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Sunday, May 29, 2011


‘she must be from another country’
Poet, filmmaker, artist Imtiaz Dharker              
Excerpted by Carolyn Bennett 
When I can’t comprehend
why they’re burning books or slashing paintings,
when they can’t bear to look at god’s own nakedness,
when they ban the film and gut the seats to stop the play
and I ask why they just smile and say,
‘She must be from another country.’

When I speak on the phone and the vowel sounds are off
when the consonants are hard and they should be soft,
they’ll catch on at once
they’ll pin it down
they’ll explain it right away
to their own satisfaction,
they’ll cluck their tongues and say,
‘She must be from another country.’

When my mouth goes up instead of down,
when I wear a tablecloth to go to town,
when they suspect I’m black or hear I’m gay
they won’t be surprised,
they’ll purse their lips and say,
‘She must be from another country.’

When I eat up the olives and spit out the pits
when I yawn at the opera in the tragic bits
when I pee in the vineyard as if it were Bombay,
flaunting my bare ass
covering my face
laughing through my hands
they’ll turn away,
shake their heads quite sadly,
‘She doesn’t know any better,’ they’ll say,
‘She must be from another country.’

Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.
 But from where we are
it doesn’t look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
‘I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language or know your ways.
I must be from another country.’ 

“Here is no glib internationalism or modish multiculturalism. If you trust this voice, it is because its ‘bigness’ is never grandiose; it is arrived at through a process of concerted exfoliation.

“Displacement here no longer spells exile; it means an exhilarating sense of life at the interstices.

“There is an exultant celebration of a self that strips off layers of superfluous identity with grace and abandon, only to discover that it has not diminished, but grown larger, generous, more inclusive.…”  [Arundhathi Subramaniam] 

Sources and notes
© Imtiaz Dharker
From: I Speak for the Devil
Publisher: Penguin Books India, 2003
ISBN: 014-303089-2

Poet, artist and documentary filmmaker Imtiaz Dharker was born in Lahore, Pakistan, (1954); and grew up in Britain. She is author of Purdah and Other Poems (1989), Postcards from God (1994 and 1997), I Speak for the Devil (2001).  

Sawnet – Bookshelf, http://www.sawnet.org/books/authors.php?Dharker+Imtiaz

The Hindu— “Squatter Speak” (Tishani Doshi): Review of Dharker’s I Speak for the Devil in The Hindu (Sunday, May 2, 2004), http://india.poetryinternationalweb.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=2720

Arundhathi Subramaniam is a poet, writer and web editor based in Mumbai, India. She is author of three collections of poetry: On Cleaning Bookshelves (2001) and Where I Live (2005) and Where I Live: New and Selected Poems (2009). She is also the author of a prose study The Book of Buddha (2005), and was co-editor of Confronting Love (2005), an anthology of contemporary Indian love poetry in English. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundhathi_Subramaniam

“Mark Tully considers those on the edge: of society, of the arts, of religions, and of perceived wisdom — People who don’t quite belong but who often offer us new insights.” Program “Something Understood,” BBC Radio 4, May 29, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011j39d


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