Updated: Apr 9, 2022
Sujata Bhatt’s Search for my Tongue in Brunizem (published in 1988) is an eight-page poem using Gujarati lines, Followed by the same in Roman script, followed by a translation in English. These devices are used in all three books. Sometimes there is Gujarati in the title along with the English title, and some poems use a few Gujarati words. The collection has won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia) and the Alice Hunt Barlett Award. Brunizem is a dark grassland soil found in Asia, Europe, and North America, the three worlds of Sujata Bhatt’s imagination.
At the beginning of Search for My Tongue, the Gujarati sentences are translated quite literally into English. As the poem progresses the Gujarati lines remain flat, prosaic, and richer, spinning off associations and graphically building on them so they work quite independently of the Gujarati original. Yet Search for my Tongue is clumsy and contrived, it is her only poem that was published in a US diaspora anthology, Our Feet Walk the Sky (1993).
The poet speaks about how she could not forget her origin. She tells how she got struck in between two cultures and how she could not survive without any one of them. Though she lives by the foreign tongue and culture and appears as though her mother tongue has perished, deep inside it is still present with all its essence and beauty.
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The poet speaks about how she has two different languages (Gujarati-Mother tongue and English) and is struggling to express her feelings (to choose between the two). This poem is divided into three sections. In the first section, the poet initially says that her tongue is slipping away from her. Though she tries to catch hold of it as tight as possible it slips from her anyway. She couldn’t speak anything because she doesn’t know what language she is to use. She is in search of her tongue she says. But she doesn’t know where to find it. She runs to the river edge to find her language. There she sees nothing, the river is dry, and the sky is empty. Neither any cloud to bring rain nor any bird to show that the river is fertile. By all these, she means to say her mind is empty and all the sources to find her language is empty too. She then says where there is water there lies her tongue (the source of her language). She then thinks of a country incident, a little girl who brings water in a pitcher to serve people. She once drank water from her and she can never forget her, but the thing that’s bothering her is that she couldn’t think of this same girl in English. (There are certain things that can be aesthetic only when narrated in its native language that is what the poet is also lacking. What she imagines can be effective and aesthetic only if explained in the mother tongue).
In the second section, the poet addresses the readers who are puzzled by the phrase ‘Search for my tongue'. The poet questions them about what would they do if they have got two languages; the first native language is lost and at the same time you do not know the foreign language deeper. When one lives in a place where only the foreign language can be used then your native language would automatically rot in the mouth until it is been used out in any of the forms (written or spoken). The poet thought she has lost her mother tongue when she was in deep sleep in her dream, the language, grew back, it blossomed like a flower and ripened like a fruit. She tells whenever she thinks she has lost her mother tongue it grows. Now she compares both her languages by describing a single scene using them. She describes when she looks at a black crow flying above, and then the sky and the sun beyond in English, she could think better of the sky, the clouds, and how those clouds would bring snow and the first snow that comes on thanksgiving. But to think in Gujarati she uses three terms for just sky, then she sees the crows flying in a plain sky with no clouds but just the sun, no crop or a grain below it, and the presence of no vegetation to eat but just crows. She could get deeper culturally when she uses her own language. She then picturizes her homeland experiences how the monsoon cuts the electricity supply and how her mom used to make food in the kitchen with the brightness of the brass candle, singing Rabindranath Tagore’s Bengali song. She says when she thinks of her mother she can’t hear her in English (which would be artificial). In the third section, the poet speaks to her mother tongue Gujarati (personifying the language). Gujarati tells her the childhood happenings (once how she was in her day-to-day life). She says her mother tongue speaks to her, it says her name in proper pronunciation, it apologizes for the dogs barking outside, the laundryman’s door knocks, then the cry of the woman selling eggplants in the street (all could only be imagined in the native language). She then says she actually misses those days, the cry of the old woman, even the brass bell ringing when the laundry man comes, the mailman talking in a loud voice, the crows cawing everywhere, and the rickshaw’s sound (though they were annoying she misses them because it gives her back the life she was born into). Now the poet says Gujarati gives her land’s essence through the music (the native music from tablas). The “dha dhin dhin dha, dhinaka dhinaka dhin dhin, dha dhin dhin dha …” gives her the touch of originality, the identity of who she really is. She says she can’t forget what she really was and what her origin is, just because she doesn’t live there anymore. Translation credits: Rohit Tantia, Surat, Gujarat. Sources: Nine Indian Women Poets An Anthology Our Feet Walk the Sky: Women of the South Asian