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AAWW at Home with Rajiv Mohabir

The poet and winner of the Restless Books’ New Immigrant Writing Prize on supporting DRUM and the work of Guyanese poet Martin Carter

As we continue to shelter in place, our series AAWW at Home connects you to writers we love as they tell us what they’re reading, organizations they are supporting, and more.

Today we hear from poet and essayist Rajiv Mohabir, whose memoir, forthcoming in 2021, won Reckless Books’ New Immigrant Writing Prize. Rajiv’s translations in the book I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (Kaya Press 2019), originally written in 1916 by an indentured laborer in Guyana, are reported to be the only firsthand account of its kind. Read his essay “Why I Will Never Celebrate Indian Arrival Day” on The Margins

Here, Rajiv talks about reading Bhojpuri folk song cycles, listening to Bollywood music from the 1980s and ’90s, and spotlights the important work of DRUM, Desis Rising Up and Moving. In closing, he reads “Tomorrow and the World,” a poem by Guyanese poet Martin Carter (1927-1997), Guyana’s greatest poet to date.

Donate to DRUM here.

The following is a transcript of the video above.

Hi, my name is Rajiv Mohabir, and I’m coming to you from Malton, MA, which is in the Boston area. Today, I’m feeling okay, and I’m happy to be making this video for you.

My favorite self-care practice that I’ve been going trhough lately has been making the older foods in my family that people don’t usually make anymore. Things like kar ghee, and roti that’s stuffed with meat. It’s a good way for me to connect to the younger part of where I’m feeling the same joy that my dog and cat feel as they wrestle behind me. And if you follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen a lot of my fantastic beasts. That’s one of the self-care practices that I’m involved in right now. Another one is to go back and really give myself time to dig into these Bhojpuri lokgeet books that I found while I was in India in the early 2000s, which go through Bhojpuri folk song cycles. And it’s been fun because in my daily life I don’t let myself delve too deep into the things that are not the most important and close at hand.

So, basically, with that I’ve been listening to a lot of Bollywood music from the 80s and 90s, as a way to have fun and to really let go, and to remind myself of a time where things were a little easier for me, personally and psychically here in the United States. 

I would like to also recommend to folks who are watching, if you are able, to donate and to support the mission of DRUM, which is a New York-based organization. It’s an acronym that stands for Desis Rising Up and Moving. DRUM is multi-generational, and its membership has led organizations of low-wage South Asian and Indo-Caribbean immigrant workers and youth in New York City. And they’re long-term vision is to build the power of immigrant workers in the U.S. in unity with all workers and communities for human rights. And so they see themselves also linked to movements for justice in the United States, rooted in solidarity with people of the global South, for just global trade, economic and foreign policies. And so, they’re really doing some important work here and with relief and education in NYC. So, if you are able to contribute to the cause of DRUM, then that’s something that I really support.

I wanted to read to you a poem today from the Guyanese poet Martin Carter, who was born in 1927 and died in 1997. He’s acknowledged as Guyana’s greatest poet to date, and he is very very important to the world of Caribbean poetry. The poem that I’ll read to in this book, which was published in 2006—posthumously, of course—is called “Tomorrow and the World.”

This is another thing that keeps me going. The dog and the cat doing their little daily dance. 

“Tomorrow and the World”

I am most happy
as I walk the seller of sweets says “friend”
and the shoemaker with his awl and waxen thread
reminds me of tomorrow and the world.

Happy is it to shake your hand
and to sing with you, my friend.
Smoke rises from the furnace of life
– red red red the flames!

Green grass and yellow flowers
smell of mist the sun’s light
everywhere the light of the day
everywhere the songs of life are floating
like new ships on a new river sailing, sailing.

Tomorrow and the world
and the songs of life and all my friends –
Ah yes, tomorrow and the whole world
awake and full of good life.

I really hope that you stay safe in these trying times, and that we together will see the other end of this.