Monday, 5 November 2012

To The Welsh Critic Who Doesn't Find Me Identifiably Indian

Arundhathi Subramaniam

This poem "To The Welsh Critic Who Doesn't Find Me Identifiably Indian" takes on the West's demands for ethnic authenticity with a rhetoric that's just about as rustic as a mouth-freshened global village. To begin with, the poem itself is a surprising display of wit and ire. Drawing on her experiences, Arundhathi describes her poem in the following words: "This is a poem addressed ostensibly to a Welsh critic but he's just a peg to talk about. A pet peeve. This is really a poem to all those voices telling us how to belong. How to be post-colonial, how to be South Asian, how to be modern, how to be contemporary, how to be Hindu, how to be woman." 

To The Welsh Critic Who Doesn't Find Me Identifiably Indian:

You believe you know me,
wide-eyed Eng Lit type
from a sun-scalded colony,
reading my Keats--or is it yours--
while my country detonates 
on your television screen.

You imagine you've cracked
my deepest fantasy--
oh, to be in an Edwardian vicarage,
living out my dharma
with every sip of dandelion tea
and dreams of the weekend jumble sale...

You may have a point.
I know nothing about silly mid-offs,
I stammer through my Tamil,
and I long for a nirvana
that is hermetic,
odour-free,
bottled in Switzerland,
money back guaranteed.

This business about language,
how much of it is mine,
how much yours,
how much from the mind,
how much from the gut,
how much is too little,
how much too much,
how much from the salon,
how much from the slum,
how I say verisimilitude,
how I say Brihadaranyaka
how I say vazhapazham--
it's all yours to measure,
the pathology of my breath,
the halitosis of gender,
my homogenized plosives
about as rustic as a mouth-freshened global village.

Arbiter of identity,
remake me as you will.
Write me a new alphabet of danger
a new patois to match
the Chola bronze of my skin.
Teach me how to come of age
in a literature you've bark-scratched
into scripture.
Smear my consonants
with cow-dung and turmeric and godhuli.
Pity me, sweating, 
rancid, on the other side of the counter.

Stamp my papers,
lease me a new anxiety,
grant me a visa
to the country of my birth.
Teach me how to belong,
the way you do,
on every page of world history.


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