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BY TAMICA PERERA

The original poems were all written by South Asian poets and describe three different aspects of the Desi experience. Each poem was then replicated in form and style to be a response to the subject of the original poem. 


 

Islam does not only have history in South Asia, it is a part of the make up of South Asia. There is a strong perception of Muslims within the Desi community as “foreigners” or “others”; however, they have just as much of a tie to South Asia as followers of any other religion or absence from religious identity. 

Prayer Rug by Agha Shahid Ali

 

Those intervals

between the day’s

five calls to prayer

 

the women of the house

pulling thick threads

through vegetables

 

rosaries of ginger

of rustling peppers

in autumn drying for winter

 

in those intervals this rug

part of Grandma’s dowry

folded

 

so the Devil’s shadow

would not desecrate

Mecca scarlet-woven

 

with minarets of gold

but then the sunset

call to prayer

 

the servants

their straw mats unrolled

praying or in the garden

 

in summer on grass

the children wanting

the prayers to end

 

the women’s foreheads

touching Abraham’s

silk stone of sacrifice

 

black stone descended

from Heaven

the pilgrims in white circling it

 

this year my grandmother

also a pilgrim

in Mecca she weeps

 

as the stone is unveiled

she weeps holding on

to the pillars


 

(for Begum Zafar Ali)

The Beauty by Tamica Perera

 

Differences 

between the live’s

and the practices 

 

the prayers of your faith

i cannot help 

but appreciate 

 

the scarves are made of silk

or of soft cotton

if wanted, beautifully there 

 

the clothing reminds me of

clothing at home but with a 

slight change

 

to the outsiders we 

might look the same

but we know difference

 

with each conversation  

you teach me so much 

for example

 

your fasting 

has more restraint than

the church lent we celebrate

 

but your straw mats are 

like the ones we use at mass

when we pray outside 

 

your children and mine

both want the prayers to end

so they can go back to play

 

i wonder if our 

grandmothers

would have been friends if they were to meet

 

they both seem passionate 

about practicing 

the pillars of each 

 

as the truth is unveiled

i see nothing but 

beauty in all 


 

(for Shakti)

Every religion has their own practices, customs, and traditions. Even within religions, sometimes different areas have their own sub-practices, customs, and traditions. It is these differences that can make human interaction beautiful — learning about someone else’s culture and beliefs and teaching them yours can encompass so much raw appreciation and emotion. Ali was a Kashmiri American Muslim poet and “Prayer Rug” highlights the calls to prayer and the imagery he witnesses during the prayers and its intervals. I made my poem an indirect response to the “Prayer Rug” from the narrative of a Catholic observing Islam because I wanted to show how differences in culture could be appreciated. My poem does not directly mention everything Ali writes about, but is a more general response to how a different religion can be viewed. I believe there is a beauty in learning the differences in identity between people. There is something truly spiritual about learning for the sake of acceptance and curiosity.

_______________________________________

The Dawn of Freedom by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

 

This murky dappled glow and smoky dawn

‘Tis not the same daybreak, we did wait

‘Tis not the desired crack, we travelled anon

To seek last goal of stars in sky’s deserted lawn

 

Somewhere the night of slow rippled pace

Would find the harbor soon or late

The liner of cloyed heart in search of solace

Somewhere would stay a suitable existing place

 

Walking the mysterious blood stunned roads

Many profane hands hoisted in this state

From the restless dormitory of Hellenic abodes

Open arms kept calling amid explodes

 

But the desire of seeing morning face did select

To step to the brink of dawn at any rate

We’re in the vicinity of its blooming face in fact

Hazy exhaustion and compact hope were in react

 

It’s heard, a margin line has been penciled in

Between mixed gloom and glow so late

It’s heard, amid feet and goal a union has been

Matured and glued with that of a blending pin

 

The edict of pain stricken hath changed a lot

Thinking legitimate the union of mate

And The torment of parting ill gotten and rot

As they are ready to untie dawn’s murky knot
 

Eyes‘ Craving and the pangs of heart and soul

All labors stay futile to make them elate

From where Zephyr’s effigy entered the hole

Of hope and had its exit without a specific role

Still the harbinger is unable to pay a least care

Of all stricken followers‘ fate

Still promising Dawn is vague seems to be rare

Still fading darkness haunts and night is not fair

Tis not the occasion to spare baffled heart and

Fretful eyes from anxiety’s blazing grate

Go on with eager spirits by holding hand in hand

‘Tis not the goal but very near is the specific land

The End of Freedom by Tamica Perera

 

This solid fearful tension and scared day

‘Tis not the Easter, we had before

‘Tis not the desired prayer we prayed before

To seek last joys of Lent in mass’s bloody chairs 

 

On the coast of island of Buddhist rule

Would find the prayers then and now 

The result of white men in search of power

Who knew the sand and tree would be a spot for Christ 

 

Now the diverse religious pearl island 

Many religions shadowed behind the main

But there was still no unity among us and them

Open conflict kept rushing to the core

 

So the desire to blame "the outsider" was strong

To find a reason to harm at any pace

We're in the vicinity of its turning face in fact

Hateful utterance and evil fear were in react
 

It’s heard, a bad conflict has been talked about

Between many groups and shared ignorance 

It’s heard, amid politics and social, there is

Chatter that the group is now not Lankan

 

The edict of hate that was there surfaced

Thinking the worst, many have left for safety

The goodbyes and farewells have reached many who can

As they are not guilty to the crimes but still blamed

 

Groups scared so they look to blame another

These others cry a different prayer 

But from their prayers there is the same message

Of hope but a few men came and claimed their acts as a whole

 

Still our friends told us about these men and warned us because

Some men do not speak for them all 

Our friends know these men do not share their mindset

Still, blind ignorance haunts and politics states

 

Tis now not the occasion to hear the truth 

Fretful minds from violences’s blazing bomb

People need to learn who is actually at fault then

‘Tis then, if one group is in fear, everyone should be too

The Partition was a bloody and politically significant event that changed the lives of almost everyone living in what is now modern day Pakistan and northern India. Faiz, a Pakistani Muslim Urdu poet, witnessed the Partition and documented his accounts in poetry. The poem “Subah-e Azadi” or “The Dawn of Freedom” was translated by Anjum Aziz Abbas into English. This poem goes over the bloody, mysterious, and confusing road that must be walked on in order to reach freedom. The poem I created is not about the partition, but instead takes the tones and tensions of what home is. In Sri Lanka, due to the Easter bombings in April of 2019, many Muslim Sri Lankans did not feel safe on the island anymore. Even though Muslim Sri Lankans called in the bomb threats prior to Easter Sunday, trying to stop the tragedies, many Buddhist politicians took this as a cry to vilify all Muslim Sri Lankans. There was an unjustly antagonization against the Muslim community which brought to surface even further religious and ethnic conflicts within the country. While very different from the partition’s violence and trauma, I wanted my poem to have the same note about sharing borders. Sri Lankan Muslims have been integral to Sri Lanka since before its making, but there is still a divide between Sri Lankan identity and Muslim Sri Lankan identity.

_______________________________________

A Gift to Bring You by Rumi

 

You have no idea how hard I've looked for a gift to bring You. Nothing seemed right. What's the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient. It's no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these. So I've brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me.

A Lie to Bring Home by Tamica

 

You have no idea how hard I’ve tried to keep it a secret from You. It’ll never be okay. What’s the point of bringing good girls to the door, or pride to the house. The love I came up with was like taking sweets to the baker. It’s no good loving with my heart and my soul because you consider it a sin. So I’ve brought you a lie. Look at him and remember me.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, also know as Rumi, was a thirteenth century Sufi poet and scholar from what is now known as Afghanistan. “A Gift to Bring You” is about the difficulty of giving a gift to someone who already seems to have everything. An important note was the addition of his quote: 

“I, you, he, she, we

In the garden of mystic lovers,

these are not true distinctions.” 

Rumi’s quote clarifies his own position on love: gender is not defined in his understanding of lovers. So when we look at “A Gift to Give You” we cannot make the conclusion that he is referring to a woman. There is just as much possibility that his poem is referring to a man. My poem in response is about queer love and how many South Asians still need to hide their preferred romantic partners from their families. This poem is not specific to Islam, but a shared relatity of Desi individuals who experience homophobia within their families and communities.

Tamica Perera is member of the Class of 2022 at Princeton University.

Citations 

 

Ali, Agha Shahid. “Prayer Rug by Agha Shahid Ali.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43277/prayer-rug.


“The Dawn of Freedom (Subah-e Azadi): Sad Poetry.org.” SadPoetry.org, 18 June 2019, https://www.sadpoetry.org/2013/12/22/the-dawn-of-freedom-subah-e-azadi/.

 

“A Quote by Rumi.” Goodreads, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/733275-you-have-no-idea-how-hard-i-ve-looked-for-a.

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