Mother Tongue and Other Poems

By Anushka Joshi

My name is Anushka Joshi and I am from Ahmedabad, India, a city where there was a pogrom in 2002 that led to the deaths of nearly two thousand people ((India: A Decade On, Gujarat Justice Incomplete.” Human Rights Watch. April 17, 2015). The legacy of this is pervasive today: housing and education is de facto segregated, minorities are treated as second-class citizens, and dissidence against a rabidly right-wing government is labelled “anti-national.” I spent part of this summer working to establish a library in my hometown that would serve as a meeting ground for children of all faiths through a grant from the Davis Projects for Peace. The most difficult aspect of this was curating books for the library that would address both the deeply painful history of Ahmedabad and reflect the hopes that I still had for the city, in the face of everyday evidence to the contrary. One way of expressing the truth I was confronted with was through poetry. The following three poems are all about recent human rights issues in India, beginning with the 2002 violence in Ahmedabad and ending with the the recent clampdown on protests in Kashmir, which shows that seventeen years on from the first tragedy, we have only become better at state-sanctioned callousness. 

 

Mother Tongue

The documentary I am watching about the massacres

Has no subtitles, and so it is only halfway

Between a woman’s sobbing that I realize

She is not saying that her neighbors took away her jewels

But that they took away her daughters.

And it is only halfway through a man’s explanation

(He flinches as if reality is a fly hovering too close

To his eyes)

That I realize the child in his arms is not his

But one he found lost in all the madness.

It is only midway through his story

(Told with blinking eyes, this man so thin

It would not have taken much kerosene to burn him alive)

That I realize his own wife and child are missing.

(Meri gharwali, he calls her,

Which I know means the one who belongs

To my home: our language was never made

For times like these, when homes no

Longer exist).

He had stopped to pick up this child

As one might pick up a key

Knowing only that it means

Something to someone,

Though in all likelihood

It will never be claimed, and the door and the house

Which it belonged to have almost certainly

Been burnt away.

All of this I understand only by degrees, 

So much have I forgotten my mother tongue. 

Surely, even now, there must be words

That I am missing.

Never have I wished more that I knew it,

Or been more grateful that I do not.

 

Afterwards

The survivors

Speak matter-of-factly

All that these people have now are facts,

And those too will be taken away from them soon.

They look up slightly at the mention of justice

Like farmers in famine, when it is

Far too late

Look up slightly

At the rumor of rain.

 

What I Fear for My Country

Very soon, I fear,

My country will become a place

Like those we read about in history books,

A place where

If you are promoted,

If you are not transferred,

If your article is printed,

If your tweet is retweeted

If your poetry is repeated

If you are invited to ceremonies,

If you are given awards,

If you are given commissions,

If your phone is not being tapped,

If your film is not being cut,

If your patriotism is not being questioned

If you are out of prison,

If you have a passport,

If your family is not being threatened,

If you are alive and think you will remain so,

Then you would have done something not quite good

At some point, somewhere along the way. 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.