Poem by Shamim Azad
He cooks tea leaves with loads of sugar,
he loves watching wrestling with his mates at the Albert Hall,
lightings at Christmas in Trafalgar Square.
On snowy days he listens to Baul songs on an old tape recorder,
cooks curry with finely chopped onion and fresh coriander.
Altab Ali, an ordinary Bangladeshi factory labour,
works in a bleak Hanbury Street basement,
producing coats of leather.
He came across the seven seas and thirteen rivers,
to make a fortune for his family who still remain
by the mighty Monu Gang, his childhood roaring river.
His bendy Bibi was a great storyteller.
‘People can be loved and respected regardless who they are’,
said his grandmother.
So he thought anyone can make his home in an unknown city
as long as one doesn’t hold animosity against another.
The diversity of the market people, at east London’s Petticoat Lane
give him the similar feeling and he feels he is not an anomaly, an intruder.
On Sundays, he finishes his regular chores and wears
his moth-ball smelling jungle-printed shirt
that is better than the Sami & Salimi’s on Brick Lane,
compared to that sent by his sister from Sylhet – Zindabazar.
He can just wash it by hand with cold water
hang it next to the burning radiator
wear it without ironing the lovely half sleeves made of polyester.
He was fearless and perhaps a little bit careless
and never thought people could simply murder
just because you are different from them, dissimilar.
He never feared dark places and white faces,
so when he was stopped by his attacker,
he dropped his tiffin carrier,
swallowed piercing punches and cried for a rescuer.
Before his sky got saffron red and a serious quiver
he desperately wished to see his loved ones,
his childhood Monu Gang river,
like any ordinary man would do;
but no one came to interfere.
So the crushed sycamore on the grass of St May’s
consumed his blood for ever,
he became an extraordinary news item for a BBC reporter.
Baul- A form of Bengali Sufi song
Altab Ali- Died in a racist attack in East London 1978