Mahal, Mitti Ka

Today I have a dream come true. One of my Hindi/Bhojpuri poems has been put to music by the Guyanese musician Amar Ramessar and his group Indus Voices.


One hundred eighty years ago the first ships carrying indentured Indians arrived in the waters of Guyana—an extractive British colony, dependent on exploited labor of black and brown hands. When the Indians boarded the ships, they altered their descendants’ destinies. People celebrate this as Indian Arrival Day in Guyana, but I ask what is the celebration for exactly?


Since I wrote the article “Why I Will Never Celebrate Indian Arrival Day” some have come forth to support my voice and others have engaged me in a meaningful dialogue about why it’s important to respect our heritage, reading my commentary as against celebrating my ancestors. I appreciate those folks who took the time to read and to reach out to me directly. Their comments and concerns sparked my guiding principles and questions for the Coolitude Poetics series that I wrote for Jacket2. My original article and the Coolitude Poetics project were meant to give my ancestors the utmost respect by not counting their servitude for Empire as a wonderment, but showing how our continued survival, despite postcolonial hauntings, reflects our particular majesty.


So today on this day I commemorate survival, resistance, and endurance of my Par Ajas, Ajis, Nanas, and Nanis. I am so happy to say that in continuing this respect for those early Coolies (a name given to us that described our economic relationship to white Empire, a kind of leveling) that one of my poems originally written in Hindi/Bhojpuri has been put to music by the Guyanese musician Amar Ramessar and his group INDUS VOICES.


I have worked hard at reclaiming my familial language that died in my parents’ generation—a language that my grandparents understood the world through, born on the plantations in New Amsterdam and Lusignan, a plantation Hindi that mixed various North and South Indian languages as well as elements of English, Dutch, and Portuguese. I lived in India to study Standard Hindi and Indian Bhojpuri, the folk traditions, and orality—the very things Empire stripped us of and markets to white folks, privileged enough to study what interests them and to not work out of necessity. My parents’ sacrifices gave me the space and time to reclaim my ancestors, to bring our ancestral poetics back into a constantly Creolizing cycle, and for this I am so lucky. I contribute to coolie art as a practitioner from a second diaspora, transformed by each new space I enter.


The song is called “Mahal, Mitti Ka: Palace of Earth” and is the original version of a chutney poem that will be collected in my next full-length poetry book I’m calling Cutlish. This song echoes the nirgun bhakti tradition of Kabir (I even attribute a quote to him to keep with the tradition of this kind of song) and acknowledges the impermanence of the body, which flows here and there like river water. Today it's a river, tomorrow it's the sea. If the body is a house, what lives inside finds another after the old one burns down? The jiva, soul, is not from this country nor is it from that country. It is like the wind blowing from house to house.

I extend eternal thanks to Amar Ramessar and to all the folks who realized this for me and list their particular contributions here:


Composed by and Vocals: Amar Ramessar.

Keyboard, Musical Arrangements, and Mixing: Avinash Roopchan.

Tabla: Tarun Daodat.

Recorded at Shakti Strings Studio - Guyana.


This video, created by the hands of the composer Amar Ramessar, has images of my actual ancestors as well as my brother, Emile!

Thank you so much for taking care of my poem and giving it this new incarnation.


Amar, jahaj-bhai, anhad dhanyavaad.




The Reader's Companion for THE COWHERD'S SON

If you are interested in The Cowherd's Son and are wondering about the speaker's context, download this free Reader's Companion from Tupelo Press!


In it I explain my process for several poems, offer a background in my family stories, and there are even writing prompts based on some of the poems. This is a tool for both readers and teachers alike.


The guide ends with an interview that I did with the poet Joseph Legaspi and some articles that are available online.


It's here:


Just follow the button under the book cover!

Interview On It's Lit with PhDJ KTUH, Honolulu

Did you miss the recap show last week, cohosted with Rajiv Mohabir? Check out Rajiv's segment of the show here including readings from his just-released, award-winning second book of poetry _The Cowherd's Son_ plus an interview with the author. And because we're It's Lit--featuring writers to love and the music their work plays best around--Rajiv also curated some really dope and dynamic music to be played around his poetry, including Bollywood music, chutney music, and Rajiv's version of a song from his Aji that is so, so beautiful. Enjoy!

RAJIV MOHABIR is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press 2017, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize) and The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books 2016, winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize). He received his MFA from Queens College and his PhD in English from the University of Hawaiʻi. In fall 2017 he will join Auburn University as an Assistant Professor of poetry. Read more about him

Click the image of the book jacket to hear his interview or follow this link:


NewPages Book Stand

The Cowherd’s Son



by Rajiv Mohabir

Tupelo Press

May 2017

ISBN-13 978-1-936797-96-7




In his new collection, The Cowherd’s Son, winner of the Kundiman Prize, Rajiv Mohabir uses his queer and mixed-caste identities as grace notes to charm alienation into silence. Mohabir’s inheritance of myths, folk tales, and multilingual translations make a palimpsest of histories that bleed into one another. A descendant of dislocations and relocations, linking India, Guyana, Trinidad, New York, Orlando, Toronto, and Honolulu, combining the amplitude of mythology with direct witness and sensual reckoning, all the while seeking joy in testimony.

Pushcart Nominations

Tons of gratitude to the editors of Guernica/A Magazine of Art & Politics and The Journal for nominating my poems "Dominion" and "Ortolan" respectively for Pushcart awards!

"Dominion" was workshopped in Frank Stewart's graduate workshop at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa. It was written as a response to police violence against people of color in support of #blacklivesmatter.

"Ortolan" is forthcoming from my book The Taxidermist's Cut and uses excerpts and language found from websites that historicize this inhumane French culinary practice.


To read and to listen to me read "Dominion" click the title.

To read "Ortolan" click the title,


And thank you to Quarterly West for the Best of Net nomination for my poem "Ancestor"!!!

"Ancestor" was written as a whale song poem based on the structure of humpback whale song and was selected by Philip Metres for an AWP Intro Journal Award.


To read "Ancestor" click the title.


Congratulations to the staff at Hawai'i Review: Anjoli Roy, Kelsey Amos, Dave Scrivner, No'u Revilla, and Donovan Kūhio Colleps whose Spring 2015 issue of UH Mānoa’s Hawai‘i Review was recognized as one of the top 10 “ACP Best of Show” literary magazines in the nation at the ACP/CMA Fall National College Media Convention in Austin, Texas.

Read about the others here.


The Editors write collectively:

Located as we are in this vast and powerful Pacific Ocean, we at Hawaiʻi Review acknowledge the various ways bodies of water connect with and engage each other. For issue 81, we gather at the muliwai, which, in Hawaiian language, signifies the place where fresh waters and ocean meet, where the tide thrusts, and salt ebbs and flows. We gather at the river mouth. What happens here? What is said, dreamed, challenged, and undone here?

For this special issue, we sought place-based pieces that commit to bodies of water, particularly rivers, streams, and oceans. While some may consider the theme of muliwai somewhat expansively in terms of convergences and collisions, meeting places and points of departure, we showcase works that address the environmental impact of climate change, including the effects of rising ocean levels, the fragile state of ground water, and more.

Here is a link to the Hawai'i Review site, housed at Ka Leo.

Watch the book trailer for The Taxidermist's Cut, Four Way Books coming March 2016!!!

Here is the book trailer for my book that won Four Way Books' Intro to Poetry Prize! I am so stoked that Four Way Books has been so generous with me throughout this whole process. I have the book cover too which I will post soon!

It was filmed on Duwamish/Salish land by me and Jordan Miles. The singing in the background is of my Aji. She's singing a rice planting folk song that tells the story of how a king died from the grief of separation from his son. I see this song as her own diasporic poetic--a girmit ideology, Coolitude, Indo-Caribbean metaphor for her displacement, now my own.

Trailer for The Taxidermist's Cut, Four Way Books, March 2016

Best of the Net Nomination

Thank you to QUARTERLY REVIEW for nominating my poem "Ancestor" for the Best of the Net 2015! You can read the poem here.

This poem is one of my "whalesong poems." It's a form I've created that's based on the mathematical structure of humpback singing.

© Rajiv Mohabir 2019