Sorayya Khan is the author of three novels, Noor, Five Queen's Road, and City of Spies which received the Best International Fiction Book Award, Sharjah Book Fair, 2015. Her work has appeared in several publications, including Guernica, Longreads, The Kenyon Review, North American Review, and Journal of Narrative Politics. She is the Guest Editor of Papercuts Vol. 20: Nomad (Fall 2018). sorayyakhan.com
Guest Editor’s Note
At a reading a few years ago, I heard poet Chris Abani mention letters his English mother wrote his Igbo Nigerian father after she left Nigeria. She wrote one every week for five years, none of which his father ever read. The possibilities inherent in such lives are numerous—and include coming from multiple places, making a family of them, living in and out of war, and writing from one place to another. When I was approached to guest-edit our Nomad themed issue, I was reminded of the story because, for me, it distills the complexities of movement.
Nomad, in its most fundamental and fluid iteration, is defined as being a wanderer. What does it mean to cross borders? How does movement shape us? What do shifting boundaries mean for grammar? For grief? In this issue, we explore an expansive definition of Nomad from many perspectives and places. We include writers across different worlds with the belief that dialogue is critical during these difficult times.
The biggest joy of this issue is to discover that as in life, our work is always in conversation. Poems speak to stories, stories to essays, photographs to stories, translations to originals, and more. I once had a teacher who said that each poem contains a novel, possibly more than one. Implicit in this truth is that genres speak to each other, regardless of the borders and boundaries that keep them (and us) apart. We learn from being in conversation with each other, and so does our subject matter.
Augustine Touloupis suggests that looking is not seeing and Nethra Samarawickrema provides an example in the gem trade which places Colombo closer to Kayalpatnam than Chennai. Mahmud Rahman shares a journey through languages that ends with the possibility of translating his own work into Bengali, while Madhavi Menon considers grammar and hijras and suggests that like our grammar, our desires are migratory nomads that do not fit only in one category at a time. The journey in Nadia Misir’s lyrical essay, “Grief, Gods, and Nails“, is also one of language, but she focusses on the topography of grief and identity. Farid Alvie uses the language of images to present traders and travellers—contemporary nomads—in Al Rolla (Sharjah), and Neelika Jayawardane’s story set in Southern Africa speaks to Judith Mason’s art work while an estranged father and daughter meet. In Asif Farrukhi’s translations of poetry from Urdu to English and Nadiya Shabnam’s translation of a short story from Bengali to English we see languages in conversation with each other.
Movement is constant and comes in many forms. Like waves we cross / We fly / We roar / We stay or leave / our movement permanent, Sehba Sarwar writes. Brigitte Neubacher offers her photographs of Kuchi nomads in Afghanistan taken in 1998, and among Omar Khan’s postcards is one taken by a Peshawar photographer a century ago of a Kuchi family en route to (then) NWFP. Matías Peralta suggests, I walk, I die walking, and Alka Roy hints at another possibility, I keep walking behind the women / in the air—/ there is a disturbance. Aaisha Salman and Faiza Farid consider digital nomads and what mobility means for women in Pakistan, and Hassan Mustafa explores the tenets of Sufism, a philosophy embedded in the nomadic spirit. Julia Thomas explores island and its multiple meanings, suggesting that we form islands in our lives.
In “The Pig“, Stella Krymm shares the stark reality of being an American child in the Soviet Union after the Great Depression, and Jonathan Gil Harris, an Indian by way of New Zealand, the UK, and the US, gives us Shakespeare’s masala. Philosopher Raimond Gaita describes his childhood awakening to the landscape of Central Victoria (Australia) to which he remains deeply rooted, and Mehrunnisa Yusuf explores various categories of nomads and speculates that for those who move by choice, the present day might lend itself to homecoming and being rooted. In a story set in New Orleans, Joel Dinerstein plays with being an academic nomad, which is a concept Ron Henry has in mind when he abstracts the sense of driving long distance, the métier of an academic nomad, No oasis out here. Or I dream / there is no oasis. Dipen Bhattacharya stretches into fantasy as the narrator of his story meets his doppelgänger while travelling, and Duranka Perera juxtaposes an elephant’s migration story with the narrative of a teenaged girl and her family returning to Sri Lanka.
Megan Mealor’s poem offers the body, Her bones are soiled, unwashed, as does a Noorulain Noor poem, eyes alighting over your face / for the sake of your face / and over your body for the sake of your body, as if illness and ageing are places to which our bodies all eventually migrate. Tanveer Anjum describes, So many people / Clambered on a boat set to topple by its own weight / Some were able to swim to the shore, and Azra Abbas speaks to torture and history when she writes, No, whenever the fields are choke-full / Of those who have been killed / Then only history will open its mouth, suggesting that our lives on boats and otherwise are fleeting; we come and go, but history remains, perhaps to tell the tale. In one of his sequence of four poems, Chris Abani offers word as the depository of memory, The red earth of my homeland is both wound and suture. / Nomad is the human urge, fear is the need to stay. / Word is what says, not even one of us will be forgotten.
Nabina Das writes, One day we/ make love/ letters out of maps. This is ours to you.