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The Context Of The Poem
Sujata Bhatt was born in the Indian state of Gujarat where her mother
tongue was Gujarati. Later she moved onto United States where she
learnt English. In and interview, she says " I have always thought of
myself as an Indian who is outside India". Her mother tongue is for
her and important link to her family and to her childhood. " That's
the deepest layer of my identity".
What Is The Poem About
1. The poet explains what it is like to speak and think into two
2. She wonders whether she might lose the language she began with.
3. However, the mother tongue remains with her in her dreams.
4. By the end, she is confident that it will always be part of who she
Structure & Sound
The poem is written three sections:
1. The poet expresses how hard it is for her to know two languages but
neglect the one that she feels most belongs to her
2. She explains these ideas in Gujarati.
3. She then translates her thoughts for us in English (so line 31-38
mean something similar to lines 17-30), showing that although her
mother tongue dies during the day, it grows back in her dreams at
night, becoming strong and producing blossoms.
Try reading it aloud. Each line of Gujarati script is followed by a
phonetic English version in brackets, so even if you don't know any
Gujarati, you can still have a go.
Do you notice any kind of patterning in the sound of the Indian
language? If the poem says more or less the same thing twice, might it
as well be written in one language only? What do you think would be
lost if the Gujarati disappeared?
Now think about the language that is used in the poem. How many
meanings does the word "tongue" have in the poem? Consider these:
1. It is a part of the body- the part you speak with.
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"Search For My Tongue by Sujata Bhatt." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Mar 2019
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2. It has also come to mean the language that you speak.
3. The phrase lost my tongue (line 2) is used colloquially to mean
that someone is tongue-tied and doesn't know what to say.
Read the poem carefully and see where Sujata Bhatt plays with these
meanings. For example, she imagines that knowing two languages is like
have two tongues in your mouth (line 4)
The poet compares her tongue to a plant, as she develops her ideas.
This is called Extended Metaphor
This poem (or rather extract from a long poem) explores a familiar
ambiguity in English "tongue" refers both to the physical organ we use
for speech, and language we speak with it. (Saying "tongue" for
"speech" is an example of metonymy). In the poem Sujata Bhatt writes
about the "tongue" in both ways t once. To lose your tongue normally
means not knowing what to say, but Ms. Bhatt suggests that one can
lose one's tongue, in another sense. The speaker in this poem is
obviously the poet herself, but she speaks for many who fear they may
have lost their ability to speak for themselves and their cultures.
She explains this with the image of two tongues, a mother tongue
(one's first language) and a second language (the language of the
place where you live). She argues that you cannot use both together.
She suggests, further that if you live in palace where you must "speak
a foreign language" then the mother tongue will "rot and die in your
As if to demonstrate how this works, Ms. Bhatt rewrites lines 15 and
16 in Gujarati, followed by more Gujarati lines, whish re given in
English as the final section of the poem. For readers who do not know
the Gujarati script, there is also phonetic transport using
approximate English spelling to indicate the sounds.
The final section of the poem is the writers' dream in which her
mother tongue grows back and "pushes the other tongue aside". She ends
triumphantly asserting that, "Everything I think I've forgotten, I
think I've lost the mother tongue, it blossoms out of my mouth".
Clearly this poem is bout cultural and personal identity. The familiar
metaphor of the tongue is used in a novel way to show that losing
one's language cultural is like losing part of one's body. The poets'
dream my be something she has really dreamt "overnight" but is clearly
also a "dream" in the sense of something she wants to happen in
dreams, if not in reality, it is possible for the body to regenerate.
For this reason the poems ending is ambiguous perhaps it is only her
dream that the poet can find her "mother -tongue". On the other hand,
she may be arguing that even when she thinks she has lost it, it can
be found again. At the end of the poem there is a striking extended
metaphor in which the regenerating tongue is likened to a plant cut
back to a stump, which grows and eventually buds, to become the flower
which "blossoms out of" the poets' mouth. It is as if her mother
tongue is exotic, spectacular or fragrant, as a flower might be.