Writing Beyond: the Terrorist & the Bollywood Dancer

March 15, 2021

I am an Indian Muslim. I make it an exercise to see how the news decides to represent me with each political season that passes. Generally, I am either a terrorist or a woman repressed – in Hollywood I am the exotic Bollywood dancer, and in the world of Australian literature I simply do not exist. Must I rely on others to write me into existence?
In an increasingly racially diverse Australia, it is imperative that Australian literature broadens its narrow portrayal of national identity in order to represent the experiences of all Australians, particularly those who appear to exist beyond the established borders and myths of the historical Australian imagination.
I haven’t always possessed such a firm conviction. My parents migrated to Australia in 1998 in the hopes of providing me with the opportunity of a well-rounded education. As a child, I did not realise that my existence would mandate an ongoing battle between three contesting aspects of my identity; my ethnicity, the expectations of my Australian citizenship and my real place in Australian society.
I grew up reading Mem Fox’s "Possum Magic", Jackie French’s "Diary of a Wombat" and Norman Lindsay's "The Magic Pudding", which introduced me to the idealised world of the Australian outback. But it wasn’t until I read the poems of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson that I realised that Australian literature has always epitomised and romanticised the “Australian”: a man of British descent, a masculine larrikin of the bush, an embodiment of egalitarianism, resoluteness and mateship.
I could no longer ignore these images of implicit, British superiority over the Indigenous landscape. I could no longer ignore the fact that I was trying to adopt a culture that I could not identify with. One that was built upon the foundation of Indigenous dispossession, and which continued to operate through the gaze of imperialism in new, seemingly innocuous ways. It was in the process of gaining these new understandings about the Australia I once rejoiced that I realised that I had lost my native Urdu tongue.
The deeper I delved into my new understandings of Australian literature, the more my vision was sharpened to notice the cultural repression and blatant disregard for the identities of Indigenous Australian’s and immigrants—peripheral “Australians”.
The Challenging Racism Project in 2016 found that 31% of survey participants expressed “negative feelings” towards Muslim Australians, 23% towards Middle-Eastern Australians and 8% towards Indigenous Australians. The underrepresentation of people of colour in Australian literature has certainly served to reinforce the exclusion of the cultural ‘other’ in every aspect of Australian life. So, how can we give a platform to Australian voices once silenced, once ignored, once misunderstood?
By reading the works of others, I’ve realised that the answer lies at the heart of literature; the process of writing. It is through writing that we can challenge and transgress the boundaries of Australian literature; we can create our own diverse, rich and complex characters that wholly represent what it means to be Australian, dealing with the guilt, the racism, the unearned privilege in our contemporary world.
When I look at Australian poet and Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha woman, Ali Cobby Eckermann, I see a powerful woman who, despite her pain, is able to share her experiences of intergenerational trauma in the legacy of dispossession and erasure through writing. With each poem she writes, she resists the pressure to make her experiences of oppression as an Indigenous woman more palatable to a non-Indigenous audience. In her poem Ngingali (2015), Eckermann describes her mother as a metaphorical, “granite boulder” that she can, “no longer climb nor walk around”, exemplifying her feelings of dislocation and incompleteness associated with the colonial attempts to sever her relationship with her mother, her culture, her language and the land. Eckermann’s poetry is authentic. She compels me to write, to preserve myself in a world in which, otherwise, my stories will never be told. I am invited to write to share my cultural experiences with you, to challenge racial and religious biases and to restore order to the competing elements of my identity.
Because what we say matters.
I would like to acknowledge that one’s decision to transcribe their cultural experiences is an entirely personal one. Some writers choose to abandon their status as ethnic writers for fear of cultural fetishism. However, we cannot disregard the fact that being a writer necessarily involves possessing an agency of your own; the ability to define or re-define yourself away from the exploits of ethnic exoticism and harmful stereotyping. Writing brings with it the opportunity to discuss the beauty, without ignoring the pain of the human experience, such that intergenerational narratives of pain are no longer homogenised.
On a final note, the writing of Australians, of diverse ethnicities, implores us to write—even if, particularly if, our message goes against the tide of public opinion. I urge those who have felt that sinking despair and alienation from an Australian identity, those who have been told that their way of life is “un-Australian”, and those who are tired of being labelled, to: write your own story into existence.


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  • Hitasha

    Congrats on winning the op ed competition ! Btw, hi ! I am a Indian and I sure could relate to the article well because though I am a Hindu I have a lot of Muslim friend's and through them, I have got to know so much... Very well written and detailed article.. Bohut Bhariya

    6 months ago
  • dreamcatching

    Congrats!! This is a very detailed and educational piece.

    6 months ago
  • Ravi Tej Guntuku

    Congratulations on winning the Op-Ed competition!

    6 months ago
  • The Inky Writer

    This piece is so interesting and beautiful. Congrats on winning!

    6 months ago
  • Cher_Herondale

    Congratulations on winning!!! You deserved it, this was a enlightening piece of writing!

    6 months ago
  • Scorpious Malfoy


    6 months ago
  • Writing4Life

    (haha I actually entered a Henry Lawson writing competition which I won first place in. I went to Grenfell, where he was born, for the award ceremony, where I got to meet our deputy prime minister) Whoaaaah this is amazing! I live in Australia, so I obviously know about the Indigenous struggle, but this looks at it in a writers light, which I find (no pun intended) very enlightening. One of my favourite things about Australia is how multicultural it is. I've always found it such an inclusive country, but this piece shows that not everyone things the same way. I think our literature should be more inclusive <3 Well done!

    6 months ago
  • ~wildflower~

    Oh my gosh, this is just wonderful! You’re entirely right - Australian culture is so diverse yet so, so misrepresented in so many ways, and I hadn’t even realised the full extent of that until I read this piece. Thank you for writing this!!

    6 months ago
  • BriRiley

    Congratulations on winning the comp!

    6 months ago
  • Avril

    Oh this is brilliant and so enlightening. I love how you give specific examples to prove the implicit superiority of a specific type of Australian. And the ending was perfect wow! "write your own story into existence". Such an important message, congratulations on the win!!

    6 months ago
  • barelybear

    Congratulations! Your tone is so smooth and informative, and this piece was so well put together! This was such a well-deserved win, and I’m super glad that you’ve shared your message so brilliantly <3

    6 months ago
  • useless :)

    this is an amazing op-ed! congrats! :)

    6 months ago
  • Starlitskies

    Congratulations! Stunning piece! You definitely deserve it!

    6 months ago
  • sci-Fi

    Congrats on the win!!

    6 months ago
  • amaryllis

    Congratulations on the win! This piece is really enlightening and interesting, and your passion on the subject really comes through :)

    6 months ago
  • Ramses IV

    This is so amazing :)
    Congrats on winning the Op-Ed, you definitely deserved it!

    6 months ago
  • rwong

    wow this op-ed is...i mean...amazing!! congrats on your win -- you deserved it!!

    6 months ago
  • astrea

    awesome op-ed! congratulations on winning the competition!!!

    6 months ago
  • SunV

    This Op-ed is wonderful! I don't know if it even compares to your situation, but I could relate to this, I'm Indian, currently living in India, but I was born in the US, I learnt all the basics there, writing, talking, math, speaking, food, all my natural habits were influenced, and I'm just-- well, confused!

    Congratulations on winning the Op-Ed competition!

    6 months ago