Curry Scented Bitch and Other Poems

Jaspreet Kaur (better known as Behind the Netra) is a spoken word artist from East London whose poetry deals with gender issues, history and topics often considered taboo both in Asian communities and wider society. Here, she shares three of her poems. 

Illustration by Maya Acharya

Illustration by Maya Acharya

#Curryscentedbitch

get it right baby, that's the turka that you're smelling
that's my mother with her turmeric stained fingertips feeding a family that you're smelling
that's my grandfather's tears made of revolutions and struggle that you're smelling
that's my five rivers that you're smelling
that's an empire built on the backs of my ancestors that you're smelling
that's the curry you crave for on a friday night that you're smelling
the ones to bully out my brown skin but the first to pop on a bindi at coachella

you're smelling the resistance of my brown skinned beauties, reclaiming what is ours

cooking up our power
that's what you're smelling

Illustration by Maya Acharya

Illustration by Maya Acharya

Cultural Appropriation

'Cultural Appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people's cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.'

Brown women wore shisheh in their clothes since the 17th century. 
Now they’re worn more beautifully as if they weren’t meant for me.
I see them on runways, weaved into their embroidery, so cheaply. 
When for centuries their reflections were enough for a man to fall in love so deeply.

Because brown women have been wearing naths since the 16th century. 
Now they’re worn more beautifully as if they weren’t meant for me.
I remember one time I wore a bindi to school. 
I thought it was pretty, they called me a fool.
They said go back to your country, with your stinking clothes. 
And now I see them in almost every music video.
So I say hey what now makes it so cool? 

Because brown women have been wearing payals since the first century. 
Now they’re worn more beautifully as if they weren’t meant for me.
Their chimes alone acted as inspiration for poetry. 
You should read the Cilappatikaram. Maybe?
Maybe not. 
Maybe I'm wrong to assume
that the same mouths that made the word immigrant so dirty - are the same mouths dying for a curry on a Friday night
- or a chai tea latte?

Because brown women wore mendhi vale hath since the Vedic century. 
Now they’re worn more beautifully as if they weren’t meant for me.
Patterns on my palms that could put petals to shame. 
Their stains were enough for lions to lose their tame.
Their curves and lines considered hypnotic. 
Now I bet your henna tattoos make you feel so damn hipster, so damn exotic.

I'm not saying that our lives shouldn't be shared and symbiotic. 
I'm just saying we shouldn't have been degraded in the process. 
Whilst they mocked our linguistics, the artistic or the symbolic, 
we were crying to be cut loose from the
shackles of colonialism. 

Oh, the irony of Indian women scraping their heavenly dark skin with
beauty creams to make themselves lighter, 
whilst they fake up their tans, we cry to be whiter. 
My thick hair was decided for me before I was even in the womb. 
Let me assure you that my brown skin isn't some kind of costume. 

We have tried our best to adopt a cultural milieu. 
Mold ourselves in the surrounding environment like glue, but who are we trying to fool? 
We just make ourselves look more out of place, 
like trapped animals in a zoo. 
But assimilation is a complete separate issue, 
I'll leave that to Fanon to discuss. 
Because we shouldn't have to blend. 
For once can we not pretend?
That my beautiful culture is not a trend that will pass on like
bell-bottom jeans and feathered hair, this is my beauty.
I'm happy to share.
But not at the cost of belittlement. 
And not in combination with a comment on my mother’s accent.
 
I’m not saying you can’t wear and do such things
but please acknowledge the years of discrimination those things would bring. 
We have been too busy living in the dust of an empire
that burnt our worth, 
that we refuse to grow from the ashes. 

Illustration by Maya Acharya

Illustration by Maya Acharya

Imperfect Punjabi

they say you should speak more punjabi,
but i feel as if it's a ghost lodged into my throat.
it should flow out like petals from my lips
but i feel it's a dried up flower from a ground that long ago felt rootless.

a mouth full of characters,
ancient sounds resting on tastebuds that provide a bitter taste of a new language.

like kneaded dough, pulled into balls, circled in my palm and flattened.
rolled out with a rolling pin into circles of confusions.
i flip back and forth between punjabi and english until i burn on the tava.

a racist joke taunts our accent,
wrapped and hidden in a mirror covered duppata.
my tongue keeps remembering alienation.
my tongue keeps remembering otherization.
my tongue remembers that bollywood babes are sexy and exotic,
the fetishising of my beauty,
but this doesn't feel sexy.

my mouth is reaching for flowing punjabi but i'm only getting air.
my lungs are filled with broken skeletons and broken punjabi,
laying amongst corpses of rotting cultures.

i need to dig those sounds out of my throat.

 

 

Jaspreet Kaur teaches History in central London, and has an academic background in both History and Gender Studies. Her work aims to tackle issues related to gender discrimination, mental health stigma, decolonisation and more. As well as performing poetry, Behind the Netra also provides workshops and motivational talks for all ages. 

Over the last year she has performed at different shows around London, along with charity events and conferences for women's issues. It's been an incredible year for Behind the Netra, being in the national #thriveon advert with Idris Elba, working with the UN on the HeforShe campaign and being nominated for the BAME Inspiration of the Year Award for her work in poetry and teaching. The end of 2016 brought Behind the Netra the title of one of the Top 10 Inspirational Sikh Women in the UK.

To see more of her work, check out her website, youtube, and instagram

 

Maya Acharya