Rini Jospeh, in her own words, as interpreted by Alex Juhasz
Rini Joseph is an artist first, self-taught, and young.
She is a teacher with different artistic mediums with kids.
Her work right now is centered on identity: class, caste, and ancestry.
Thinking about this, she was angry constantly; she worked in her place of trauma.
The rage accumulated into an exhausted space; it was taking a toll.
And then she wrote this poem.
It was written for Doing Things with Stories; she could view her rage through a new lens.
Women are told to repress our masculine aggression, but Rini wants to occupy it mindfully. She is proud of her rage.
Her oppression is like racism.
Her social capital is her education despite her caste, but even then, she hears racist remarks and certain spaces stay inaccessible.
Sometimes inclusivity can be trauma porn,
but for this project she understood
that a retelling of her story would be humanising.
Understanding her struggle and suffering as a transformative space.
‘Narrative needs to change!’
This was her cue to convert that rage.
And in a global context?!
That’s an honour.
Opportunity is bleak in India for artists.
Gatekeeping is in the imagination of someone in power.
In contrast, Doing Things with Stories did not ask for past work, a portfolio, or a resume.
The invitation is based on what Rini has to say now.
Doing Things with Stories said: ‘We are giving you time and space for you to say what you want to say.’
This is liberating. A symbol of reclaiming or re-allotting power so as ‘to drive my own narrative and put it into the world.’
(like a child, exasperated)
I am sick to my stomach!
The torment of everything
the way it is
the truth of who I am
It is suffocating me.
Will never allow me to thrive.
Maybe some water to calm your nerves?
Are you listening to me?
My identity, my life
It is the tragedy that wrapped me
as soon as I came out of the womb.
This body carries the pain of a reality
that’s the ghost of the past
that predates me.
they taunt me in my dreams.
‘I am the wound of multitudes,
the multitude of wounds’
Their fears are bound to mine.
Their tears are wound with mine.
(collapses, breaks down)
What did you dream last?
I never knew him.
Mamma doesn’t talk about him.
I don’t even know his name, you know?
The story goes—
he gambled away their little money
in an alcoholic’s frenzy
then abandoned grandmother and their four children
‘You picked the right time to leave me, Lucille, With four hungry children and crops in the field,’ Pappa sings.
stranding them in the depths of poverty and lack.
Mamma would see him almost decades later
at a job that gave her life dignity,
dignity that she warred for.
He came into her Bank—
stinking of cheap liquor—
asking his daughter
to spare him some money.
He stood there
in a nightmare of a moment
laying out her truth
in front of her Upper Caste colleagues
in front of her aspirational upper caste life
in front of her life of integrity
—her truth of her murky meagre undignified past.
Is that what you saw in your dream?
It was just him—faceless
dilapidated —like a house forgotten.
I knew it was him immediately, despite never knowing him.
He wept like only a broken man can.
Before pity what I felt was shame—
the shame mother must have felt—
that this was my blood.
I cannot lie—
I felt disgust—
like he was stubborn muck that was stuck to my footwear.
I think that’s unfair—
(enraged and fierce)
I KNOW IT’S UNFAIR, OK?
I’M SORRY I’M NOT A MOTHERFUCKING SAINT!
All my life I aspired to be upper caste, OK?
Even before I knew caste
I knew what my dark skin implied.
And I had to compensate for it
by sucking the oppressor’s ASS!!
I aspired to be all that was wounding me
all that wounded my bloodline.
I talk like the oppressor
I walk like the oppressor
I live like the oppressor
And my ambitions bind with a success
that was framed by the oppressor
gatekept by the oppressor
controlled by the oppressor.
Grandfather reminded me
that I am the descendent of a downtrodden
that I belong to a backward caste.
I hate that term—backward caste—
like we’re walking around
with our spines being pulled back
by some invisible chain.
This torment is the invisible chain.
It is the blood of Adivasis that run in our veins
the first inhabitants
the indigenous life of the forests in the Idukki hills
Manninte makkal—the children of the soil, as Mamma says.
The deep brown of our skin confesses the love of the sun for our people.
ugh, don’t be such a romantic!
the deep brown of my skin confessed the powerlessness of my being the entitlement towards my body
the pre-existing leverage over my dignity
to be grabbed, to be fondled
the permutations of my social inferiority
to be scarred, to be fucked.
But it also demanded a double standard—
My body could be property
But it could not be beautiful.
I spent so much of my childhood
bathing trying to scrub away the brown in my skin.
Before I knew what desire was
I knew darker the skin,
the less desirable it made me.
we are not mere victims of this terrible society!
Are we not?
Our childhood was stolen from us.
We entered every room fearing being the darkest skinned being in it.
How are you not angry?!
Do you not remember that imbecile
who barged into our home
for a quick fuck
only to shame me into a slut
and had the gall to tell me
that I should consider it an honor
that he even noticed me and my ‘black skin’.
I was FOURTEEN!!!
I think our sexiness upset him.
He knew that we knew that
we’ve got diamonds at the meeting of our thighs.
We are not mere victims of this treacherous society. It taught us to hide from the sun per chance it chars our skin into soot. And yet we do not shy away from the sun.
We walk into every room
that the depth of the brown of our skin
will make their eyes linger
will gather a gaze that thirsts for it
a thirst that we will not quench
unless we deem them worthy.
We are the beholders of the skin
and we have inherited the heart
and the soul
and the mind
and the intelligence
of our wild ancestors
along with their melanin.
So tell me why we must choke ourselves with a prerogative that we constantly defy.
So then what of the angst
and the injustice
and the rage
and the sadness
of the abandoned mother/the daughter
the lonely grandmother/the wife/the single mother/the poor, unprotected woman
the drunkard grandfather/the estranged husband/the disappointment/the absent father the aunt/ the wayward daughter/the prodigal sister/the whore found dead in the garbage
must I go on?
All this generational trauma
while I strut around
with all their generational wealth.
And what of our generational wealth
our generational love
our generational strength?
Great grandfather was the Chief of the Malayarayars
a just and lauded head
who boldly martyred himself.
Great grandmother’s fabled beauty and spirit
live on still as stories.
Before the brahmins and the white man
encroached our lands
and our dignity
and branded us as inferior
we were the companions of forest spirits and wild things.
The congruence with the soil
and the forest
and the earth
we were born into
still hold power in the green of our thumbs
in the grip of our tools
in the sway of our hips
in the gleam of our sweat
in the roar of our songs
in the blank spaces of our dreams.
Then why do I feel like a coward
I am climbing this ladder
so far up from the ground that in birth I fell into. Why do I polish myself
and mould myself
to be palatable to a system that continues to
tread unkindly on the likes of my ancestors?
They don’t even listen to my grief.
‘I am someone raising his head for a fistful of respect’ Ay, there’s the rub.
The act of empowering oneself
is reduced into compliance.
We climb to overthrow a system of its fragility.
Is this truly what you want them to hear?
Not war cries
but the wailing of a wounded animal?
Then what do we do of all this memory
that lie raging beneath our skin?
‘I am the poison throated one
who swallowed the famine so that the world may have wealth’
The grand injustice we suffer is that our memory is tainted with forgetting—
our stories stricken down by erasure.
So we must re-make them.
We must embody them.
Fight the good fight that mamma fought
by exercising the autonomy she granted us.
it is speckled with injustice and suffering.
But what the oppressor never foresaw
was how this turned us superhuman.
We are scattered across earth
and we are not alone.
We must collect new stories,
retell old stories,
braid them all together as one,
then crowd and wipe out the tales told by the oppressor.
‘I’m not a victim, I’m an immortal
I am the fluttering flag of defiance’
Our lineage runs deeper.
Our blood runs thicker.
Our love runs stronger.
So why be shy?
Scream of the boons of our blood
till we rumble and growl
louder than thunder.
Howl it till the rage in our heart
Our skin that is as thick and wild as the wilderness resistant to so much of nature’s pricks and bites and burns.
The fearlessness of the dark because we
were born into the darkness of a formidable night.
The whip of my hip
the stomp of my feet
the dance of my spirit
trembling the surface I tread on.
My hands that have always known how to nurture
My hands that taught itself to push away and scream IT IS ENOUGH!
My hands that refuse to dread the dirt
Instead gives it new life and new meaning.
THE GLORY OF THE RED IN MY BLOOD!
THE BLOOD OF MY MOTHER
THE BLOOD OF MY GRANDMOTHER
THE BLOOD OF ALL WHO CAME BEFORE ME.
The blood of all who will come after me.
The ground that I learned to walk on.
The ground that I couldn’t help but dance on.
The ground that I built myself on.
The ground that death will bring up on.
I am the soil and the soil is I
It will continue to sprout
even when mankind is gone.
Hear me O sky, for I will no longer torment my self.
Hold me O wind, for I will now fight as I dance.
Bless me O river, for I will now thrive.
And hence I reclaim,
the power that is I.
Please note: my poem refers to other poems including Maya Angelou’s ‘I Still Rise’ and Kalekuri Prasad’s ‘A Fistful of Respect’ to convey the power of literature in shifting our personal narratives and empowering our self-perception.