A coolitude statement to end this series
My coolitude is of whale bone
When I first read Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labor Diaspora, I was transformed. I accepted the trauma of my history as a dreamscape that shades my daily life. I accepted that the hauntings of colonization, dehumanization, and diabetes were part of this reckoning with my own history. What was it like for my own ancestors Latchman and Sant Ram Mahraj to leave their homes, beset by economic dependence on a colonial system? When they landed in Guyana in 1891 and 1885 what did they see? What colors were the ocean? What songs did they sing aboard the ship? What of all my women ancestors that are not recorded in familial lore — what did they survive? What survives in us because of all of these people’s strains and triumphs?
My coolitude is a sensorial haunting. The first time I held a cutlass I was able to chop down a papaya tree in record time. My coolitude is a pinprick or shiver behind me as I feel my Aji watch me travel the world. My coolitude is the name Mohabir: Moh, meaning alluring, a British miswriting of Maha, meaning great. My coolitude is bir, meaning warrior. My coolitude is the great warrior’s jingle of bangles. Hamar coolitude maha bir ke kangan ke kankan hai.
When I ask my sister if the person she’s talking about is “coolie” versus “desi” what I am really asking her is whether that person participates in our same imaginary. Does that person revile the idea of an “Old” versus “New” South Asian diaspora; does that person dream in Guyanese Bhojpuri, Caribbean Hindi, Fiji Hindi, South African Bhojpuri — a language peppered in Portuguese, English, Tamil? This split from the South Asian community is both lamented and celebrated in my reckoning of my heritage through the material conditions of indenture, illiteracy, and chemical dependency.
My coolitude is of humpback whale bone. Something that lends structure, deep, grown of folksong. My skin adapts to the world around, the element of its place. It is my skin, supported and given shape by my ancestry that allows me to ally with others in the spaces that I enter. I am a queer citizen of motion and movement. My home is in journey. My ancestors migrate with me as I learn and resing old sohar, kajari, and bhajans, and my skin changes as I learn how to move through unforeseeable currents. I belong nowhere and everywhere. Indeed, the idea of a native country means stasis and I am in constant motion. I am descended from survivors. In fact, my first instinct is to survive — and this is ancestral.
The queer presence in this history of migration is even now being uncovered and written about by researchers like Gaiutra Bahadur in her book Coolie Woman: the Odyssey of Indenture. Despite the fleeting mention of queers, the practice of reading the holes in the historical record for queer potentiality begins. It is my job as a poet to imagine my connection with these ancestors. I consider the story of Rukmini, a transgender woman, who, according to Bahadur, was able to journey across the kalapani unexamined by the British in a poem I call “Coolie Oddity.”
My coolitude is queer, upsetting binaries and status quo. I am a dark body that bounces back from extinction’s brink, almost hunted into ghost by whalers and colonizers alike who both built their empires on trying to eliminate my dreaming and imagination. I sing old songs in old tunes and new songs in new tunes, questioning the distance between the two.
Yet as I live in Hawai’i, a country that has been colonized and occupied by the United States since the late nineteenth century, I have begun to question my need to articulate my migration story through the lens of a localized and particularly Hawaiian metaphor. Most conversations that I’ve heard about migration deal with ecological vocabularies that identify indigeneity through an indigenous/invasive paradigm. Colonization and American occupation is invasive and literally an invasion that continues to disenfranchise Native peoples across the globe and particularly in the United States. My coolitude allows me to struggle with others in their fight for sovereignty.
My coolitude is antiracist. It is the openness to change with my company. My coolitude allows me to see and relate to the suffering of colonized people around me. My coolitude is a reminder of destitution — of being erased of my land and name, of diabetes, of alcohol dependency. With the understanding of my skeletal structure I am able to empathize and struggle with the people around me for a common good. My coolitude allows me to acknowledge the indigenous people on whose land I live. My coolitude is #blacklivesmatter. My coolitude is forever movement.
Past are the days of Naipaul. Fuck his heterosexist Empire-praising corpus. He is less and less relevant. Walk down Liberty Avenue. Take the A train to 121st Street. Go for roti in Scarborough. Drive through Pine Hills. What is now emerging is a new type of Indo-Caribbean positionality. It is the individual living in Ozone Park, Queens, Toronto, Scarborough, Brampton, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando. We are creative by nature of the ability to excavate our histories for our poetics.
No longer are we British bum-lickers, we are now licking sexier bums for our own pleasure: those of transnationalism, antiheteropatriarchy, and antiracism are those found in the new American landscape as well as those imported from our island and continental homes of Barataria, Debe, GT, Port-au-Spain, New Amsterdam, Skeldon, and Crabwood Creek.
We are coolie: a chutney of Afro- Indo- Chinese- Portuguese- Amerindian- and American. We are a movement that centers our materiality, not religion or racist ideologies. We refuse to accept American names to locate our intricacies. We are not Indian as defined by the political borders of postcolonial India. The India we were once from is no longer the center of our travail, rather, what we center now is our dynamism, our movement, our multiple belongings.
We are straight, queer, trans, faggots, dykes, antiman, bullahs, battyboys, hetero-, homo-, polyamorous, monogamous, flexisexual, dougla, a threat to monological flatlandist thinking of being only one thing at a time. We fuck whoever we please and want to please and be pleased by. There are no schizophrenic ideological poles or axes on which our world spins. We understand that the “Coolie,” the “B--,” the “Ch--,” and the “N--” are constructed by Empire to keep us apart — to keep us with drawn daggers at one another’s throats.
Our ancestors cut cane. We are their instinct for survival and creative impulse. We are stories. We are stories from our grandparents. We are whispers in the dark: bakoo, fiya-rass, jumbie. We are songs. We are Hindi, calypso, chutney, soca. We rill reggae til a whole night done. We suck rum and talk story. We resist all kine nastiness. We come from the sea. Crossing the sea is the land we know intimately. We can change our minds whenever we need to in order to build alliances with the oppressed in our various spaces and communities. We are never static. How can the sea be unchanging?