what are you?

asking me to unpick shards of family history

although my skin is thick

my patience is pierced and wearing thin

let’s stop pretending it’s not a loaded question. unquenched by anything less than an explanation of elders’ migration. Why has it got to be the first point of conversation? fetishized ambiguity, repetitive invasion, silent bets on persuasion.



Oh, how sweet it is. I’ll allow myself to forget to eat sometimes, when the sunset is too appealing, or when the sunrise is so bright it draws me from sleeping. My hair is as long as my patience for everyone else other than myself. I’m working on it whilst the months are working on me. Renew and release like seasons until I am at peace. In winter I basked open-mouthed under constellations. Clearer than ever in the absence of artificial light were the aspirations of those I love. How sweet it is to see what they can. I traced the words thank you in the sand and waited for the tide to acknowledge. My mother swam in the same water her ancestors crossed to reach Kenyan shores which brought a tear to my eye. I had to wait until we returned before I could understand exactly why. In the summer I shed everything just to see where things would fall. Witnessed by honest eyes, patient words – I know I sometimes make things worse – with untimely clauses, pauses and clumsy words. Autumn came when earthy colours and friends like sisters kept me afloat, but from above I could see the debris.

Sleeve heart, what have you done? Where do I even begin collecting the pieces? Don’t you understand that there is risk in romanticising the everyday because not everyone sees the shape of tree-silhouettes or cloud formations in the same way? Sleeve heart why do you seek life in the most unlikely of places. Why do you see bouquets when others see empty spaces?

I give you nothing

and you grow fruit.

Sleeve heart, you can’t stay here – you have too much to lose.


October came and dutifully I shed everything again and again and again. I became light and unbound and had only myself to sustain. Daunting at first. The elements hurt my new skin. I built wall upon wall, only to tear them down when familiar eyes warmed my heart and welcomed me back here again.

Sure enough the bricks turned to soil and an emerald garden began to grow.

At the first sight of colour, sleeve heart arrived proud, and ever-optimistic. Ready to sow whatever would appear and wear it like a gemstone. ‘Look at what you made here’, she’d say. Allow yourself to step back. Try look at it this way.

It sure is beautiful.

Those scars, they are just new landscapes and well, your fallen hair strands are rivers which will return when your mind is more calm. Spring and sunshine will come soon, I promise, just please try not to hide that heart on your forearm.


loose tea

Leaf-laden footpath, lead me to my new house. Where I can retreat into low-fi hip hop and thick socks. Candles lit, they alight the evenings spent hiding with friends. Inside with cheap wine. Percentage to price ratio, we know how to make the best of it. Our smiles go to show. But I always try to find the time to write the further ones a letter. Remind them that in my darkest moments they were my anchor, my shelter. Years spent grappling with this idea of home. Loose tea brewing, thinking of the fourteen bedrooms past. I don’t mind being alone. I hear my ancestors sing songs of encouragement. Twenty one years before I visited our land. I brought back a heart-embellished sleeve and a rucksack, filled with their smiles. Embodiment of belonging. I unpack them in this new room. Light the incense and see them dance. Delicately. Towards the ceiling.

Some sense of cultural healing.

Becoming realigned. Until now, half of my body felt displaced. I always chased acceptance and people always demanded a race. I’m sure they still will.  But I have no need to run. I have come to know my place. Much to their disappointment, it is not static. I can move as much as I want. Nothing is predetermined apart from my right, to bring it with me. Carry it in my vocal chords. Wear it in my hair. No longer diaspora without a compass. Armoured in love and grounding even when stripped bare.

didi & bhaia

Your hands are so small

yet in three weeks they have become my world

you can hold a universe between your finger and thumb

you are the sum of e v e r y t h i n g


and then you sung!


you spoke and projected for all to hear

I felt so proud

and you danced and you smiled

and you showed no fear

when many twice your size would have cowered


full to the brim of aspirations and surprises

we shared few words but each minute spoke thousands

sores on your hands only make us hold them tighter


it breaks my heart over

and over

and over

when your sisters said they wish they were whiter



Because I have never seen so many beautiful souls

How much of a hold you have, I doubt you will ever know

9 hearts captivated by three weeks in your presence

Your small hands are the seeds of change and promise you will be allowed to grow

Be allowed to flourish and bask in a society that respects you as much as we do

Anything we do from now, we do it because of you


I am a blind seamstress

For three years you watched me undress

You take pleasure in what I can’t see

Normalised to taking your word and consuming it, whilst the sentences consumed me

I am a blind seamstress

Wanting only to mend

Gentle hands work in the dark in fear of reprimand

Eggshells crunch beneath cold feet

Heightened senses, echoes loud

Overbearing so I can’t speak


Sometimes reduced to a whisper



But love heals all in good time


Even my wounds of mishaps with needle and thread

Skin like paisley, dappled crimson red


But I just wanted to fix and bind

Honestly, I didn’t mind

I didn’t mind until I’d tried every patchwork under the sun

I was so selfishly selfless because you said I was the one.

Swatch Card









BUT NOT AS MUCH AS OUR WORDS. WE DO NOT CRAVE THEIR VALIDITY. THERE IS NOTHING TO HIDE. My skin is drenched in humility as much as it is pride.

I come from ground cinnamon, turmeric and chai. From Swahili and Cymru. Gujarati and grace.

But they demand one place.

One definitive location. One single race.



Please, allow me to serve this pint, sir.

Now, how does that taste?



weight of a waitress

iris incision, thigh and breast butcher


look down because you know its wrong


stomach churning

burning for her age eighteen to be turning

yearning, he’s a selfish soul

she’s still learning, earning money to pay for driving lessons


but he calls her up in college to fill tender ears with harrowing confessions


she’s missing




creative writing

pushed aside,

she saw the councillor and lied about what was eating away at her voice


she cried for long nights on end, trying to pretend she could handle

this mangled soul who strangled the idea of intimacy.


‘he’s older, so he should know better than me’


she thought


he bought her gifts and cigarettes

but never split the tips that she’d earnt

whilst compromising what she’d learnt at college

knowledge washed away as she wept

kept upright by cocodamol, washed down after she slept.


the city four years later still sends shivers down lone spines


edging round shopping centers and glancing around too many times.

manchester in three ships

Houseplants in your fingertips

Bay window  s m i l e

Gardens in your palms


Sunshine in your irises

Sustenance in your lips


Time is irrelevant

Months pass like ships

those horizon-dwelling vessels, bearing knowledge and lessons


We watch them pass

Learning from what they sent

excerpt of Mariadah Gham


Atifa belonged to no-one, yet she felt that everyone’s wellbeing was of great importance to her. Ved continued his journey around the village, each person bowed and acknowledged each other’s loss. Ved came to pass the home of Ahita. He paused as she stared from the archway. Looking down at the trail of flowers Ved had left, she did not bow, but continued to stare. Ved remained for thirty seconds in this lock of gazes, until his legs began to ache. He broke away from Ahita’s gaze and continued his journey of petals and bows, until he returned to his veranda to watch the sunset.

Atifa’s passing ceremony happened the next day at sunset and the whole village, apart from Ahita, came wearing white and carrying yellow ribbons. She was carried to the highest hilltop in the village on a large piece of wood which was beautifully carved. Her body was wrapped in crisp, white fabric and her hair hung delicately in two long, thin plaits, tied by yellow ribbon. She was adorned with Champa flowers and even now she looked like a sleeping goddess. Four men carried her from her home, led by Ved, followed by Nippu and Varshit.

Once they reached the top, the four men placed her down onto the tall green grass. The emerald blades bowed as if to say they, too, felt the loss of her deep in their roots. The village circled around Atifa’s body and row by row, they knelt with their palms touching the grass. They lowered their heads towards the ground and each person pressed their forehead down, thinking of days shared. After each person had finished they would move to the back and allow the next row to do so.

They repeated this three times. The first time was to remember shared conversations, meals and laughter. The second was to wish her a sound sleep and the third was to tell her what they hoped to achieve before joining her. The first two rounds were very much the tradition of the village, though, Ved knew how much Atifa cared for the aspirations of everyone she knew. He told them that the third bow would give Atifa something to ask about when the day finally came to meet again.

Then, one by one – the villagers laid down on the grass and made themselves comfortable. To complete the ceremony, the villagers had to sleep on the highest hill. No one knows where Atifa’s body would go but it was known that each person had to be asleep. When they awoke, she would be gone. It took a little longer than the rest for Ved to fall asleep. He had overseen many of ceremonies, but he hadn’t expected to lead Atifa’s ceremony. Ved’s health had always been somewhat less than hers, he thought he may pass first. He laid on his back and gazed upwards.

When they awoke a short while after, sure enough their goddess was gone. All that remained was two yellow ribbons from her plaits and the crisp, white fabric in which she was wrapped. Ved tied a piece of the yellow ribbon on the wrists of Nippu and Varshit and told them that Atifa would always be with them, even when they were old like himself.

Five years had passed and Ved still made tea each sunrise and left out two cups, both poured. After finishing his, he would return to their sleeping room, light some incense and stretch his limbs. When he returned, the second cup was always empty.

Eight Letters – part one

She finished each sentence with an exclamation.  Passion, anger or sometimes both in varying ratios. He finished every sentence with a question.  He questioned everything he knew and then questioned it once more.  Some would say he had an annoying brain.
I’m still yet to decide.  My grandmother is a full stop, which never surprised me once. She was always so sure of what she knew – there was no need to question.

154 years ago, each human soul on the earth was given a choice, which would also be the fate of every soul to live thereafter. The Equality Through Punctuation
project was built to create a mutual language throughout the world.  A new global mother tongue.

When I become 14, I will make my choice, too. I’ve grown fond of all the vowels. But, then again – plosives are such fun. Perhaps I’ll pick the least common word I know. Although I’d like it to have some real meaning. I’m a bit limited, because my word can’t be any longer than eight letters.

Just twenty years ago, people were allowed nine-letter-words and they didn’t have to choose their word until they turned eighteen. I hear stories that there are a couple hundred microchips left with the nine-letter-limiter floating around on the green market, sold to the super-rich untouchables. Those chips were replaced by the new eight-letter-limiter chips which can be installed at a much earlier age for people like me.

In two weeks’ time, I’ll have to make my choice.  So far, one of my favorites is ‘euphoria’ – because it has all the vowels – though I don’t think I can do much with just a P and a H.  Hm, I guess it’s not as practical as I’d first thought.

Perhaps having all the vowels would be a bit of a hindrance rather than a luxury.  Just thinking about choosing makes me upset. I plan to thoroughly use my unrestricted vocabulary to the fullest before my fourteenth birthday before they dissolve into linguistic history.  I won’t be able to call the E. T. P by its name full anymore. It’s a bit of a taboo at school.

I’m one of the dwindling few who understand the importance of knowing what the project is in its entirety. I hope when the E. T. P is re assessed, I’ll be able to scramble together something. An angry letter. Maybe drawings of angry letters. Maybe just angry drawings. It’s failing to create equality – at least according to the definition of equality in the old dictionaries. I spend a lot of time reading them in school. Even though I know that the ability to say any word we know will vanish once the microchip is slipped into our still-forming heads.

Even if the others are mostly apathetic, I cling to the nearly – bare spines of the old dictionaries.  These people didn’t know how much power they had. Limitless ability to combine letters to create vessels to carry such abstract concepts.


I envy and admire them.


Though the words will be gone, I know the concepts which they carry will remain.

20 years ago, dictionary reading was included in the national curriculum and was absolutely encouraged. Two years ago it was dropped completely.  They say it was because the change of chips meant it was not economically beneficial to include it in the school day if we were to be chipped at fourteen, as opposed to eighteen. So, instead they allocated the time to vocational skills and sign language.

I call it the desensitization curriculum. People aren’t interested in reading the old dictionaries, and choosing other words besides the ‘recommended 12’. The government made it easy and assigned one word to each month.  May’s suggested word is brightly – what the fuck can I do with that? June isn’t a terrible word, rhythms, yet people blindly choose it because it’s what is suggested so they don’t have to think.


I lie awake at night watching the ceiling, thinking about why the government would suggest such restrictive words. It’s always so fucking quiet, this is why I think so much. Everyone in each continent speaks the same language since all tongues had been erased from memory of everyone over fourteen. It was promoted as a blessing; for those whose first language wasn’t English – they were told they would gain a new language instantly –making the world a level playing field. All business would be conducted in one language, nothing would be lost in translation and each nation would be able to talk to each other to resolve problems. Poverty and illiteracy would be swept away. It seemed like a logical project if peoples’ life quality would be improved. I think people did know that their culture would dissolve but probably not the extent it would. The leaders all agreed to trade their language for security. Culture is intrinsic to a community. I don’t think the leaders were given a chance to say no. Now, we have a world where all old enough to be decision makers speak broken English.


Rarely do people question what was sacrificed, it’s not easy to find accounts of people pre-chip. We can’t read their writing. We can’t hear their voices. Though, we can see their art.


They promised to improve the chips and eventually everyone would have a fully functional alphabet with all the punctuation.  But once I learnt of the 9 letter limiter chips I grew suspicious. I feel even more saddened that others my age are unprepared and uninterested in their decisions.

My dad asked me on my twelfth birthday if I knew which word I might choose.  His word was networks.

“no wot wort,  sweetee?

“no,  dad. ” I said.  Smiling at his effort to always call me sweetie.

” no? ” he said – smiling as if I’d just shared some great news.

” no” I smiled realizing he’d done this on purpose so that I knew what power those two letters held.


Oh,  None of the suggested words contain an N if an O is present,  and vice versa.


My parents’ voices croak when they seldom speak. It was much easier to sign.

I agree, it is easier. We are taught to sign since birth and are taught at school by sign. Nothing is written after we turn fourteen.