POETRY

Pathemari

Aathma Nirmala Dious

Author’s Note: This poem is about how the first Malayalee expats used boats they called Pathemari to make their way to UAE in the 1960s: the start of the “Gulf Boom” of Kerala, a term used to explain the vast migration of those from Kerala to the Gulf region. The boats are similar to the dhow boats of the UAE.

I am pathemari
one with many names

Arabia calls me dhow
as I carried her children across the Arabian sea
watch them dive to dangerous depths
to find a grain of sand
lost from their desert home
turned pearl by the waters
not caring for the danger
perfect pearl worth dying for

as long as it feeds their families back home

I am pathemari
one with many names

The Indian traders called me dov
as I carried them from Indian ocean
to Arabian sea
watched them dive into dangerous depths
for neither the sea nor money have mercy—
found sand turned pearl by the waters
exchange spices and cloth in return
not caring for the danger
perfect pearl worth dying for

as long as it feeds their families back home

I am pathemari
one with many names

Kerala named me Pathemari—
I watched her children sneak into my belly
crouch under my sails
as if I am a promise

Of hope

Of money

Of a better life

vishvasam, athalle ellam*
Trust, isn’t that all?

I hear the prayers of their mothers
their cries in the crashing waves
tears, rain
The voices of the children
Hoarse by sea air
sing over the three months
as I took them from Indian ocean to Arabian sea

“Paisa kitteettu
           After I get money
Paisa ayachittu
           After I send money
Njan veettil varaam
           I will come home
Ennithu Jeevikam”
           Then I will live

Oh, children
Will you not live then?
There may be no coming back to the shores you came from

some could not survive me
just like the food and water didn’t
I watched them dive into dangerous depths,
With madness only seas
and survival can bring.
To remember them
I carry their cries
for their mothers
In my belly

as they sink

Lungs an anchor
Made of homesickness
How can I tell them
the weight

never

goes

away

Kerala named me Pathemari—
|I watched the survivors of my belly,
dive into dangerous depths
Swim to the shores
of Korffakkaan

Sang to keep their lungs afloat
Njangalude kudubathinu vendi,
(for our families)
Njangalude kuttikalkku vendi,
(for our kids)

They sang
while trying to make sand
From the coast of Kerala,
fisted in their hands,
pearls,
by the waters of the gulf,
not caring for the danger
or the pressure needed
to make sand grain into
perfect pearl worth dying for

as long as it feeds their families back home

I am pathemari
one with many names

Kerala named me pathemari
My sails have now become wings
I fly the skies

Over Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea

I still carry her children
To the shores
Abu Dhabi,

Dubai,

Sharjah

Airports

shores

Her children swam to
One after another
Still singing the same song
They survive me now
But the shores?
How can I tell them
Return is a journey
they may never know?

I am pathemari
one with many names

Kerala named me Pathemari
I am now woman

I am now mother

My belly carrying her children
Children that will swim out,
Womb of water,
Into the dangerous depths,
Of a shore
They don’t know
Whether to call home.
Their cries echo

Others,

I still carry with me

Oh my child
I brought you to another shore

by water

And water is never still enough
To call any shore
home.

njaan pathemari anu
enniku kore perukal undu
Njan nadinte kuttikalude kathakal
ente vayaril sookshichu vachitu undu
Ee kathakal aaru vayikum?
Ee kathakal aru parayum?

(I am pathemari
I have many names
I keep the stories of those children
Carefully in my belly
Who will read those stories?
Who will tell those stories?)

 

* that sentence is a quote from a popular Malayalam commercial

This poem was performed as part of the Hekayah 2018 festival at The Arts Center at NYUAD.

 

Aathma Nirmala Dious is a Literature and Creative writing major at New York University, Abu Dhabi. Her first poetry “book” involved folded up A4 papers stapled together with her short poems, accompanied by a bio written by her father and a passport picture at the age of 8.
A soul with a deep love for stories, she performs spoken-word poetry and writes fantasy fiction and personal essays.
  
Her cultural/national identity is a bit mixed-up as a result of  being an Indian (Malayalee) expat born and brought up in Abu Dhabi, an intersection that inspires not just the content but also the mix of English and Malayalam in her work. She’s performed at the Louvre Abu Dhabi and at the NYUAD Arts Center’s Hekayah 2018.

Aathma was voted Best New Artist for Rooftop Rhythms 2017-18 season and has written for The Gazelle, NYUAD’s student newspaper. She also enjoys photography, her violin, movies, food, and advocating for POC representation in the arts. 
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