Hegel infamously said that history was a process of thesis (the current paradigm) bumping up against antithesis, which then (through war, debate, demographics) becomes a synthesis, a resolve, whether it be chaos or calm. The rite of passage of a child is similar. The typical model is the young child being totally dependent on the carer, living by the values of their parents; they are helped, to walk, to speak, to read, etc.. Then, when reaching their teenage years, they become independent, at least in their eyes; wanting to go out more, liking different things, rebelling even. Eventually, in this theoretical scenario, the synthesis is interdependence, or rapprochement or mutual relationship of empathy; the young adult, gets a job, a family and realises what the other side of the coin looks like.
Well that’s the theory, and in more traditional times, it appeared to work well. But what lies behind that, is many children became adults before their time. How many of our parents who are elderly now, left school when they were fourteen or fifteen? My own father left school on a Friday aged fourteen, started work on the Monday and never stopped for the next fifty years. Today, as we know, our pathway is far from clear – no job for life, a multitude of distractions, consumer items, but also a greater variety of people. We are in the seventieth year since Windrush, and people from the Caribbean coming to work and live here (we thought safely until recent events). Similarly, people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh came here at a similar time.
It is the children of these immigrants, who have had to take on an added challenge when growing up. For not only will they face racism, and discrimination, they have to deal with being part of two cultures – ones that can be at odds with each other. And they have to do this at their most vulnerable time; that time when they move into the independence stage of their life, where they want to discover things for themselves. Let’s not forget also, they are British.
Nafeesa Hamid’s poem Mum’s Spicy Chicken, from her blistering debut collection ‘Besharam‘ published by the exciting new Verve Poetry Press, sums up this clash and how for a female in particular this is very difficult, even beyond any hope of interdependence. “I’m picked out, well-browned; just how they like me./ Brown on the outside, pink on the inside./ A cultural mish-mash.” The use of meat in the poem, as a metaphor is so powerful, especially when looked at as a woman. “The boys like me;/ their eyes all bright and empty like hers.// They tear off my crackling coat/ and dig teeth into my flesh/ which falls off with ease.” A previous poem on Proletarian Poetry by Aisha K Gill (Life of Thorka) gave a similar account of her having to escape violence, and where getting an education as a woman was considered a crime. When cultures are so set, especially by an intractable religion that categorises women in a subservient role, the model of development is either broken, or at best meets a sort of standoff resolution. Either way, it is characterized by conflict and far from reaching any type of interdependence.
Nafeesa Hamid is a British Pakistani poet and playwright based in Birmingham. She has featured at Outspoken (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham), Find the Right Words (Leicester) and Hit The Ode (Birmingham). Nafeesa has also performed at Cheltenham and Manchester Literature Festivals as part of The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, a recent (2017) anthology publication by Saqi Books, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. Besharam, published on Sep 20 2018 by Verve Poetry Press, is her first collection.
‘Besharam is an outstanding collection from Nafeesa… I think her poems are very special.’ – Imtiaz Dharker.
Mum’s Spicy Chicken
Rumble. Grumble. Rumble.
Splash, stroke, thrust
I’m thinking she probably doesn’t want to touch me;
she looks at me with blank eyes,
too full with other thoughts
for me to be seen.
She’s bored of this lifetime routine.
Chop, cut, chop, chop, cut –
I don’t bleed.
Spark – it doesn’t light up so she tries again.
Flame. Thump, sizzle.
My skin tightens around my body,
anemic legs burn in the heat.
My insides loosen up.
She swings me on to my back,
prods her finger down my spine;
I’m picked out, well-browned; just how they like me.
Brown on the outside, pink on the inside.
A cultural mish-mash.
The boys rush to greet me,
grab me by my leg and slap me
on their plates;
my sweat already congealing their fingers.
The boys like me;
their eyes all bright and empty like hers.
They tear off my crackling coat
and dig teeth into my flesh
which falls off with ease.
The boys like me
when I’m well-browned
and have stopped sizzling
and am silent.