«Matrubhasha»

Dreaming Gujurati

The children in my dreams speak in Gujurati

turn their trusting faces to the sun

say to me

care for us nurture us

in my dreams I shudder and I run.

I am six

in a playground of white children

Darkie, sing us an Indian song!

Eight

in a roomful of elders

all mock my broken Gujurati

English girl!

Twelve, I tunnel into books

forge an armor of English words.

Eighteen, shaved head

combat boots –

shamed by masis

in white saris

neon judgments

singe my western head.

Mother tongue.

Matrubhasha

tongue of the mother

I murder in myself.

Through the years I watch Gujurati

swell the swaggering egos of men

mirror them over and over

at twice their natural size.

Through the years

I watch Gujurati dissolve

bones and teeth of women, break them

on anvils of duty and service, burn them

to skeletal ash.

Words that don’t exist in Gujurati:

Self-expression.

Individual.

Lesbian.

English rises in my throat

rapier flashed at yuppie boys

who claim their people “civilized” mine.

Thunderbolt hurled

at cab drivers yelling

Dirty black bastard!

Force-field against teenage hoods

hissing

Fucking Paki bitch!

Their tongue – or mine?

Have I become the enemy?

Listen:

my father speaks Urdu

language of dancing peacocks

rosewater fountains

even its curses are beautiful.

He speaks Hindi

suave and melodic

earthy Punjabi

salty rich as saag paneer

coastal Kiswahili

laced with Arabic,

he speaks Gujurati

solid ancestral pride.

Five languages

five different worlds

yet English

shrinks

him

down

before white men

who think their flat cold spiky words

make the only reality.

Words that don’t exist in English:

Najjar

Garba

Arati.

If we cannot name it

does it exist?

When we lose language

does culture die? What happens

to a tongue of milk-heavy

cows, earthen pots

jingling anklets, temple bells,

when its children

grow up in Silicon Valley

to become

programmers?

Then there’s American:

Kin’uh get some service?

Dontcha have ice?

Not:

May I have please?

Ben, mane madhath karso?

Tafadhali nipe rafiki

Donnez-moi, s’il vous plait

Puedo tener…..

Hello, I said can I get some service?!

Like, where’s the line for Ay-mericans

in this goddamn airport?

Words that atomized two hundred thousand Iraqis:

Didja see how we kicked some major ass in the Gulf?

Lit up Bagdad like the fourth a’ July!

Whupped those sand-niggers into a parking lot!

The children in my dreams speak in Gujurati

bright as butter

succulent cherries

sounds I can paint on the air with my breath

dance through like a Sufi mystic

words I can weep and howl and devour

words I can kiss and taste and dream

this tongue

I take

back.

3 thoughts on “«Matrubhasha»

  1. Hun fikk min oppmerksomhet ihvertfall! Jeg så henne i Bokprogrammet (forsåvidt samme program som hadde en reportasje om Nadine Godimer) – det griper tak, og det hun sier er så mye jeg kan kjenne meg igjen i. Jeg ble inspirert til å skrive om språkets makt og om man får plass i samfunnet hvis man ikke kan norsk, eller ikke har en klinkende ren uttale – åh, etter eksamen! etter eksamen!

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