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.