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Sujata Bhatt, an Indian poet who was raised in the United States but was born in Gujarat, wrote “Search for My Tongue” when she was 12 years old. “Search for My Tongue” examines what it’s like to be an immigrant in a new society, the demands of assimilation, and the connection between language and identity while combining English and Gujarati. The poem “Search for My Tongue” was initially released in 1988 as a part of Brunizem, Bhatt’s first poetry collection.
About the poet
Sujata Bhatt was born in India in 1956, however, she later emigrated to the US where she completed her graduate studies in Iowa. She is well-known for her writing and translation work, and as a result of these characteristics, she has become a popular figure in the literary world.
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.
In these lines, the speaker answers a question about the meaning of losing one’s tongue. To get the listener’s attention, he urges them to observe themselves speaking in two tongues: their mother tongue and a foreign language. The speaker makes an argument that losing one’s mother tongue causes a sense of disconnection and makes it challenging to fully understand or use a foreign language. Even if one wanted to, the phrases demonstrate how difficult it is to successfully employ both languages at once.
The poem by Bhatt focuses on the idea of losing one’s tongue as it examines a fictitious discussion between the reader and herself. The opening three lines of the poem have a conversational tone, as Bhatt questions the person she is speaking to and responds to their own question. This back-and-forth conversation is exclusively shown in Bhatt’s voice. This strategy is effective because it enables communication between the poet and the reader, who share the same viewpoint and level of understanding.
Bhatt’s approach emphasizes the topic’s universality because it is a notion to which many people may connect. This is a good strategy because it prompts the other person to immediately feel the need to defend themselves when they question the “loss of her tongue.” The poem establishes a link between the poet and the reader and conveys the notion of different cultures interacting with one another.
As a result of the opening question’s lack of context, the poem’s approach makes the reader defensive. The remaining lines support this idea by making the reader feel sorry for the poet. Responding to questions with “what would you do” suggests that the person feels their perspective is the sensible one, which increases the poet’s defensiveness.
The idea of “losing” something essential to one’s nature and person in the poetry and then submerging oneself in something one did not know to make up for what one lost is understandable. The reader is more likely to identify with the notion of continuous struggle and ensuing sympathy as a result of the reader’s experience with the confusion of ideas, which is so powerful that it invades thought.
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,
The speaker discusses what it’s like to live somewhere when speaking a foreign language is necessary. She conveys her anguish and concern that, if not actively utilized and preserved, their mother tongue might decay and ultimately perish in their mouth. The thought of having to spit out one’s tongue and the sight of it decaying both represent the loss and erasure of one’s language and cultural identity. The speaker’s mention of dreaming in the final lines raises the potential of the mother language reviving and recovering its position, offering a ray of hope.
The poem explores the destruction caused by linguistic disputes, emphasizing the speaker’s concern over losing their native tongue and the repercussions of speaking a different language. According to Bhatt, speaking a language other than one’s own would cause the mother tongue to “rot, rot, and die in your mouth.” The term “rot” is used twice, which is suggestive since Bhatt thinks the damage is so terrible that just using the word once won’t do. The speaker reacts by stating that they must “spit it out,” which is similar to what someone may utter while having difficulty speaking, even though a language barrier is not the cause of their difficulty.
The language in quotation marks, which expresses the speaker’s disappointment, makes the listener feel more defensive. Since the speaker is the one who is “losing” their “tongue,” the outward annoyance of a listener just makes things worse. A “mother tongue” would have been learned so thoroughly that introducing a new language would probably not cause the speaker to lose the memory of their original one, therefore the language would not “rot” or “die” within them.
The concept of “rot and die” may broaden the linguistic distinction to include additional cultural variations that the poet might encounter. Perhaps Bhatt is upset about having to give up some of her culture and history in order to assimilate, and the language concept is just a way for her to express that.
In lines 15 and 16, Bhatt shifts her attention away from the other person to the conversation, giving up the strategy of asking how they would cope if they were in her position. She then goes into detail about how her “mother tongue” returned to her “overnight while she dreamed.” This mode of delivery suggests that Bhatt’s moment of significance comes just after she has talked to others about her circumstances, suggesting that what matters is not the people around her but rather who she continues to be. Once it happens, it is all about her and how she responds.
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
The speaker laments not speaking their own speech. Even if it appears to be dormant or suppressed, she insists that their original language, Gujarati, is still alive within them. She compares the development of their native tongue to a flower blooming and a fruit maturing. The passages express a feeling of being connected to one’s origins and the resilience of language.
The poem focuses on the speaker’s relationship with their mother tongue as it tackles the themes of language and identity. Gujarati expressions and repetitions highlight the importance of language for one’s identity and emotions. The speaker recognizes that even if their mother tongue is not always visible or actively spoken, they nevertheless feel its influence. The metaphor “foolnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh” connects a flower’s blossoming to the flourishing of the mother tongue, representing the beauty and vitality of language. The phrase “modhama pakay chay” compares the ripening of fruit to the sustenance and expansion of the speaker’s mother language, signifying the ongoing growth and diversity of their linguistic heritage.
These lines emphasize language’s adaptability and durability, reiterating its importance and continued existence despite outside influences or the domination of other languages. The speaker emphasizes the importance of preserving one’s native language and culture as well as their deep connection to their linguistic heritage. A feeling of desire, resiliency, and the continuing influence of language in forming personal and cultural identity are conveyed throughout these lines, which examine the complexity of linguistic identification and the intense emotional attachment to one’s mother tongue.
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.
The speaker describes how their mother tongue is resilient and productive. The speaker makes a comparison between the revival of their original tongue with the development of a new branch from a stump. The dominance of the foreign tongue is overpowered by the growth of the new tongue, which becomes longer, stronger, and more alive. Despite appearing forgotten or gone, the lines suggest the mother tongue’s enduring influence and rebirth.
The poem examines Bhatt’s “mother” language and how it develops through time. The poem highlights the fact that her “mother tongue” is “moist” and “bud opens,” displaying fresh life and vitality that would be typical of a garden that “blossoms” despite adverse circumstances. Because of her tenacity and zest for life, Bhatt finds that her “mother tongue” is still there and active inside of her, even though she initially believes she has forgotten it. As plants have a life cycle that results in “buds” and “blossoms,” this “forgetting” and “remembering” process is connected to the natural world. Even if Bhatt only encounters this society at night in a dream, the concept that “the mother tongue” “ties the other tongue in knots” suggests the persistence of the culture she thinks to be her “first” connection. This means that Bhatt’s native culture will continue to be a “strong” part of her life as long as she adheres to it, regardless of how much she utilizes it in her current life.
There are two possibilities for the reasoning behind this divide. The first is that Bhatt has demonstrated a degree of concern about losing her culture, which may have been exaggerated as a result of her stress. This would emphasize the value of the poet’s “tongue” to her and stress its relevance to her. The second possibility is that she only “loses” her “tongue” sometimes over the course of the day, that is, it is present inside of her but is momentarily overpowered by the “tongue” she must use in her day-to-day life. According to this view, the “tongue” was just momentarily “pushed” aside rather than truly being gone.
A person attempting to balance their “mother” being with a “foreign” thought is well depicted in the poem. Even if more components are added to a person, their history and character can still be preserved. However, there is always a risk that the person’s identity could disappear. Although it is a continuous and difficult process, neither a “tongue” nor a culture must be stolen.