A Pakistani family of six children and a father in a tenement living room

Commissioned  for our World Storytelling Day event 2021, here’s a sneak preview from contributor Sunnah Khan. Read the poem below or listen to Sunnah’s reading.

In Scottish folklore faeries are spirit creatures or ‘hidden people’ who come in many different forms and temperaments. I was particularly intrigued by the good household faeries, goblin like creatures of the Highlands, who do odd jobs and help out around the house.

South Asian migrants are a well-known part of Scottish society, having settled in Scotland for over half a century. While stories of arrival have been orally passed down to me by my own mother, there’s a mythical quality to the lack of formal historical account and the quiet ways the first generation learnt to adapt and exist.

I was also intrigued by dictionary definitions of the word immigrant, one of which was ‘a permanent move to foreignness.’ I thought this was such a strange idea, to be forever trapped in the definition of not belonging.

Inspired by all these ideas I re-imagined a modern Scottish myth of a ‘hidden people’ and their arrival in Glasgow.

asian teenager in turban washing a shop window

Asian teenager in turban washing his shop window in Easter Road laundrette in Edinburgh, January 1974.

A Permanent Move to Foreignness


Our father a foreign land, sorcerer in a black coat


We watched him sleep

watched him rise with the Others

prise himself out of our sardine can suitcase

we were truly prisoners then

trapped in our tongues, extradited from the sun,

no spells or safe words                                           without him

our magic carpet was just a carpet


Our father, a desert tropic swamp – peripatetic rock


We became creatures of the shadows

hiding behind the bins                                 hiding

while we learnt the names for things

the first words we learnt were GOOD and MORNING

we could turn a Glasgow grey day            just by calling it so

we curled the Good around our tongues, sewed Good into our seams

stuffed Good into our pockets        our hands

stripped fish, bone cold

we wore coats on top of coats, socks over our sandals

they called us the ABOMNABLES


Our mother, a singing bowl, her grief capsized


We washed once a week down

the Steamie where they called us dirty

brownies        our faces red

from daily scrubbing

we took turns to sit in the bath,

returned to our true forms then

little  gods  of  the   Indian  ocean

We lassoed the sun a honeycomb sponge

lathered ourselves



We dreamt

ourselves back

to warm laps and wide beds

Grew arms and octopus legs

crossed the Atlantic down the globe

of our golden bellies                        traced home past

the equator of our bellybutton

A birth-

marked broken, under a British flag


Our father a moon bird, vertebrae possessed


Our shape shifting father turned bus conductor

Our father in the gutter, emptying out the bins

Our father reborn     a storm, wholesale purveyor

of secrets

stirring in the night to the poetry of Fiaz

Our fathers wet face, tired morning


Our father – a turbulent sea god. Forever

in his foreignness.

Shop fronts reading Sher Bros and Hamid Bros

Asian businesses in Glasgow, May 1972

All images © The Scotsman Publications Ltd. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk


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Guest Blog

From time to time we have guest posts from partners, visitors and friends of Historic Environment Scotland.