Daljit Nagra

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Daljit Nagra was born and raised in London and has published three collections of poetry, all with Faber & Faber. His most recent book is Ramayana (2013), a retelling of the Asian epic.
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I run just one ov my daddy's shops
from 9 O'clock to 9 O'clock
and he vunt me not to hav a break
but ven nobody in, I do di lock -

cos up di stairs is my newly bride
vee share in chapatti
vee share in di chutney
after vee hav made luv
like vee rowing through Putney -

ven I return vid my pinnie untied
di shoppers always point and cry:
hey Singh, ver yoo bin?
yor lemons are limes
yor bananas are plantain,
dis dirty little floor need a little bit of mop
in di worst Indian shop
on di whole Indian road -

above my head high heel tap di ground
as my vife on di web is playing wid di mouse
ven she netting two cat on her Sikh lover site
she book dem for di meat at di cheese ov her price -

my bride
she effing at my mum
in all di colours of Punjabi
den stumble like a drunk
making fun at my daddy

my bride
tiny eyes ov a gun
and di tummy ov a teddy

my bride
she hav a red crew cut
and she wear a Tartan sari
a donkey jacket and some pumps
on di squeak ov di girls dat are pinching all my sweeties -

ven I return from di tickle ov my bride
di shoppers always point and cry:
hey Singh, ver yoo bin?
di milk is out ov date
and di bread is alvays stale,
the tings yoo hav on offer yoo hav never got in stock
in di worst Indian shop
on di whole Indian road -

late in di midnight hour
ven yoo shoppers are wrap up quiet
ven di precinct is concrete-cool
vee cum down whispering stairs
and sit on my silver stool,
from behind di chocolate bars
vee stare past di half-price window signs
at di beaches ov di UK in di brightey moon -

from di stool each night she say,
how much do yoo charge for dat moon baby?

from di stool each night I say,
is half di cost ov yoo baby,

from di stool each night she say,
how much does dat come to baby?

from di stool each night I say,
is priceless baby -
Dad and me were watching the video -
‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony'. It's about three
brothers separated after the family is parted
by gangsters. You can get it with subtitles, Miss.
When Anthony, who grows up in a Catholic home,
begged Christ for the address of his real parents
then crossed himself, I jumped off our royal red
sofa, joined Anthony with his prayer:
Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,
four-quartering myself then curtseying a little.

Dad just stared at me, knocking his turban side
to side that I almost thought it would come off
which it normally does when he's doing his press ups
and his face goes mauve. Instead he took off
his flip-flop (the one with a broken thong),
held it in the air, shouting in ‘our' language:
vut idiot! If you vunt to call on Gud,
call anytime on anyvun of our ten gurus.
Do yoo tink is white Gud's wife yor mudder?

Dad's got a seriously funny way Miss,
sometimes he cries, and says he's going to give me
to a Sikh school, a proper school. That's why
I did what my cousin Ashok does at our local
temple - while you were all doing Hail Mary
to end registration, I first locked my hands,
knelt down, prayed with this ditty we do on Sundays,
imagined the Golden Temple and our bearded Gods
to your up-on-the-cross one, then roared:
Wahay Guru!
Wahay Guru!
Wahay Guru!
Like that.
She never looked like other boys' mums.
No one ever looked without looking again
at the pink kameez and balloon'd bottoms,

mustard oiled trail of hair, brocaded pink
sandals and the smell of curry. That's why
I'd bin the letters about Parents' Evenings,

why I'd police the noise of her holy songs,
check the net curtains were hugging the edges,
lavender spray the hallway when someone knocked,

pluck all the gold top milk from its crate
in case the mickey-takers would later disclose it,
never confessing my parents' weird names

or the code of our address when I was licked
by Skin-heads (by a toilet seat)
desperate to flush out the enemy within.

I would have felt more at home had she hidden
that illiterate body, bumping noisily into women
at the market, bulging into its drama'd gossip,

for homework - in the public library with my mates,
she'd call, scratching on the windows. Scratching again
until later, her red face would be in my red face,

two of us alone, I'd strain on my poor Punjabi,
she'd laugh and say I was a gora, I'd only be freed
by a bride from India who would double as her saathi.

Nowadays, when I visit, when she hovers upward,
hobbling towards me to kiss my forehead
as she once used to, I wish I could fall forward.
The tree my father grew
from his garden I take an axe

and branch by branch
I break the tree

and set to work
the million maddened bits,

the fire of night.
Only for ash I keep.
all the girls say they love me
all their mums say i'm lovely
ever since i lived in the clouds

where you first said you loved me
ever since you left
i've been raining on the road
where you first said you loved me


Eva Dawn Sankar 29 March 2018
I am stunned by the wondrous joy these words and images have put into my day.
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