A Desi in a three-piece suit
by Dr Satyapal Anand
“Desi “(indigenous) – indeed, I am, in all aspects of my being. A strong Punjabi build, fair complexion, keen look, razor-edge temper and sumptuous food habits – all these notwithstanding, when I am back in my own flock, even in my speech I revert to chaste Urdu or equally chaste Hindi or rough-and-rustic Punjabi. It is always a story from to to fro and not to and fro.
So when I got a call from a publisher who wanted to publish as many books of my poetry in English as I could get ready (but all before the bell tolled on the close of 2011), I dig up all my old and new poems originally written in English or in Urdu that I thought would well in English garb for the Yankees here in America. I took fewer than 150 days , that is five months, to cull them up, put all of them in a three-piece suit – complete with bow and tie … and then presented them in five volumes of English poetry. Some of them were not worthy in the three-piece suit for they were of the inner city tribe. So I put them in a pair of loose, torn jeans and a faded shirt and gave them the albino brand of American English to speak their innards out.
Miracle, it was ….wasn’t it?
These were the brand new baby-like books, unspoiled and wholesome.
The Dream Weaver
A Vagrant Mirror
If Winter Comes
One hundred Buddhas
Yes, indeed it was a miracle, but a miracle wrought with hard labour inside my study room …10 to 14 hours of work every day, shaking, whisking, beating, churning up word and phrase, verse and rhyme, alliterative concoctions, sometimes massacring grammar in a cruel mood, piecing prose to draw out the last drop of the essential pathetic and poignant poetic juice in its true heart – and then writing my poem in
English … which was not my mother tongue but a lingua acquira
Believe my sworn statement, my friends and foes, I wrote as many as 320 poems in English, typed them out with ten arthritis-affected fingers and my publishers were always one step ahead of me, culling up my typed work straight from my computer to their editors, being in telephonic contact with me ten times (or more) each day. Five books of poetry were published in fewer than as many months. And what kind of books ! Beautiful to look. Holding them in your hand would be a desideratum, an asset … putting them in front of you on the bookshelf, looking at them would make you ecstatic because you,( and no one else) had written them.
So, it wasn’t a miracle. It was neither Sisyphus’s meaningless labour nor a Samson-sans-hair bringing down the portals of the city. There was no Delilah in the background except for an ardent wish of mine to see Urdu as a world language tall enough to be seen as a junior partner in the world assembly of languages.
Disappointed occasionally I was when even well-read poets in an organization of poets in Washington D.C. , asked me, point-blank, such a bland question.
What is Urdu, Dr. Anand?
I felt like a homeless man. I did my best to tell them that Urdu was the name of a language. Where was it spoken ? … like Spanish in Spain, French in France, German in Germany, Danish in Denmark? That was the moot point – no even less than a moot point., because Urdu doesn’t have a country to tag its name to. I felt my lovely language Urdu, having both India and Pakistan as countries with which it was tagged, was still as homeless as I was in Washington D.C.
Explain you may, as much as you can, but statistics say that not more than five to ten percent people speak Urdu in Pakistan, a country that has the pride of enshrining it as its official language. About India, less said is always better, because the language is, more often than not, Urdu itself, but it is tagged and written as Hindi.
I was, however, more than happy about the response to my books. It was the “book-season” – yes, that is what it was. In this country, Christmas is the time when people give gifts to their loved ones, and books are on top of the list – dresses and cosmetics come as the second best. In our homeland, books are not even a commodity … If a book is given as a present in India or Pakistan, the recipient feels let down rather than elated. And thereby hands a tale.
So, as I was saying, it was the book seasons, and quite a few bundles were sold. Not to my countrymen, (only a few – count them in a single digit) bought my books as they expected signed free complimentary copies, but the buyers of the books were common American folk who did and did it in a triple figure.
Well, these seven books are my ‘desi sahibs‘ clad in a bow and a tie. Some of them wear suspenders (galluses) like old men, but they are still desi. If you want to possess these for your personal library (just put them on your shelves …. you may or may not read them, order them on line from Amazon.com. It should be about ten dollars each.