Annum Salman, a Pakistani spoken word poet and author of her debut poetry book “Sense Me,” recently released a spoken word video titled “Anna.” The four minute video combines her poignant words with the contemporary dance of Vasnica Srishinkar, who is a dance student at the University of Surrey. The poem highlights the effects of British colonization on Pakistanis and the need for acceptance from the western world.
Annum left the PR world in Pakistan, where she was heading the creative department at a PR firm, to pursue an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Surrey. She always dreamt of becoming a writer and started writing poetry and short stories from a young age. Financial circumstances at home did not allow her to do her undergraduate’s degree in the UK, so she spent three years in Malaysia instead to study Public Relations and Communication. It was in Malaysia that Annum took over her first stage and performed in front of an audience. She continued performing over more stages across Malaysia as well as Pakistan. She was selected as a qualifier from Karachi and competed in the Pakistan Poetry Slam in 2017 held in Lahore.
Annum always performs in English. She recalls the surprise people often show at the quality of her spoken English, and she is often embarrassed that she speaks another language better than her mother tongue. Pakistanis are often pressurized from a young age to speak and write English fluently. The official language of the country is English and people are often confined into particular social classes depending on their ability to speak English.
Annum’s dream came true when she finally came to the UK in 2017 to study. However, soon she realized that this feeling of accomplishment which could only be achieved if she and others were able to speak and write in English well was ingrained by ancestors and society, that emphasized on knowing the language of those who had once conquered the subcontinent to be able to feel like they were successful. No matter how hard Annum tried, she realized she would never be considered British but maybe there wasn’t a need to be. It was important that she accepted herself and her nationality without shame.
The video she created as her ode to her new found identity was inspired by Annum’s coffee shop name. She told people over the counter that she was Anna because having to spell Annum would confuse them and they’d mess up and it would take her longer to get her coffee. That is where the poem Anna came from, a feeling of embarrassment and loss of identity, culture and race. She started wondering what life would be like if she was Anna rather than Annum and whether changing her name would be worth losing her own beautiful and rich heritage.
It is an interesting thought, what would the world be like if borders didn’t exist, and if countries weren’t labelled by their stereotypes? Annum believes that at the heart of this question is whether racism is based on the colour of one’s skin or whether it comes from systems established through colonisation that have defined nations such as Pakistan and concluded who is superior.
Anna by Annum Salman is available to watch over Youtube and is included in the poetry book “Sense Me” available on Amazon UK and AuthorhouseUK’s website. You can follow Annum on Instagram by the handle @writeroholic and on Twitter @AnnumSalman.