A spoken word poet who is Indian at heart and Malaysian by nationality, Melizarani T. Selva wants to shatter gender and geographical stereotypes while pursuing things her mother strictly warned her against.
‘I struggle with my identity or should I say my Indiantity? Though I proudly tick ‘Indian’ on tiny check boxes on forms trying to fit me into a category; yet I am nothing but a statistic if the category denies me.’ Melizarani T. Selva, as her lines suggest, does not appreciate being restricted to a mould. A fourth generation Indian living in Malaysia, the spoken word poet, published writer, journalist and TedX speaker at the recent Mumbai chapter, is ‘work in progress’ as she likes to call it. With every verse, she aims to shatter a stereotype — about being a Malaysian-Indian or an Indian-Malaysian woman—depending on how you view her world. The written rebellion sparked off when she was denied the job of a TV presenter in Malaysia for being brown and that of a radio jockey for being a woman. Quite naturally, these are two of the factors that find much resonance in her poems. “I can only write poems based on true stories. We need to tell our story to everyone and break stereotypes. As I evolve as a poet, there are different stories I want to tell through my poems. For instance, in my country I am a non-Muslim and not allowed to utter the word Allah, which inspired my poem Blank—which talks about the problems of religion in the world.”
Meliza has been the first runner up at the National Singapore Slam and the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and performed at the Georgetown Literary Festival among several other stages in Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. What started as a passion fives years ago has grown into a full-fledged mission. “After the launch of my first book Women, which talks about Indian women’s individuality, being brown-skinned, being curvy etc., a young girl came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for telling what I couldn’t say.’ That moment I realized that I need to keep writing and keep doing what I am doing,” says Meliza who believes that most of her writing comes from her entity as a woman. “The core of my identity rests on being a woman. Every word that I articulate comes from my feminine identity and outlook on the world. I am constantly trying to better my understanding of what it means to be a lady.” Little wonder then, that her strongest inspirations are women such as Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo and her paati (grandmother). “Earlier I was inspired by a poet from Tennessee on YouTube and recently I am inspired by a poet named Pooja Nancy from Singapore. But most of my work is semi-autobiographical,” she adds.
Often when asked about the core of her content, Meliza has a simple response — she writes about stuff that her mother told her, not to. Her book Taboo for instance, is a compilation of her poems that came about loosely from being a rebellious daughter. “The book is divided according to the five goddesses, where each goddess represents a theme. First one is Aditi – mother of all gods; this section talks about identity poems. Aphrodite talks about love poems, Helen of Troy discusses the challenges we face in our daily lives, Eve talks about rebirth and courage and Atlas discusses the deconstruction of all those identities. This book is my pride and joy.”
As an Indian born in Malaysia, Meliza believes that she has a different perspective of the ethnicity than those who’re born and brought up here. “For me India is home. I see India as a point of beginning, not closure. People do not want to associate themselves with India, which is surprising for me. I do not see Indian society as problem-ridden or illiterate. I see them as an evolving identity. India has this feeling that this place is our motherland and we have to take care of this place.” The thought rings loud and clear as she concludes her poem with, “Accept me as I accept you with my hands open wide, because I choose to tick Indian, as I am from the inside.”...