not wish to see the poetry in her. I did not wish to show the others my tongue tricks. I did not give myself permission to make others sweat with my poetic mother tongue. But I cut myself deeper when I ignored my mother’s curses about what it means to remain loyal to your first language. And to see your
mother for who she is. My mother has been and still is the type of woman to show you where her loyalties lay. My mother has caused me to bring myself to my knees, the way Punjabi has brought me to my knees in unthinkable ways. My mother tells me to pray for things. To pray the pain away. To pray the thoughts of death away. To pray when I need something from the above. To pray as if God opens up my prayers. To pray to get what I want. So I prayed until there was nothing left inside of me. Every time I prayed, the nishanies grew stronger. Unlike me, my mother will never become an enemy to Punjabi. My mother made me into a privileged woman. She gave me up to another country and to another language. I was put up for adoption to English, but the Nishani of Punjabi remained inside of me until I was ready to return. In my return, the words at the back of my throat became easier to pronounce.
In between bookcases at my university’s library, I no longer wanted to be Punjabi’s enemy. I found Gibran, Ghalib, Tagore, Bulleh Shah, and Rumi. Bulleh Shah was the only Punjabi writer, I could find. From Dr. Amrik Singh, I received Amrita Pritam and Waris Shah. From my mentor, Dr. Joshua McKinney, I found Agha Shahid Ali and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Before all of this, I kept Arundhati Roy, Khushwant Singh, Amrita Pritam, Jhumpa Lahriri and Salaman Rusdhie on my nightstand. In time, I found the others. I found Punjabi, Pakistani, Urdu, Arabic, Sufi and Persian writers that possessed the power to move inside of me in a way that no British, American or white writer could.
At night, I sometimes find myself thinking about Bulleh Shah. I think about how Bulleh Shah moved inside of me for the first time. He wrestled inside of me until he kicked every word written by a white man out of me. Bulleh showed me how to eliminate the “I” --the meat of my ego. The meat of my American ego. Bulleh washed years of America from my body. He was my first. He was the first to show me the nishinai of language, and he will not be my last.
And the reason why Bulleh Shah is not my last is because I have stopped abandoning my asali ma, true mother. For me, making this crucial decision was not about returning to my ma boli. Instead, this decision was about feeling the nishani of language --a language that has been waiting for me. A language that has been inside of me. In truth, this is the dilemma that bilingual writers face at some point. The certain point that I began abandoning Punjabi is when words began killing themselves before they met the page and in conversations where I tucked my asali rooh (true soul) from others.
Mere hakh hai, ma boli nu farhhun
It is my right to grab hold of my mother tongue
For the longest time, I was comfortable bending over for English. In my bending, I lost my chance at knowing my asali ma. Here’s the dilemma, a bilingual writer will either lose or choose to abandon their mother tongue, and the details of this crucial decision are reserved for the ears of the writer and her mother tongue. Above the concerns of readers and critics, a bilingual writer has the authority to grant herself permission to migrate into another language as she sees fit. If she chooses to invite the world in, then the world can exist on the sideline, but not between the writer and her language