In Kashiana Singh’s beautiful poem, ‘Pagri/Paggar/Pagadi/Pagg Turbans’, a father slowly folds his turban in front of his daughter, the intimate act of which is akin to the gradual unravelling of a poem.
All my poems were born into
the folds of my father’s pagadi
one in each fold of his khaki –
cotton, starched, smooth, sturdy
I attempted to shape poems with
my tongue, while my hands pulled,
stretched, unbound all the 2 yards
of cloth, my father’s pagri –
I proudly held at one end on
mornings when I was called
upon to help twist the length
The landscape of that moment
had a spirituality, a gravitas, it
snatched at my throat, settling
into creased circles, my voice
had so much to say, instead in
quiet observation I gave it all
my care, all my curiosity –
His prayer had a very specific
tempo, I never dared disturb it
I saw a long poem taking shape
sprouting into our empty space
I felt a sacred hum moving me
I heard stories being revealed
I saw elders speak in its waves
syntax of poetry was formed in
a chorus as a circular wrapping
folded and unfolded words, they
became mine, unborn into me as
I held the fabric taut, was taught
of letters, my fingers at the edge
of a long pagadi, he so reticently
pulled at the other, tugging just
so, he said to me each time we
symmetrically styled a turban
in performance together –
“you, my daughter, my poem”
Pagari, and its different transliterated variations, is the term for turban worn by different communities in the Indian subcontinent. It specifically refers to a headdress that is worn by men and women, which needs to be manually tied. In this particular poem, the reference is to the turban worn by Sikh men and the ritual of tying, wearing and pride associated with the pagri. As the years evolve the pagri becomes a metaphor for many complex cultural and familial intersections that the poet has experienced and associates with this word and its rituals – both the physical act of tying, the bonding with her father and the symbol of strength, empowerment, creativity and spiritual grounding this word and its image has offered her and others like her.
About Kashiana Singh
Kashiana Singh lives in Chicago and embodies her TEDx talk theme of Work as Worship into her everyday. Her poetry collection, Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words presents her voice as a participant and an observer. Her chapbook Crushed Anthills is a journey through 10 cities – a complex maze of remembrances to unravel. Her poems have been published on various platforms including Poets Reading the News, Visual Verse, Oddball Magazine, Café Dissensus, TurnPike Magazine, Inverse Journal. Kashiana is the winner of the 2020 Reuel International Poetry Award. She lives in Chicago and carries her various geographical homes within her poetry. For more information see Kashiana’s website here or follow her on Twitter @Kashianasingh
This piece was completed for Life in Languages, a series conceived and guest edited by Elodie Rose Barnes
Language is our primary means of communication. By speaking and writing, listening and reading, by using our tongues and our bodies, we are able to communicate our desires, fears, opinions and hopes. We use language to express our views of the world around us. Language has the power to transcend barriers and cross borders; but it also has the power to reinforce those demarcations. Language offers a form of resistance against oppression, yet it can also be used to oppress. Language has the power to harm or to heal.
In these times of shifting boundaries and physical separation, when meaningful connection has become even more important yet seemingly difficult to attain, language has become vital. The words we choose to read, write, and speak can bring us closer as individuals and as a collective. During lockdown, unable to travel, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to reading works in translation from all over the world – not only for the much longed-for glimpses into different cultures and ways of being that I cannot experience in person (for the time being, at least), but because they offer new words, new viewpoints, new ways of expression. Grief, loss, uncertainty, anger, hope, joy, love: these are universal emotions. Finding my own feelings mirrored in the writing of womxn from all across the world, from different times and different situations, across generations, is a massive comfort. It’s also led me to examine my own relationship to language and languages: what I read, how I write, the roots of my communication, and how that’s changing today.
In this series for Lucy Writers, I’ll share some of my personal reflections on how language has shaped my life and writing, and review some of my favourite works in translation written and/or translated by womxn. Writing on works written and translated by the likes of Natasha Lehrer, Saskia Vogel, Leïla Slimani, Sophie Lewis, Deborah Dawkin, Khairani Barokka and many more will feature in Life in Languages.
Elodie Rose Barnes, Guest Editor of Life in Languages
Submissions are now open for this series. See our Submissions & Contact page for full details.
Feature image is by Gursimrat Ganda via Unsplash.