THIS IS THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE. Literally. This is the story of you, your
family, your friends. This is a summary of your journey so far, starting from
the very beginning and bringing you to new shores of realization.
Serving as both an excursion and a discourse on im/migrant struggle, By Bodies of Water not only attempts to trace ethnic heritage and provide a voice to the émigré experience, but also seeks to disrupt Western thought on diasporic bodies. The text is completed by rich and detailed illustrations by Ravneet Sehmbi.
A collection of only the original artwork found in By Bodies of Water (written by Naveed A. Khan), illustrated by Ravneet Sehmbi. This edition does not contain any of the original poetry found in By Bodies of Water.
Printed in large format (8.25″ x 8.25″) for stunning visual detail.
In January 2015, I was invited by one of my previous professors at York University to speak to her class about my book in relation to the course.
Dr. Shobna Nijhawan teaches South Asian Studies courses at York University, and I had the pleasure of taking a class with her during my undergraduate study. The course in particular was South Asian Literature and Cultures (HND 2700). I was inspired with the idea for this book while taking various South Asian Studies courses in addition to my English literature courses, and it was during my time with Dr. Nijhawan that I began to draft the initial pieces that later became this book. In many ways, By Bodies of Water is a culmination, combination, and an intersection of my studies and passions in both English and South Asian Studies.
Dr. Nijhawan invited me to speak to her new South Asian Lit and Cultures class and about By Bodies of Waterin relation to diasporic identity. The class was provided with an excerpt of chosen texts from my collection.
The opportunity to speak to a room full of eager young adults on pressing matters concerning the diasporic community was perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences I could ask for as a student, writer, and educator. To hear that the poetry in this collection changed their perspectives on their culture, identity, and place within the Western world was a truly unforgettable experience, and one which makes the effort behind creating this collection genuinely worth it.
Dr. Nijhawan contacted me shortly after my visit with reviews of the book written by a few of the students in her class.
This is what the students had to say.
— — —
Palbi wrote: Naveed Khan’s By Bodies of Water is a trip down memory lane. The poetry is nostalgic as it brings out events in which many people who move to a new country can understand. His poetry is an enlightening read. It brings out many aspects to which people of the South Asian community can relate too. One memorable poem for me in his book was about the mispronunciation of South Asiannames. That is a struggle I believe many can relate too. The journey of encountering new phenomena in a new world is difficult in itself but Khan’s poetry makes one feel that they are not alone. I recommend this book of poetry to all readers.
Surbhi wrote: Without knowing Naveed Khan, the author, personally, it can be seen that ByBodies of Water is written by an intelligent and experienced individual
who has lived in a foreign land for a long period of time to recognize the marginalization of the South Asian
community. Naveed Khan’s writing is very explicit to its motive. It can be understood that there is a singular purpose to its writing a message that is sought to be broadcasted. Ethnicity, race and immigration are very much touched upon in his writing. Personally what I loved about this book is the indirect forms of accusations. Throughout his literature it can be perceived that the acceptance of South Asians is led to forgetting their mother tongues and speaking what the ‘new land’ speaks. With assurance Mr. Khan discussed a lot about the Asians not being acknowledged, however, I feel
the true meaning of his literature is to guide the minorities to establish confidence in their own culture and race rather than changing it to fit or merge in the foreign land. For example:
“My name is not for your tongue, you could not stand the spices it contains, and you are unable to comprehend from whence they came.
I will not water down the flavours of my existence simply to accommodate your plate”
Indirectly Naveed Khan affronts the foreign land. Encouraged to change the views of the immigrants to protect their culture and defend their rights rather than trying to accommodate their opinions to make space for oneself. I particularly loved how Mr. Khan touched upon all topics of
discrimination and insecurities we,
as South Asians, have throughout our lives, which is usually ignored or just
forgotten about. The smell of Indian food
and the smell of oil in one’s hair are often hidden by an Asian from the outside world of foreigners due to a great amount of embarrassment. Mr. Khan briefly talked about these insecurities to make us recognize and familiarize with all the shame we have about our own culture
while living in a foreign land. Therefore with all the remarkable drawings that clarify the context of literature and the incredible writing, would suggest as many people as I can to read this book not only to understand what Asians settlers go through, but what we as a community must do to create a ’home’ in a foreign land and feel more accepted.
Naveed Khan, living in Canada as a diasporic individual, struggles to find an identity to which he may associate himself with. Currently studying at York University, this individual embarked an opportunity to publish his poetry specific to diasporic individuals and cultures. As a reader, the authenticity and depth of work Naveed Khan illustrated was unexpected from a student; the work was nothing but pure excellence and painfully beautiful. His combination of simplicity with play on words made his poetry exceptional. Being a part of this diasporic culture I was able to connect to every piece written by
Naveed Khan within seconds. Also, it provides diasporic individuals with a sense of solidarity among other diasporic individuals. Personally my favourite piece
was “Sharp” ; “Sharp” stresses the loss of one’s mother tongue. The reason I was
able to connect to this piece was because when I was 5 I came to Canada. I spoke
fluent Hindi then. However, as I grew older my English vocabulary increased whereas my Hindi vocabulary decreased. In the poem, Naveed Khan says, “…every time I speak, I can hear the broken parts rattle inside.” This to me describes my situation beautifully, in a poetic manner. All in all, I recommend the selection of poetry not only for those struggling in the diasporic culture but also those native to their country to get a sense of what diasporic individuals go through.
Payal wrote: The poem that really stood out to me from Bodies of water is “Good Name”. By reading these lines I felt connected instantly. When reading this poem it is evident that the author is aiming his writing at South Asians or other like groups who face the same issues when coming into the diaspora. The entire poem makes one feel connected to it and perhaps even to others reading the poem. This poem makes you feel “Aha! Finally someone understands!” The author is seen to be touching on many things that many South Asians never speak about or problems they never address as problems to begin with. Personally, I connected with the stanza called “Good Name” because being an individual whose name has never been pronounced properly, I felt that these lines were something that other South Asians and I could connect to instantly. It helps prove that difficult names are not an embarrassment, it tells people of other cultures that they must go through some hardships and try; try to pronounce difficult names rather than just giving nicknames or changing the name as a whole. “I hope your lips never fully heal from/ the burn my name leaves on them. Only then will you learn, and only then/ will you remember how it is pronounced” (Khan 73). These lines in the stanza help me understand that it is okay if others have difficulty pronouncing my name along with other South Asian names, because it is important, and even though they will have difficulties in the beginning they will finally be able to address us by our true identities. As a South Asian author, Naveed Khan connects and speaks to his readers through this great poem and makes them feel understood. He helps individuals of all ages realize that what they have been feeling and thinking about for all these years are understandable and they should not be compromising with their identity or their culture.
Sumit wrote: Naveed Khan is a wonderful writer who is wise beyond his years. He has the perfect ability to capture the views that resonate deeply with individuals living in South Asia and in the South Asian diaspora. By Bodies of Water is a collection of short poems written by Khan. His writings are very much inspired by pre-colonial and post-colonial experiences. Along with his nostalgic linguistics, his poems are accompanied by organic illustrations that portray his messages correctly. Someone like myself, who is a South Asian artist - I idolize pioneers such as this young individual. For anyone who has not given this wonderful book a chance, please do! You will be pleasantly surprised and most importantly gain education which is beautifully executed through his art of writing.
Mumia Abu Jamal: Prison is a second-by-second assault on the soul, a day-to-day degradation of the self, an oppressive steel and brick umbrella that transforms seconds into hours and hours into days.- #MumiaAbuJamal. Mumia Abu Jamal is such an amazing being. He’s a radio journalist, author, activist and was a former member of the Black panther Party and also a supporter of MOVE organization. An incident that happened on Dec 9, 1981 involving the death of a police officer in Philadelphia led to Mumia being convicted of first degree murder the following year. Although the evidence against him is so unfounded, he was sentenced to death and remained in isolation on Death Row for the next 30 years. it wasn’t until 2001 that his sentence was finally overturned but he still remains in prison for life without parole. Yesterday morning, Mumia fainted and was taken to the ICU. Turns out he went into diabetic shock, and for the past 3 months the prison he is currently in ran several tests indicating that he had diabetes, which could have been treated before escalating to this point. Since arriving at the ICU last night, he’s slowly been recovering and has been able to see his wife and brother for a time period of 30 minutes each this morning. My thoughts are with you and your family. Free Mumia. Fuck the system. Fuck mass incarceration. If you have the opportunity, please call now and demand that his family can visit him: Medical center: 570-773-2158 SCI Mahanoy 301 Morea Rd, Frackville PA Superindendent John Kerestes
(570) 773-2158 x8102
Sandra Cisneros: I want you inside the mouth of my heart, inside the harp of my wrists, the sweet meat of the mango, in the gold that dangles from my ears and neck.
Say my name. Say it. The way it’s supposed to be said. I want to know that I knew you even before I knew you.- #SandraCisneros. So April is National Poetry Month this year keeps getting better and better. It felt right to start off with Sandra. I grew up reading you, muxer. I remember my fifth grade teacher reading the House on Mango Street to us before lunch and me not wanting to leave because I wanted to hear the rest of it. In so many ways, you’ve helped shape so many aspects of my childhood and adolescence. And as I enter my “adult” years, whatever that means, so many more things resonate in the very core of me. Dulzura, in particular, se me mete bien adentro, with all the desire and frustration inside me mixing sweetly with every word. “Make love to me in Spanish. Not with that other tongue. I want you juntito a mi…” Yeah, te quiero next to me. Let me speak that Spanglish to you like a badass, you gorgeous being. And then let me eat you. I’m talking to the mango, of course.
Pablo Neruda: Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde, te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo: así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera, sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres, tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía, tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño//I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.- #PabloNeruda. So this man was probably the first poet I was ever exposed to. Chileans have a lot to be proud of (and also a lot to not be so proud of)… we have Gabriela Mistral, wine, pisco (yes, debatable), fish, copper, some interesting (but also problematic) politics, the amazing Mapuche people and Pablo Neruda. Being the proud Chileans that my parents were/are, they made sure to tell my sister and me about el maestro Neruda early on. Mami even went as far as to recite a little bit of Neruda’s “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes ésta noche (actually, I think that one line was all she ever recited).” In any case, as I grew older, molding myself into the hopeless romantic that I’ve come to be, I began appreciating and identifying with all the desire, the angst that was so palpable in his sonnets and every one of his stanzas. I was and still am plagued with an inescapable craving for love and warmth, and Neruda always found a way to satisfy me for a while. I got my fill of the beautifully hopeful poetry and also the poetry that reminded me of the horrible pangs one feels from loving from a distance. The point is that he was one of the first poets to make me feel. So mil gracias, lucho. Maybe one day I can tell someone “en un beso, sabrás todo lo que he callado// with one kiss you’ll know everything I’ve kept silent,” or “Para mi próximo truco, necesito que me beses y haré aparecer mágicamente mariposas en tu estómago// for my next trick, I need you to kiss me and I’ll magically make butterflies appear in your stomach.” and make them weak in the knees. Wishful thinking.
Sonia Sanchez: And I cried. For myself. For this woman talkin’ about love. For all the women who have ever stretched their bodies out anticipating civilization and finding ruins.- #SoniaSanchez. So fortunate to have been introduced to your work a few years ago. You are magical. I was really torn between which quote to use from Sonia because her poetry is brilliant and the themes run the gamut. She often wrote about relationship dynamics, love (“I have caught fire from. Your mouth now you want me to. Swallow the ocean.”), racial oppression, black liberation and very deliberately pointed out the violence experienced specifically by the black community (“a policeman is a pig and he shd be in a zoo with all the other piggy animals. and until he stops killing blk/people cracking open their heads remember. the policeman is a pig. (oink/oink)”). Throughout her years as an activist and a poet, she taught at several universities, published over a dozen books including childrens’ books, and traveled to countless places to read her poetry (her performances are damned powerful- at least on video unsure emoticon but I doubt those do her justice at all). You are the epitome of a legendary badass. So much love and gratitude for your work and your words.
Gloria Anzaldúa: Identity is not a bunch of little cubby holes stuffed respectively with intellect, sex, race, class, vocation, gender. Identity flows between, over aspects of a person. Identity is a…process.- #GloriaAnzaldúa. Galactic Gloria, wherever you are, may you grace us with your cosmic radiance. I very intentionally chose this quote from all the others that this muxer has written/said because of my personal struggles with identity. I know this isn’t just a pisces thing. Identity is such an important part of self liberation and actualization, yet so often overlooked. If there’s no time set aside and no intention of assessing and reassessing our whole and our parts, how the hell are we supposed to grow? Understanding that we are not just one identity in one space but several different identities working in tandem with each other is pivotal to growth. Fuck negotiating identities and trying to fit them in these cubbies- nope. As someone once told me, our identities do not exist in vacuums. They’re also not stagnant. Nothing is. Identity is a process, a work in progress. Every single thing is in flux in this beautiful galaxy, in this infinite universe. Gloria got that. Gloria and her galactic, radioactive nopal. She also understood that owning our identities (including our stories, our traditions, our cultures, our languages, our past) is powerful. Whether that means you live on the Borderlands and "put chile in the borscht, eat whole wheat tortillas, speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent are stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints”, saying to yourself “I will no longer be made to feel ashamed for existing. I will have my voice” or realizing that “The whites in power want us people of color to barricade ourselves behind our separate tribal walls so they can pick us off one at a time with their hidden weapons; so they can whitewash and distort history,” it’s all part of the process of acknowledging our power and moving toward individual and collective liberation. May your spirit twinkle gracefully and float on against the dark, cosmic expanse of this universe, hermana. Shine brightly for us.
Haruki Murakami: I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it — to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once.- #HarukiMurakami. Haruki, you are my #mcm for sure. How do you do it so that your words speak so simply and honestly? I’m still getting to know my own heart and its depth, warmth, vulnerability, desires, restlessness, limits. As the years pass, I’ve become more aware of my craving to connect at the most raw level, that one place where everything vibrates from. I’ve learned that in order to nourish that hunger in me, I need to be open to receiving that connection. Open. Vulnerable. Authentic. I’m still working on this language of vulnerability, seeing how far my heart can push its limits and if It’s even possible for me to have an experience without expectation. It’s a curious notion when you think about how metaphorically elastic the heart really is. I know there’s a tendency of caging our hearts in tightly because of the fear of actually feeling or of inflicting pain. And although I admire and sometimes aspire to be like that, my heart can’t function in a cage. I don’t think I was ever given the key to cage it in. And because my heart grew up boundless, it keeps challenging me to go further. With every relationship I get to experience, I pick up on details that escaped me before. I pick up on the nuances of body language, the subtleties the reside in a look or a smile, the inflections and tones of voice, the intentionality in what at first glance seems so unintentional, the refreshing breath that comes with every never-ending conversation. All of these things that make up a raw connection. It’s quite the rush when you allow your essence to open up to someone else - it’s catching. They’ll slowly start to open up, too. I’ve gotten glimpses of it here and there. Sustaining it is where I falter, though- casual brevity is quite a formidable adversary for my heart and sorely misguided moral compass. Then there’s desire from a distance, where “of course it hurt that we could never love each other in a physical way…. But that was… an immovable destiny we could never alter.” Cmon qt, I just wanna vibe with you
Amiri Baraka: We want ‘poems that kill.’ Assassin poems, poems that shoot guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys and take their weapons leaving them dead.- #AmiriBaraka. There’s so much love for you that words are not enough to describe, you beautiful man. “We wrote art that was, number one, identifiably Afro American according to our roots and our history and so forth. Secondly, we made art that was not contained in small venues. The third thing we wanted was art that would help with the liberation of black people, and we didn’t think just writing a poem was sufficient. That poem had to have some kind of utilitarian use; it should help in liberating us. So that’s what we did. We consciously did that.”
Naveed Khan: A person is library and archive and book bound into one. Their contents kept tight between their surfaces. Hard covers. Every memory a sinew of the self, a cell in the body of being.- #NaveedKhan. So this sweet, wise poetic mastermind has effortlessly made his way into my heart. This cool kid’s words have a way of lighting all my synapses up like a pinball machine. So much appreciation, love and gratitude for you, @_navk . You are such a badass artist and I’m so thankful I found you (actually, I remember that it was thanks to @keyballah who posted a picture of your book last summer that I was able to find my way to you, so thank you both!). This leads me to my next point: memory. After being very recently introduced to the concept of blood memory (which I’m still learning about, so pardon if I’m not as well versed on this as I would like to be), the notion that the memory and trauma of our generations resides within us is so powerful. As it was loosely explained to me, when you recognize your blood memory, you have access to your past, present and future. Part of the process of decolonizing is perceiving time as continuous and simultaneous. I’m still consciously working on my process of decolonizing, learning things and figuring myself out as I go. Incorporating this into my process makes sense but it’s also difficult because there’s trauma. There’s always trauma. And unhealthy coping mechanism we use to deal with trauma. And if we think about it in terms of blood memory, we not only hold our own trauma inside but also the trauma of past and future generations. O sea, props to all of us trying to figure out how to survive with all that trauma swimming around in our ocean of memory. There’s so much that can be said about the unabridged library of memory we have stored underneath, above, inside, around us. I’ve always wondered if memory is everywhere, then does memory ever cease to exist? And can memory have its own memory? Midnight ramblings, I suppose
Junot Díaz: You come to the United States and the United States begins immediately, systematically, to erase you in every way, to suppress those things which it considers not digestible. You spend a lot of time being colonized. Then, if you’ve got the opportunity and the breathing space and the guidance, you immediately when you realize it begin to decolonize yourself. And in that process, you relearn names for yourself that you had forgotten.- #JunotDíaz. Nada más que decir, mi gente. This about sums it all up. That and “cállate la fucking boca” and “a romantic she was, but not a pendeja” - except I am a pendejx.
Denice Frohman: So if they ask you for your papers, show them your skin, wear your tongue like a cape, throw up your fist like a secret you can’t hold any longer, they can’t keep you any longer.- #DeniceFrohman. This muxer’s voice is all power, written and spoken. I’ve always been about PoC and non-white artists doing their thing, talking about oppression they’ve faced, dismantling the system with their art; all while deepening my appreciation for their craft and giving me that space to relate to their work, pull out my experiences and feel everything wholly. So whenever I’m introduced to qpoc and queer non-white artists, my heart does this little double pump thing that reaches up my throat and leaves me a little euphoric for a bit (and don’t get me started on how I get when I learn about artists with a patchwork of identities that they so effortlessly stitch their work with… every part of my body tingles to the point of scintillating delight). I have to admit that when I identify with art at a core level, I cry. My face doesn’t change, I try to clench my jaw to keep the memories from coming up through my mouth and escaping. I just let the tears roll down my bear cheeks and I let myself become saturated with feeling. When I first heard Denice Frohman’s “Borders,” I cried because so much of my identity had, at one point, been a secret. And to hear someone speak of this particular part of it, the undocumented part, with so much ferocity and certainty, something that has taken me years to nourish, really fuels up every single cell in me. And then when I heard “Dear Straight People” a few years ago, specifically the lines “dear straight people, i’m tired of proving my love is authentic and I’m calling for reparations on your ass” and “dear queer young girl, i see you. you don’t want them to see you so you change the pronouns in your love poems,” what else could I do but cry? I still cry and that’s my sign of courage. A sign that I know where I come from and my tender acknowledgement of that young kid that felt they had so much to hide once upon a time. You can’t keep me any longer. I’ve got nothing left to hide.
Warsan Shire: I love people who are emotionally intelligent + transparent + articulate.- #WarsanShire. I don’t believe there’s anything this goddess has written that isn’t a breath of raw truth. There are too many favorite lines when it comes to Warsan’s poetry. It’s hard to pick just one. Being the very matter-of-fact, cynical, jaded little pooh I am, I love “At parties I point to my body and say ‘This is where love comes to die. Welcome, come in, make yourself at home.’ Everyone laughs, they think I’m joking.” There are others, too, of course. From being a “lover without a lover” to “you are terrifying and strange and beautiful, something not everyone knows how to love.” From giving “your daughters names that command the full use of tongue” to “You have to understand, no one would put their children in a boat unless the sea is safer than the land”- Warsan just fucking gets it. And by “it” I mean she knows exactly how to communicate in such an authentic way that connecting is inevitable, for the most part. And I love her for that. There’s nothing that makes me happier than having folks in my life or meeting new folks who can really vibe with me at an emotional level, sin barreras, sin pelos en la lengua. Don’t bring up the weather with me. Don’t ask me how I’m doing if you’re just expecting a one-sentence answer. Small talk me vale una mierda. Bring out your feelings, tell me where things ache after another long year, cry out the fire of your frustrations, give me the roaring laughter that comes from all things unexpected, or let roses spill from your mouth as you tell me about new beginnings. Ask me a billion and one questions about the things you always thought you could never ask. Articulate to me that you care enough to go deep with me- even if it comes out all jumbled up. Invite me to explore the dark corners of this massive ocean, yours and mine. Don’t hold back. I’ll be gentle, just bring out the intensity. I appreciate all of the individuals I know that have found ways to live life without putting up walls. Perhaps it is selfish of me but I want to know you. Really know you. Everything about you is important and I could listen to you for days on end. Just try me.
Thank you for reminding me
of my birth, of where I come from,
the colour of my skin,
my language, my heritage,
and my history. Thank you
for reminding me of its richness,
of the way my roots terrify you.
For who wouldn’t be afraid
of something planted so deep
within itself that it cannot
ever be knocked over?
Thank you for reminding me
of my worth, of my place
within every place that I choose
to call my home. Thank you
for reminding me of the challenges
that await me every day.
For angering me enough
for me to effectively stand firm,
and acknowledge the fact that
you are not worth my worth.
You are not worth my story,
my past, my present, or future.
You are not worth me losing sleep.
And you are definitely not worth
This collection of poetry by Naveed Khan features work that highlights discrimination and oppression against people of colour. Khan touches upon various topics ranging from abuse, racism, Islamophobia, and genocide. Khan is brutally honest in his detailed accounts of his personal experiences with being a visible minority in Canada, tackling issues born from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. WHAT TERROR LOOKS LIKE is a candid expression of grief, of loss, reconciliation, and negotiation, and calls attention to significant, ongoing social issues that should concern every person despite faith, colour, or nationality.