Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Singh Song!"

Singh Song!

by Daljit Nagra

i run just one ov my daddy’s shops
from 9 o’clock to 9 o’clock
and he vunt me not to hav a break
but ven nobody in, i do di lock —

cos up di stairs is my newly bride
vee share in chapatti
vee share in di chutney
after vee hav made luv
like vee rowing through Putney —

ven i return vid my pinnie untied
di shoppers always point and cry:
hey Singh, ver yoo bin?
yor lemons are limes
yor bananas are plantain
dis dirty little floor need a little bit of mop
in di worst Indian shop
on di whole Indian road —

above my head high heels tap di ground
as my vife on di net is playing wid di mouse
ven she catch di cat she couple up a pair
book dem for a date on her lover’s web page —

my bride,
she effing at my mum
in all di colours of Punjabi
my bride,
she stumble like a drunk
making fun at my daddy
my bride,
tiny eyes ov a gun
and di tummy ov a teddy
my bride,
she hav a red crew cut
and she wear a Tartan sari
a donkey jacket and some pumps
on di squeak ov di girls who are buy my penny sweeties —

Ven i return from di tickle ov my bride
di shoppers always point and cry:
hey Singh, ver yoo bin?
di milk is out ov date
and di bread is alvays stale
the tings yoo hav on offer yoo hav never got in stock
in di worst Indian shop
on di whole Indian road —

late in di midnight hour
ven yoo shoppers are wrap up quiet
ven di precinct is concrete-cool
vee cum down whispering stairs
and sit on my silver stool
from behind di chocolate bars
vee stare past di half-price window signs
at di beaches ov di UK in di brightey moon —

from di stool each night she say,
how much do yoo charge for dat moon baby?
from di stool each night i say,
is half di cost ov yoo baby.
from di stool each night she say,
how much does dat come to baby?
from di stool each night i say,
is priceless baby —

Daljit Nagra has his debut book of poems just out this month in the UK, Look We Have Coming to Dover!, on Faber and Faber. He’s British Indian, and his poems tell stories about Indians living in Britain. The book is not available here yet, so I cannot tell you much, personally, about what the poems in it are talking about. I do have this rather funny and endearing poem about a Punjabi working in one of his father’s shops, from an issue of Poetry London.

Daljit uses Asian patois and English rhythm and rhyming to make his poem work. The rhythm comes across a little sing-song-ey, deliberately, with almost regular beats, in the initial stanzas. The rhyming in the first stanza works very well indeed. The repetition of “9 o’clock”, and the only line there with the strictest rhythm and beats, underlines the mundanity and boredom of long hours of work. “Clock” and “lock” work on another level, besides being mere rhyming for some comic effect. Singh, the character here, is confined - locked - within the hours of the clock, with no permitted break, only his own clandestine one, during which he locks up the shop to go upstairs to make love to his new bride, or as how Singh says it,” … made luv/like vee rowing through Putney” – very funny.

The italicized lines beginning with his shoppers pointing and crying “hey Singh, ver yoo bin?” are like some chorus in a song, putting the reader in mind of Indian movies. The consecutive italicized lines in the last stanza even work like musical counterpoints, like a Bollywood hero singing to his girl, who sings back.

However, this Bollywood heroine in the story is no typical Indian girl. She cusses at her mother in law, makes fun of the father in law, has no big kohled eyes, no hour-glass shaped body, no long thick jet-black flowing hair, no long wrapping sari round her, nor any dainty pointed shoes. In spite of all this, our hero Singh simply adores her. The way he repeats “my bride” in the fifth stanza is like someone saying “my love”, over and over, besotted – this is the endearing part.

The story has a happy ending, just like any Bollywood movie. At midnight both Singh and his wife go downstairs, and sit among the shop’s goods, and stare out through the shop window at a bright moon, and they make the most lovey-dovey exchanges you’ve ever heard, all very platitudinous at first, like some old-fashion romantic script from some old black-and-white movie. But, no matter this, the last line makes you sigh, go ahh at the denouement, because Singh might have just charged for the moon they’re looking up at only half the cost of her, but in the end, Singh’s love for her is priceless.

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Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

sweet! it may be 'di worst Indian shop on di whole Indian road' to outsiders but inside: a priceless bride and a view of the moon (half-price! like the sign outside says...)

4:56 PM, February 06, 2007  
Blogger dreameridiot said...

Hahahahahaha.... I enjoyed this piece very much. It's full of fun, and like the title "Singh Song", it's sing-song like, in tune with the musical numbers of Bollywood films.

Though I give a poor imitation of the poem when I read, I really like how Daljit incorporates patois and the idiomatic rhythm of Indian speech into the poem. Some critics however might consider this poem condescending or mocking in its portrayal, but I find it to be both playful and sincere at the same time, as Singh and his bride are accorded with intimacy that does not reduce them simply to stereotypes of the Indian immigrant (especially the bride who Leon points out doesn't fit into a type, and is very much her very own person). More than just an Indian poem, it also reflects a mix of both Indian and English 'culture' such that it becomes British (together).

7:42 PM, February 06, 2007  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

this poem is a delight. i love poems where there is a strong sense of voice and i could really hear this guy. of course too, it brings back memories of britain where the very necessary corner shops were all taken over by indian grocers prepared to open until all hours and stock an amazing range of goods. nowadays though the shops are closing as the older generation think why not relax a little after working hard for decades, and the kids go off to university and professional careers.

7:44 AM, February 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a SHIT poem!!

3:11 AM, November 22, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great poem! The essence of character and voice are really portrayed in this poem!

1:57 AM, February 11, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the beat and humour of this poem!

5:59 AM, March 21, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are just too immature to appreciate good poetry; or you just do not understand the poem. Pick whichever reason.

6:09 AM, March 21, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing poem and a great laugh to read too!

2:12 AM, May 25, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

best poem ever you curry eater

10:02 PM, December 08, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:33 PM, January 08, 2016  

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