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    The poem Gujarati Essay (1188 words)

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    The speaker in “Search for My Tongue” by Sujata Bhatt describes to us what it feels like to speak and think in two languages. She wonders whether she might lose her “mother tongue” (her original language) as she lives in a foreign country, where it is not main language. However as she sleeps, she dreams that the “mother tongue” remains a part of her identity. By the end, she has resolve that it will always be a part of who she really is.

    The poem begins with a conversational tone, which is appropriate as it is about language and communication. The first-person speaker addresses the reader, “you”, who has the question that prompts the rest of the poem. The speaker asks the reader to imagine having two tongues in your mouth; this is how Bhatt perceives the problem. The unconscious relation of language to the tongue is common, as it is one of the crucial organs we use when speaking.

    The speaker tells us that her “tongue” has been lost, but what she means is her original language has been lost. Used colloquially “lost my tongue,”(2) means that someone does not know what to say or is ‘tongue-tied’ (an image that will manifest itself graphically later in the poem). The notion of having two actual tongues in your mouth provides a sensation of equivalent strong discomfort felt by someone living in a foreign language environment. The nature of this discomfort is displayed in line 5-6. Her original language long atrophied from disuse, is what she feels comfortable with. The “foreign tongue” (7) that becomes her adopted voice is one that she has little command over. The imagery in lines 10-14 is quite shocking and grotesque. The mother tongue decaying, she imagines it might “rot and die in her mouth”(13), as the foreign language begins to consume her.

    The middle section of the poem is written in Gujarati. This whole section occurs while she is dreaming. For most people reading this poem, Gujarati will be a dream-like language. It has exoticness and striking visual presence in comparison to the English alphabet that is the norm. The letters may look alien and foreign looking, but a clever use of irony is being employed here. This is her language.

    What it looks like to the English-only speaker is what English must have looked like to her. Another reason for the inclusion of the Gujarati section is that it gives a first hand representation of the two languages in her life. Looking at the curvaceous shape of the Gujarati letters, (although no credit to Bhatt) and comparing them to the angular nature of the English letters, one can visualise how her mother tongue can tie, “the other tongue in knots” (34). At her lowest when she feels that she is losing her identity, her language triumphantly asserts itself. That which is lost is found.

    The poet develops her idea by using an extended metaphor; she compares her ‘tongue’ to a plant. The plant is a metaphor for the tongue, which itself has earlier been used as a (conventional) metaphor, for speech. Like a plant it, its rots and dies because it is in the wrong environment. But in her dreams it “grows”(31), it has the ability nurture itself and become “longer”(32) which could be an indication of her vocabulary expanding. The “strong veins”(32-33) show that her tongue is becoming vitalised and tougher. The extended metaphor helps the reader to appreciate the poet’s feelings of her original language. It shows that she prefers her own language, the beauty and spectacular nature of the flower blossoming compliments the beauty of her language.

    The structure of the poem is very interesting. Bhatt represents her shared culture and language by the way the poem is presented on the page. The middle section of the poem is written in Gujarati. This is framed on either side by her English language. Therefore, the Gujarati voice is presented as a shared part of her English voice (and all of this is how the poem works as a poem, the medium. In this case the medium mirrors the message: the poem’s presentation on the page, one voice within another, mirrors the significance of the poem).

    This poem concerns itself with the predicament that Asians raised in the West find themselves with. Being part of both cultures and moving between two languages can sometimes mean that one genuinely feels part of neither. There is conflict between the original language and the language she has adopted in the foreign country and this represents the conflict between cultural identities. The search for the tongue that has been lost through neglect is therefore mirrored by the search for cultural identity.

    In ‘Nothings Changed’, by Tatamkhulu Afrika, the speaker has returned to a deserted and desolate District Six, finding only the odd building indicating that white people now inhabit the area. District Six is (was) a famous residential district, situated at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a lively working-class neighbourhood, home to a large multi-cultural population. Many artists, musicians and other creative people lived there also. In 1966 the South African government declared District Six as a ‘whites only’ area, and began to evacuate the population. Over the years the complete area has been destroyed and physically deteriorated. It has never been redeveloped despites its prime location and is a key reminder of the apartheid years. (District Six Museum)

    The poem depicts a society where the rich and the poor are divided. This division is parallel to the division between the whites and blacks. The vehicle that Afrika uses to illustrate this division is the place of eating. The “up-market”(22) inn that is “new”(22) is somewhere where the white people come to eat. It is described to be “brash with glass”(17). The use of “brash” signifies the mood of the speaker: anger. There is more pain and the feeling of exclusivity is magnified if he can see what is happening inside, the higher, richer standard of living that the white people enjoy and what he is being excluded from. He feels offended that proprietors of the restaurant want to maintain the racial divide.

    The sign “flaring like a flag”(18) reinforces the speaker’s rage. The crudeness is emphasised and it seems out of place. The harsh consonantal sounds of “flaring” and “flag” show also how the speaker feels. The building “squats”(19) is quite a comical image, but there is also the element of underlying rage ever present. Again the feeling that the inn does not really belong there is felt and the blunt consonants echo the poet’s anger.

    The elegance of the linen tablecloths and the tables each with a “single rose”(32) is contrasted with the common and grungy, “working man’s caf�”(34). It is not “haute cuisine”(23) that they serve but “bunny chow”(35) a cheap and filling take-away food eaten mainly by the poor. There is no formality or a worry about etiquette, no “linen”(31), but the food is eaten straight from a plastic top, and there is nowhere to wash one’s hands after eating: “wipe your fingers on your jeans”(48).

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    The poem Gujarati Essay (1188 words). (2017, Nov 01). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/the-poem-gujarati-25528/

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