1st SG Foreign Worker Poet: Migrant Difficulties
Article: Foreign worker who published book started by scribbling poetry on bags of cement
Source: Straits Times (23 May, 2016)
Migrants of low privilege, Prejudiced locals, Aspiring writers, and Underdog story lovers.
WHAT IS TOLD
Md Mukul Hossine, a Bangladeshi construction worker in Singapore, published a poetry collection Me Migrant with Ethos Books on 1 May. He wrote in Bengali and received help with the translations from Singaporean poet Cyril Wong no less! He has also published 2 books in Bangladesh.
Mukul faced many obstacles in seeking to work abroad for his writing dreams, and his family suffered much monetary losses in the process. He finally got the construction job in 2010. For his dreams, he exhausts long nights, writes for a local monthly, attends literary events, and volunteers as a translator.
WHY IT MATTERS
For the unacquainted, Singaporeans make a clear distinction between 1) Foreign talents stealing PMET jobs, and 2) Foreign workers stealing manual jobs. The most vocal seems to regard 1) with anger and injustice, and regard 2) with discomfort and fear. The government will tell us to be grateful to 1) for driving the economy, and 2) for doing jobs that we Singaporeans don’t want to do.
Mukul’s story encourages us to step back from politics and stereotypes, because it gives a face to the faceless prejudices we tend to box the unfamiliar in. My first response was surprise, as it seemed implausible that this group we effectively classify as low-status in Singapore does or can do anything other than what’s necessary for us. But no!
I’m further struck by the nature of this unlikely tale: Bengali poems -> English poetry collection. Clearly Ethos Books saw the glaring gap in local literature, which is admittedly hard to fill. Mukul represented the negotiation of cultural identity with candid passion. Migrant voices do matter. I was reminded of NS, the period I felt was ideal for musing and pouring out ideas. (Unless your commander is a poet too!)
Reading what Mukul’s done amidst the toil makes me feel a bit of shame, but also respect and encouragement. I’m glad some of us have the ethos to pay attention.
HOW TO RESPOND
Migrants: Don’t believe or subscribe to others’ stereotypes of your group. Don’t do worse by becoming jealous of the “deviants” who surpass expectations!
Prejudiced locals: The unfamiliar can be dangerous, or it can represent our oversized aversion to life’s difficulties. Observe before you judge, not the other way round!
Aspiring writers: Migrate to another country and make it big! Or at least step away from armchair comforts and live more difficulties. *note to self*
Underdog story lovers: That’s all, folks! Why not go further and explore this story from different angles? You can start by referring to what is untold (below).
WHAT IS UNTOLD
How do other foreign workers perceive what Mukul is doing?
Was his literary background – published in Bangladesh – necessary for the book deal in Singapore? Are such creative opportunities shut from everyone else?
Or was Cyril Wong the key component for the book deal?