A Different History written by Sujata Bhatt portrays the loss of language and cultures after colonization in India. This poem describes the bitterness and sadness Bhatt felt about her mother tongue and cultures. Bhatt explores the idea of history, culture and language throughout the poem.
Bhatt uses two enjambments in the poem. The first enjambment talks about the book, which represents the culture and the way people should treat the books. The tone of voice used in the second enjambment is more aggressive and critical, as it described the period of colonization when the cultures and language were taken away by the conquerors. There is no rhyme utilized throughout the poem. This shows that Bhatt wants to show how serious and complex the problem is, wanting the readers to think of the loss of mother tongue and one’s culture. Moreover, an irony is used throughout the whole poem. Bhatt, who cries for the loss of language, used English to write the poem. This indicates that she is one of those ‘unborn grandchildren’ who ‘grow to love that strange language’ creating a sense of sadness, because even the author herself cannot speak Indian but uses English – the ‘strange language’.
‘Great Pan is not dead; he simply emigrated to India’ tells that the cultures and religions are transmitted across the globe. ‘Great pan’ symbolizes the pantheism existing in Indian religion where everything has a god in charge of it, even human. Bhatt talks about the culture and lifestyle moving with people by implying that God Pan is not seized to exist but simply moved to India. This also indicates the similarity between the religions of the Eastern and the Western due to the constant transmitting of cultures and lifestyles. ‘The god roams freely, disguised as snakes and monkeys’ portrays the acceptance of new religion and cultures in India. ‘God’ represents the new cultures and lifestyles. Snakes and monkeys were worshipped during the past time, as Indians believed that there were gods laying on them. This indicates that Indians welcomed and worshipped the new culture and lifestyles. This also exhibits the innocence of Indians who allowed foreign religion to enter and ‘roam freely’ in India.
There is a repetition of ‘sin’ when the author lists the way people should treat the books. The word ‘sin’ reinforces the negative commentary and intensifies the critical tone of the poem. Bhatt uses book as an example to show people that the cultures must be appreciated and treated carefully by mentioning the tradition and custom of India in how to treat the book. Pantheism is, again, underscored in ‘you must not learn how to turn the pages gently without disturbing Sarasvati’. Sarasvati is a goddess of knowledge and art, who Indians believed to be laying on the book. Bhatt is telling the people that people should treat books just as the way people treat the goddess of knowledge, highlighting the importance of god and the way people should treat them. It also depicts the emancipation of freedom in valuing one’s culture but not liberating oneself with selfishness.
There is a sudden change in the tone of voice in the second enjambment; it is more hostile and aggressive. This change is supported by the rhetorical questions: ‘which language has not been the oppressor’s tongue? Which language truly meant to murder someone?’ This creates a sense of uncertainty and infuriation, which the author felt about the colonization. Bhatt describes her depressions as she realizes that there are neither the oppressors not the oppressed. No one means to be any of those – no one can be blamed. In addition, the repetition of ‘which language’ enhances the sense of criticalness and uncertainty in her expression. The repetition and rhetorical questions lead the readers to feel the shamefaced of human history.
Further sense of torment is created in ‘and how does it happen that after the torture, after the soul has been cropped with a long scythe swooping out of the conqueror’s face’. ‘Soul’ symbolizes the self-esteem of Indians for being able to speak Indian and follow the Indian culture. Scythe is a tool used to harvest crops by hand, which obviously takes much longer time than by machine. ‘Scythe’ in this phrase represents the colonization and injustice. This shows that the colonization has cut out the ‘soul’ of Indian by forbidding the cultures and language. This also reveals that Indians suffered long time during the colonization.
Final tone of the poem is made in the last two lines: ‘the unborn grandchildren grow to love that strange language’. Sense of sadness and uncertainty are enhanced as it described Bhatt’s realization of cultural consequences such as the colonization does not ruin one’s history but begins a new era where a new generation of ‘unborn grandchildren’ grow ‘to love that strange language’ – the inevitability of cultural change.
Sujata Bhatt explores the theme of cultural consequence and the loss of language and cultures throughout the poem by describing he feeling about her lost mother tongue and culture. This poem leads the readers to think back about their own history, which may either be painful or happy.