A Lesson in Pronunciation

A letter to all the women who I have met whose names tint my fingertips like haldi, whose names kick back like chilly flakes, whose names powder their way onto unknowing tongues like turmeric

 

Do not let them dirty your name in their mouths

 

You are Meena, not Minnie.

You are Jaspreet, not Jessie.

You are Gurleen, not Gwen.

 

Do not worry about your name feeling like a jhootie to the jaw

You translate enough of your own mannerisms you do not need to dissect your name for every one you meet

 

Brown girl fikar nah ka

you are not the fragile pot your grandmother used to carry water in.

You are the clay it is made of.

You are soft to the touch, but harden when left out to dry.

You are damp earth,

you are garden of mint leaves,

You are goddess walking

 

Brown girl your bones are made out of the marble our gurdwaras are carved out of.

I will kneel at your feet,

I will erect statues in your honour,

I will sing your praise

 

But,

I know these words are bland, unseasoned coming from me, Robyn

Privilege drips from my very name

I always introduce myself with a blinding white smile

Flash easy to pronounce syllables

Letters that do not get stuck in between cashmere teeth

 

My mother poured me out of her in Montreal not Punjab,

I win the birthplace lottery every time I open my eyes

My parents crowned me with a European name so that my life would be a little sweeter like French toast for breakfast instead of paranthas

This is the best simile for assimilation I have

 

They tried to give me an escape route through my birth certificate

I have been trying to decolonize my name but how do I immigrate from the king’s English

 

Robyn, first name,

I used to never make space for

Kaur and Sidhu

A middle and last name that I have tried to drown in Punjabi rivers

But my consonants have started learning how to swim

 

Kaur means crown prince, all Sikh women share this title,

And it can also be used as a last name,

It is a reminder that we are all equal and as regal as men

I have been asked about my middle name so often,

People just cannot seem to wrap their head around a collective title

 

They ask “Kaur, like the core of an apple?”

I say yes I am the core of this whole damn planet,

I am magma,

Why does my name taste like ash in your mouth

 

They ask “Kaur, like the French word for heart?”

I say yes, I am the collective heartbeat of millions of women,

I am heartbreak echoing off of wheat fields,

Watch my heart break in subtitles now

 

My last name Sidhu,

Sidhu

pronounce it with some gravity in your chest

Do not let the syllables float around like moon dust

Do not let them dissipate into space

 

I am from one of the oldest clans in Punjab,

Sidhu not sea-do,

White people keep telling me a sea-do is a type of jet ski,

My name is not a type of jet ski

My name has been drowning in the oceans my parents crossed to get here

 

Robyn Kaur Sidhu

 

I use two accents when I name myself

I am taking up space here between the Rebeccas and Ryans

And reclaiming my forefather’s tongue at the same time

Brown girl you should too,

Let your name bhangra its way out your throat

Giddah  its way around the room

 

Let the whole damn world pronounce you right

Robyn Kaur SidhuComment