Search for My Tongue – Sujata Bhatt



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Search for My Tongue – Sujata Bhatt

You ask me what I mean


by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,
(munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha)

(may thoonky nakhi chay)
(parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay)

(foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh)



(modhama kheelay chay)

(fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh)

(modhama pakay chay)

it grows back, a stump of a shoot


grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I've forgotten,

I think I've lost the mother tongue,

it blossoms out of my mouth.


Search for My Tongue – Sujata Bhatt

Possible themes: Identity; Living between two cultures; Language; Race.



Facts

Quotes/facts

Explanation/effects

Content




  1. The poet writes about losing her tongue = forgetting how to speak her Mother tongue.

  2. But then, as she dreams, her mother tongue re-asserts itself

  3. She writes for a while in Gujarati, then translates it for us.

Comes from when she was in America studying English, and feared she was being ‘Americanised’/losing her Indian identity.

She writes: ‘I have always thought of myself as an Indian who is outside India … That's the deepest layer of my identity."  



Feelings of the Poet







  1. At first she talks about the two languages as though they were at war, and is fearful the foreign tongue seemed to be winning.

  2. However, she finished confidently reasserting her knowledge of her Indian identity.

‘rot and die’

‘I thought I had spit it out’

‘then overnight while I dream’

‘every time I think I've forgotten … it blossoms out of my mouth’


= the foreign tongue is winning by default (‘rot’) or because she is consciously not using it (‘spit it out’)
= the allusion to her ‘dreams’ has TWO meanings one, she speaks Gujarati literally in her dreams, but also, it is her dream (her longing) to speak it always.










Structure







  1. Free verse

  2. One stanza

  3. Middle section in Gujarati




  1. Transcribed phonetically

  2. Then translated



‘munay hutoo’

‘It grows back’



= just her thoughts coming tumbling out

= one long, coherent argument

Represents the Gujarati language re-asserting itself/’growing back’

= pride in her language (she is getting us to read it)

= repeats the triumph of her language for us to read x3


Use of Language







  1. First person

  2. The image of a ‘tongue’



  1. Nasty images of decay




  1. Extended metaphor of her ‘tongue’ as a plant



  1. Repetition


‘I’ ‘my’

‘I have lost my tongue’

‘rot and die’

‘I thought I had spit it out’

Lines 30-35: ‘grows’, ‘shoots’, ‘buds’, ‘blossoms’
‘grows back … grows longer etc.’

‘the bud opens … the bud opens’



Stresses that this is autobiographical/personal

= physical organ we use to speak/ = language/ but also = ‘tongue-tied’ and hesitant (reflecting her fear that she was losing her identity and become Americanised.

Reflects the horror and disgust she feels at losing her tongue and Indian identity

= the strong growth of the flower choking and replacing the ‘weed’ of the foreign language.

= emphasises the unstoppableness of the growth

= reflects the excitement she feels



YOUR feelings

As we grow older, we lose some of the habits and practices of our childhood – and sometimes we like to return to them!



Sujata Bhatt – Search for my Tongue

This poem is about Sujata Bhatt being afraid that she was losing her identity as a Gujarati-speaking Indian. It comes from a time when she was in America studying English, and feared she was being ‘Americanised’, and forgetting her first language (her ‘mother tongue’)

The content of the poem consists of the poet writes about losing her tongue, by which she means forgetting how to speak her mother tongue because she had always to speak English (‘the foreign tongue’).

Then, however, as she dreams, her mother tongue re-asserts itself as her first language.

She writes first in Gujarati (e.g.), then she gives us the pronunciation of the Gujarati (e.g. ‘munay hutoo’), then she translates it for us (meaning: ‘It grows back’).

The feelings of the poet are at first distress that she is losing her mother tongue.

At first she talks about the two languages as though they were at war, and is fearful the foreign tongue seemed to be winning. She seems to think that the foreign tongue is winning because she is not using it (she talks about how it will ‘rot and die’) or because she is consciously not using it (‘I thought I had spit it out’).

However, she finishes confidently, reasserting her knowledge of her Indian identity.

You can sense her happiness when she writes: ‘overnight while I dream … every time I think I've forgotten … it blossoms out of my mouth’.

The allusion to her ‘dreams’ has TWO meanings – one, that she speaks Gujarati literally in her dreams, but also, it is her ‘dream’ (her longing) to speak it always.
The Structure of the poem is that it is written as a single stanza, representing one long coherent assertion to the reader that it is her Gujarati language which is most important to her.

The poem starts in English – because the story starts with her worrying that English is taking over in her life.

But then the entire middle section is Gujarati, a visual assertion that, for her Gujarati is growing back/ re-asserting itself at the centre of her life, and that she is proud of it.

When she writes it phonetically, and then translates it, it is not because English is more important, but simply because she is doing the reader a favour. The result is that the reader reads the story of how Gujarati triumphed over English THREE times!

In her use of language, the poet writes in free verse, so that her poem feels just like a lecture, giving her thoughts as they come out of her head.

She writes in the first person – ‘I’ – to show that this is a personal battle, but also so other readers in the same situation will be able to read it as though it is their personal poem too.

She uses the word ‘tongue’ in three ways, firstly as the physical tongue in her mouth, secondly as her ‘mother tongue’ (her language), but also as a symbol of her personal identity and Indian culture.

The poem consists of an extended metaphor of her language as a plant. At first she is worried that it is going to ‘rot and die’ (that she is forgetting it), but then in lines 30-35: it ‘grows’, ‘shoots’, ‘buds’, ‘blossoms’, representing the poet growing in confidence , remembering Gujarati words, forming them on her lips, and finally speaking them full out fluently in Gujarati.

One a powerful image is of her tongue rotting in her mouth and her ‘spitting it out’, reflecting the horror and disgust she felt at losing her tongue and Indian identity.

The repetition: ‘the bud opens … the bud opens’ symbolises the unstoppableness of the process, but also her excitement that it is happening and that she is re-finding her Gujarati identity.


The poem reminds me of how, as I have grown older, I too have lost some of the good habits and practices of childhood – and perhaps I ought to return to them!




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