Fatimah Asghar reads “Main Na Bhoolunga”
Don Share: This is the Poetry magazine podcast for the week of March 11th, 2019. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On the Poetry magazine podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue. Fatimah Asghar is the creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls and the author of If They Come for Us, published by One World and Random House in 2018. The book delves into the historical legacy of the partition of India, after colonial Britain left South Asia in 1947. Asghar’s mother’s family fled from Kashmir to Pakistan, where she met her father. They married, and moved to London.
Fatimah Asghar: My parents lived through that and that’s so fascinating to think about when … that they really existed in this generation that’s very different from me and my sisters.
Don Share: Both of Asghar’s parents died by the time she was six years old.
Fatimah Asghar: In South Asian culture, there is this kind of stereotype or rhetoric that people get married really, really young, and they have kids really, really young. And while that may be true for some people, it is just so fascinating to think about my family, and particularly my parents, that they were actually a lot older and that they lived an entire life before we came in, and then we weren’t … they weren’t around for our lives. So actually, we were kind of the end of their life. And they had experienced so much.
Lindsay Garbutt: This is the first poem Asghar wrote after finishing If They Come for Us. The title of the poem comes from a song in a Bollywood movie, which translates to “I Won’t Forget.”
Fatimah Asghar: Sometimes I just wish that I could see what they were ... you know, just like be like a fly on the wall or a ghost watching them. And to me, this is what that poem really is.
Don Share: There was a large South Asian population in London in the seventies and eighties, but there weren’t many theaters that would screen Bollywood movies. So the theaters were packed. Asghar’s uncle said her parents, well before having children, loved to go, often standing through three-hour long Bollywood movies they had seen many times before.
Fatimah Asghar: I don’t want to forget these small details that I hear about my parents in, you know, in, like, random conversation. And in order to not forget, a lot of what I want to do is imagine these memories or these moments to kind of give a little bit of life to them, so that they’re not just a sentence in a story that somebody in my family was telling, but can become a little bit more of a fleshed out moment.
Lindsay Garbutt: Here is Fatimah Asghar reading “Main Na Bhoolunga.”
my father: sideburns down the length of his face my age now & ripe my age now & alive his husky voice’s crackle like the night’s wind through corn fields of bell-bottoms fields of pomade my mother’s overlarge sunglasses crowded on her face crowded in the only english movie theater that plays amitabh bachchan my mother watching the blown-out screen the smoke spilling from light how he is able to be in all places at once all the places she can’t be the man on the screen a kind of god maybe a kind of god maybe my grief at all places at once replaying their every story a kind of god maybe my father’s nazar his long look his luck-laced lungs breathing my mom’s hands in the theater as they whisper next to my father’s the almost touch blood electric my father watching her his sideways glance on her thick eyelashes so long it’s as if she never blinks my father’s stomach blinks & blinks and a thousand amitabh bachchans blink his insides his heart pumps main na bhoolunga on beat main na bhoolunga in chorus main na bhoolunga the theater singing my mother’s ghost fingers on his palm & maybe this is what falling in love is like: a more handsome man jumbling the intestines a more handsome man belting the song to the woman with the long eyelashes in the theater & you—afraid to blink in case she disappears in case it was smoke this whole time.
Don Share: This poem reminds me of Frank O’Hara’s “Ave Maria,” which is pretty famous for starting off, “Mothers of America / let your kids go to the movies!” And I like this poem better, actually. At the end of O’Hara’s poem he says, you know, “don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice / and the family breaks up / and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set / seeing / movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young.” I mean, that’s very moving—no pun intended—, that Fatimah Asghar evokes not just movies, but what they mean to people. She evokes that time, you know, with the sideburns and oversized sunglasses and everything. It’s kind of all in there. And what’s so wonderful about it is that it is a cinematic poem. It sort of leaps to life and has so many different hues and colors in it, and textures, that it’s sort of theatrical. And it’s like she’s staging these moments that ... she tries to recreate them. Not just for herself, but for entire communities of people who shared that experience and have that as a legacy for them now when they think about it and look back.
Lindsay Garbutt: Yeah. This is such a gorgeous poem. And part of what I love about it is the way that it articulates both movies, as you were saying, Don, but also love and memory as sort of out-of-body experiences, or experiences that animate our whole bodies in unique ways. So the fact that her father’s stomach blinks and blinks, or that her mother’s hands whisper in the theater next to her father’s, the way that these body parts are animated with verbs that we don’t normally associate with them, it sort of brings them to life in a new way. That, movies can also do, but also the way love makes us feel things differently and makes us notice things in ways we didn’t really before. And what’s so beautiful about this poem is that it’s not just about the love between her parents, but it also is about Fatimah’s love for her parents …
Don Share: Hmm.
Lindsay Garbutt: … and the way that this movie, when she watches it now, can remind her of this moment that she never actually experienced, but yet somehow brings her closer to her parents.
Don Share: It’s interesting, too, that I suppose for a lot of people one way they would remember relatives is to look at kind of home movies of them or videos or photos or something like that, and what’s so marvelous and multidimensional about this, is that she’s not describing that at all. These are … you know, movies people go to as families, as communities. And they become part of everybody’s remembrance in a way, and intertwined with things that happen in families, and that’s why the poem can be called something like “I won’t forget,” “Main Na Bhoolunga,” I mean, it’s sort of a line that each of us is appointed to say at some time or another in life.
Lindsay Garbutt: Mmhmm. The way that this poem is written, as sort of one large prose block, that, you can kind of sense in her reading, has no punctuation, it just goes on and on, connecting everything together. And so the way the sort of phrases flow one into another, you don’t know if ... “so maybe the man on the screen is a kind of god, maybe…”
Fatimah Asghar: ... she can’t be the man on the screen a kind of god maybe a kind of god maybe my grief at all places at once …
Lindsay Garbutt: So the grief and the actor become associated together, and they are both at all places at once, but then “a kind of god maybe my father’s nazar ...” It’s like this constant association of, like, the grief then turns into the father, the father then turns into something else. And the way that all of these things are connected, if she doesn’t forget this movie, then she won’t forget these other things either, the way that she’s articulated the poem, because they are all threaded together. And it’s this sort of way that you experience memory, multiple things coming together unbidden at the same time, but it’s also sort of a lovely way to weave your own experience of life.
Don Share: And even the part of it—it’s hard to pull something out of this poem, but, where it says: “my father watching her his sideways glance on her thick eyelashes so long it’s as if she never blinks.” It is like in life if you … it’s almost as if you blink, you miss something. And if you blink trying to read the poem, you miss something in the poem too. It’s an eyes wide open experience in the poem. But of life too. Not wanting to miss anything. And not wanting to miss anyone.
Don Share: You can read “Main Na Bhoolunga” by Fatimah Asghar in the March 2019 issue of Poetry magazine, or online at poetrymagazine.org.
Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all March episodes all at once in the full-length podcast on Soundcloud. Let us know what you thought of this program. Email us at [email protected], and please link to the podcast on social media.
Don Share: The Poetry magazine podcast is recorded by Ed Herrmann and this episode was produced by Rachel James.
Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this program comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.
Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.