Urdustan is Sabina England’s first book, a collection of seven stories which was self-published in 2012 and recently re-released and available for purchase at Lulu. Sabina England is a Deaf Indian Muslim filmmaker, playwright and performance artist whose films have screened at film festivals in Europe, India, and all over the United States and Canada. She currently lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri. Urdustan reveals multiple personalities of the South Asian diaspora that are often ignored. The stories are interwoven with different characters from many walks of life — Hasidic Jews, African Americans, punks, deaf teens, gay males, and even supernatural creatures such as vampires and angels.
She was born to be a punk. Allah had planned for her to become one. Her mother often liked to tell people that she and her husband conceived their daughter while a Sex Pistols’ song played on the radio, followed by a night of British punk. They weren’t punks and had never even heard of punk rock. The freshly married couple had just emigrated to Great Britain from India so everything in London was strange and new for them. When they first heard the Sex Pistols song on the radio, the mother was shocked, greatly disturbed by how profane and angry the lyrics were. But it turned her on, she admitted. They had intercourse and he impregnated her. That was back in the 1980s, when punk was huge. They named her Khoobsurat and she was born and raised in London. Being an only child, she had no other family in Britain besides her parents. Her father died in a car crash a long time ago when she was a child, and her mother had recently passed away from a rare disease. All of her other relatives lived in West Bengal, India.
She was now in her mid to late-twenties — she never liked to reveal her exact age — and she worked as a professional bone-cutter in a slaughterhouse. She fronted vocals and played electric guitar in an East End punk band called the Thuggees. Her full name was Khoobsurat Khan. Khoobsurat meant beautiful in Hindi.Only her mother called her that. Everyone else called her Killer. Killer Khan. Taxi Driver was her favourite movie, and Travis Bickle, the lead character played by Robert DeNiro, was nicknamed Killer. Ever since she saw the movie in high school, she demanded everyone call her that. Besides, Killer Khan was a cool name. She thought it was punk as fuck. She had a shaved jet-black Mohawk and was often seen in her trademark black leather bodysuit and muddy, vintage Chuck Taylor All-Stars shoes. Whenever she wasn’t working, she would slip into her black leather bodysuit and head out for another show or party. She didn’t care that she didn’t own too many clothes. All she needed was black leather and she was content.
Killer got annoyed if anyone called her a goth-punk or horror-punk or death-punk just because she was interested in horror mythology, paranormal sciences, and morbid folk tales. She insisted she was a punk — and that was it. No labels, no offshoots, she told everyone in the scene. They were all punks, and that was it. No street punks or dread punks or goth punks or Oi punks or skin punks or greaser punks or cyber punks or metal punks or skater punks or rockabilly punks or any of that bullshit. Punk, and that was it.
One late evening, she worked overtime in the slaughterhouse to earn extra money. She needed more money so she could move out of her dingy flat in the East End and move somewhere bigger where she could turn one room into a rehearsal space and recording studio for her band. She had been cutting animal bones all evening and she deposited them into a large metal basin, later to be pulverized into bone powder. Exhausted, she sat down at the cutting table to work on lyrics for her next song, but she wasn’t sure what to put down. She suffered from a severe case of writer’s block for a few days and it bothered her.
As she sat there and thought hard, she heard a noise. It sounded as if someone had fallen over or crashed into some tables. She turned around, and a person stood a few feet away. She became concerned because she was the only person working in the slaughterhouse tonight, aside from a security guard. She had spoken to him earlier and he would be at his post all night, so it couldn’t have been him.
The person emerged from the darkness. Killer’s eyes widened and she jumped off her seat.
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” she cried, “are you alright?”
In front of her stood a young South Asian woman dressed in a traditional light blue shalwar kameez. The shalwar was so long it covered her legs and feet. It was drenched with dark red blood all over. Her hair was messy and her hands were covered in blood. Her face was blank. Killer hurried over to her and gently put one of her hands on the girl’s shoulders. The girl hissed, her eyes glinting with great terror. Startled, Killer took a step back and raised her arms.
“Whoa,” Killer said, “I’m not trying to hurt you. What’s wrong? Why do you have blood all over your shalwar?”
The girl in the bloodied dress remained silent and continued to stare at Killer, which made her feel uneasy. She could have sworn the mysterious girl hated her with gusto even though they met barely a second ago. Killer wondered who she was and why she was in the slaughterhouse in the middle of night. It was unusual. Most people couldn’t bear to be inside this place because of the strong smell of animal carcasses. Still, Killer felt sorry for the poor young woman.
“Did someone try to rape you? I’ll kill the pig and cut off his dick. Just tell me who did this to you.”
The mysterious girl gave no response. She stood still, her face expressionless.
“Did you escape from your parents? Did you come from an abusive home? Or did you have an abusive boyfriend? Did he beat you?”
No response. Killer then realized maybe the girl didn’t know English. So she spoke Hindi and repeated the same question—did she come from an abusive home, did she have an abusive boyfriend, did someone try to rape her? Yet the girl remained silent.
“Ok, maybe you’re not a Hindi speaker,” Killer murmured. “Let’s try this in Bengali.” She repeated the questions in scant Bengali. Even though she was Bengali, she knew Hindi better, having learned Hindi from Bollywood films while growing up. Hoping for a response, Killer groaned when the girl stood still and stayed quiet. She hadn’t even moved an inch.
“I don’t know Punjabi or Urdu or Tamil or Kannada or Malayalam or Sinhalese or Nepali or Marathi or Telugu or Oriya or any other languages besides Hindi and Bengali,” Killer moaned. “How the hell am I supposed to help you if you won’t speak?”
Then it dawned on her. Maybe the girl was deaf and that was why she didn’t speak or make any signs of response. Killer knew a bit of British Sign Language, having learned it in school, so she signed the same questions to the girl.
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