hatred has an active organisational apparatus, and most of us who are not on the receiving end of it are unconcerned about it. Islamophobia creates misconceptions about Muslims that are then used to justify state-sanctioned discrimination, hate, and violence against Muslims. Discrimination, hatred, and violence against Muslim persons and communities are being increased, stamped, and generalised as a result of widespread unfavourable depictions of Islam and fear of Muslims, as well as security and counter-terrorism strategies. Namira's poetry acknowledges the reality of anti-Muslim prejudice while also identifying the organisational pattern and propaganda behind it. These poems thoroughly examine seemingly small situations in homes, courtyards, and streets that project a negative image of Muslims deep into our minds.

- Shivam Tomar


Here are some featured poems of her for you all to read.


An Ode to My Ghetto, Hasanpura-C


I live in Hasanpura-C. It is supposed to be a semi-developed side, compared to Hasanpura-A, situated about a 10-minute walk on the other side of the road. Every time I book a cab, the driver asks me if the way to my house is big enough for a car. In my mind, I say, “Yes, as big as the divide that the English left behind and we have come to adopt.”


“Just enter the first lane on the right, in front of the mandir leading to the masjid inside…”


We cross Lallu Meat Shop, a name that makes me chuckle every time I say it aloud. I remember a time when my politically-woke friend decided that a Musalman chooses to be ghettoised – it was a WhatsApp group where my identity was dissected with a plethora of tools. Some Musalman friends are a guinea pig for their social experiment. Let’s see what hurts them most, let’s push them till the very end until they explode. Touché, they are such apt metaphors for terrorists indeed.


Ghettoised in our language means being refused a house on rent because we are Musalman, it means being asked what ‘kind’ of Mohammaden we are – the clean ones or the unclean ones.


“You know, not all Musalman cook on the streets and block the roads when there’s a wedding. not all of them are loud, uneducated and clad in a burqa and a niqab. Some of them wear jeans and write poetry, some are even tolerant and have a calm temper, you see…”

When my friends speak for me, I want to tell them to not lend their voice to my truth. It feels like unwanted sympathy, advocacy for a victim.


I’m proud that I live in Hasanpura-C, On a side that is half developed, but often erupts into random fights. A side where the police sits on every nook and corner, a side where the children abuse on the roads during shakraat; a side that wakes up to the azaan and the bells of a mandir, where Diwali fireworks are the first to go off in the city. A side that celebrates a ghettoised perception – it is your mind that refuses to grow out of it.


You have created places like Hasanpura-C and Hasanpura-A, yet here you are complaining about the very thing you have aspired for: the divide.


It is in the Economics and the Politics of my existence – this blood of a Musalman knows where it has to belong. Otherwise, you would kill us for merely breathing the same air as you. You would divide the oxygen between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’; because what lies beyond this divide is only death.


Jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahan hain?


The streets are in the shape of a mouth

Ta-wa-if; three syllables, another Umrao Jaan on screen,

But a mother, a daughter, a sister off screen.


The children that clutch on to their mother's sins are like abstract paintings on a blank canvas. Much like the predestination that humans complain to God about, much like the fate humans themselves dedicate to them. It is a eulogy for the living, to trap them in a past they never lived; to kill them without being labelled as 'killers' because 'like mother, like daughter'.


There is a sickness that has no cure,

It spreads from your mind to your heart.

This sickness is the pride in your name,

The mansion sitting under your tongue;

Weighing down words that you would have said,

If you weren't chewing upon your society's questions.


Two square meals a day

Two less beatings a day

Two more breaths a day

Two inches above the ground

Two inches away from that filthy touch

Two absent teaspoons of sugar & a bruised eye

Two more seconds of peace, solitary confinement under the shower that washes away all memory, that burns away her skin, her soul; two more minutes and she smiles, she lives and dances in a carefree motion.


A motion she was never taught, so she imitates it well. Her sin is to feed the ills of society and her payment is to own that sin and get punished for it.


Who will punish the ones that built the brick-&-mortar castles to cover the skies she was never taught to read?


Jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahan hain?


Everyone laughs. Nobody remembers why. We all have tears in our eyes.


After all, our pride only serves the other side of the street, the red lights are a mirror. We are not very adept at facing a reflection that has all the answers but also has a tongue carrying too heavy a burden - that of big talk and small hearts, bigger promises and empty cups of tea strung around the evenings' on the other side of town - fulfilling and forbidden.


The streets are in the shape of a mouth,

Her words are tawaif, ghareebi, bimaari, berozgari;

Her words are an echo of politics and economics,

The same sophisticated echo that goes on and on and on.


The streets are in the shape of a mouth,

That has never stopped saying those same words, it's been a decade now.


When will you answer? Where are you? Where have you been? What are you going to do?


What have you done?


Almost is a bigger bridge than hope and much smaller than certainty.


there is a sun shining inside the pages of a

notebook that speaks of love letters to a stranger,

there is a sun pouring into a leaf trying to hold on,

there is a sun falling into amma ji's low tied bun as

she buys sabzi for dinner. there is a sun swallowing

the smile out of khala's lips while she bargains over

the nastily priced lemons to prepare shikanji for

iftaar. God slips down amma ji's brow, a bead of

swear. God grows as thorns inside khala's throat.

God laughs in the frail leaf breathing oxygen into

the world when the letter inhales it and flies away

into the lap of a stranger, loved and loved dearly.

God owns a perfect heaven, brimming with honest

Angels but here He is. Craving this earth, made of

dishonest worshippers. Craving the little faults.


Like the mad obsession of an artist with a painting

that is bound to be in ruins because of the language

that it has learnt to articulate in. the language of the


d i v i d e.


Dear God, I know you love poems on a summer's eve,

But do you also love the Politics of being human?


amma ji turns around the corner,

khala turns around the corner,

both bump into one another. lemons running amok

like khala's wild nieces. what a waste of fortune!

amma ji hesitates, whispers haye Ram. khala gives a

glance, Allah Khair. Gods' save, it is people who

honour the devils.


amma ji extends a hand, khala takes it,

two hands that spell a household waiting

for their touch. two hands wanting to work

their magic in the rasoi. two hands warming-up to

the same fate; to write poems in the form of

a tick against the to-do list hanging on the

fridge, to figure out what rhymes best with

raat ka khaana / iftaari / sehri / shaam ki pakodi /

pooja ki thaali.


amma ji and khala have soon collected the

lemons, the sabzi, the melon; a smile is also

exchanged. the act of a charity in ramzan has

a tick against it on the to-do list. God's to-do list.


the language of injustice may yet have an answer,

in some amma and khala out at the sabzi mandi,

the language of divinde, of ghoonghat and niqab,

of surma and bindi and sindoor and burka- of a

God-fearing violence that make Salaam and

Namaste sound like heavy words that weigh

our pride down: of violence that exceeds any

worship.


the only true worship there is, is that of the

God who comes down on one summer eve,

and everything almost goes wrong. but it doesn't.

because almost is a bigger bridge than hope and

much smaller than certainty. but uncertainty can be

a pretty ugly (oxymoron) or peaceful (figure of speech: manifestation + hope = absent in the language of literature, present in the language of the pen).


A Qabr of Loktantra


Day 13, almost 10 PM

I have taken another breath. Alhamdulillah.

God wants me to live.


My purpose is a chameleon, like the one I saw in Terminator I,

Before Arnold Schwarzenegger draws into the picture. A villain this time.


A hero tomorrow.


It was all absolute fantasy to a wide-eyed 4-year-old,

She always wanted him to be the good guy;


But the plot had other plans / so did life.


The 7th Grade Science experiment still holds true,

When the Litmus Test gives an answer too cruel - the majority turns to turmeric. A feeble attempt to neutralize Democracy, to drown her in the yellows of Haldi; the newlywed bride. I can hear my Hindu friends laugh and dance around the Dholki, it'll be fine, just dance for now!

My ears translate: Just die for now. You will live soon!


A freshly dug grave.


Their tongues (The Politicians) are pink, Phenolphthalein if I'm not wrong?

That pink is the blood they drink. That blood is mine.


In the shadow of 'The Other' is my friend Dalit,

Suffering at the hands of an entire era, a sickness in propagation.


Even the help accorded to them was a form of 'Favour',

What is the point of reservation anyway?

The irony remains, that those who deserve the actual benefit, are still in the shadows of dawn.


Nonetheless,

Let us bury our 'untouchable' sins behind,

Let us drown our 'Islamophobia' in the waters of 'Uniformity', 'Secularity' and 'Legislation';

Let us rename this Democracy,

'A Qabr of Loktantra' - oh wait, that reminds me of Ganga-jamuna tehzeeb, my bad!


We don't believe in tehzeeb anymore. We believe in burning down shops, slaughtering a lover for loving beyond caste, demolishing a masjid thinking that the bhagwan in a Mandir is applauding such actions.


Much like the science-fiction, living in this reality leaves me wide-eyed;

Except that there is no AI holding me down by my throat. It is a human hand, much like my own.


Where I get my dreams from.


From my mother's bloody gaps

I kicked out a foot and decided that I wanted to live.

She held me through the pain,

Swimming in pickle jars and eating the glass-

Looking at her reflection and laughing when the tears fell,

Maybe that's why even I laugh when I'm supposed to cry. Because we are not allowed to cry at the natural course of life. It is life. What more do you expect?


From my lover's hands inside my blue underwear,

His incoherent moans pocketed inside my skin. He bites my earlobes, his fingers running wild;

The back of the car is our own little secret,

Leather poems stacked under the seat.


From the apple on a tree, that refuses to pin a hole in the ground,

The science of metaphors; a flea against the windshield of the universe,

I don't know who's driving this car, God, maybe?


From God, yes

My mother taught me about him. She said he was beyond the sky,

Beyond the Heavens and the clouds. While I would try looking at the tip of my nose,

Anything stretched beyond that was too frail for a child's imagination. God, too big.


We get our dreams from the backseats of unsolicited strangers / lover boys,

From the minaret of a masjid promising the heaven,

From the bells of a mandir singing of swarg-

From the metro's in Delhi speeding away,

A common girl's common dream; of walking alone in the streets of karaul bagh,

Comes from a common girl's tendency to nurture poetry from forbidden french kisses, hurried prayers and a mother's pregnancy.


That is where I get my dreams from.

 

Nameera Anjum Khan is a student of Political Science from Jaipur. She loves writing poetry about everyday living, and social and political issues. You can follow her on Instagram to read more of her work.



115 views0 comments