The poem ‘A different History’, written by Sujata Bhatt is written post the British colonisation of India. The poem is based on Indian religion and a bit of Greek mythology. The poem talks about different cultures, mainly Indian and the colonisation of India. As Bhatt has experienced three different cultures; the Indian culture, the American culture and the German culture, the poem reflects on the differences in cultures and delves into mainly the Indian culture. The poem explores how the poet has evolved while moving from country to country and even delving into other religions.
The poem also deals with conveying Bhatt’s confusion surrounding her own identity, using many stylistic devices such as an allusion the a great god from Ancient Greek mythology. She uses the poem to push her readers to ask themselves one question: “Who am I, really? ” The aim of analysing the poem is to understand where Sujata Bhatt is coming from; an outsider looking back into the world she once grew up in… Looking back into ‘A Different History’. The title relates to the poem in the way that it can be said to be about different histories, different cultural backgrounds but also about Sujata Bhatts own past.
In another context, it could also said to be about history itself, relating to Greek mythology and Indian religion that is centuries old. As a child, Bhatt had to move from country to country and may be reminiscing about how life would have been if she had never left India. A history different to the one she had experienced. The poem contains 29 lines and is therefore not a sonnet. There is no regular rhyme scheme and the rhythm varies. The first stanza has 18 lines in no particularly ordered structure.
There is also no rhyme because the author does not want to achieve a rhythmic effect but rather concentrates on the message she wants to send. The poem also starts with a statement and ends with one. “Great Pan is not dead” The first line is a metaphor. The effect of this is to make an emphatic point to the reader that the God Pan is not dead as a statement rather than as an opinion. The word dead here is a kinesthetic imagery as the person cannot move and there is the idea of being static. It can also be an organic imagery because the God Pan is said to be in a state of trance rather than dead.
As Pan was a satyr as well as the protector of nature, we can see that the author is very much in touch with her surroundings and in admiration of the environment. Ending the line with a semi-colon indicates that that Bhatt will continue to elaborate on her statement. “he simply emigrated to India” In this line Bhatt uses a very casual and conversational tone by using the informal word “simply”. The words “to India” are written on a separate line and are indented to lay emphasis on where the Great Pan has migrated to and also to show the change in setting.
There is also a common idea that mythology enthusiasts like to make, which is that the gods move to where the flame of civilisation is burning the strongest. This may explain why Pan moved from Greece, who was gradually sucked into the modern world, to India, where many ancient customs still exist. There is an image of how two different cultures, or in this case, religion and myth, can seamlessly blend in harmony. There is a slight hint of humour behind the words because Greek gods and goddesses are very rarely linked to India, a land already filled with their own deities. “Here, the gods roam freely”
Sujata Bhatt uses the word ‘here’ to indicate India . The tone in this line is very informal and casual as though it is only in India that gods have freedom. The fact the Bhatt does not capitalise the ‘g’ in gods shows that she does not want to use a very serious or formal style of writing. She makes it seem as though the gods are common people and not powerful entities. “Roam freely,” is another kinesthetic imagery which is not area bound. The comma at the end suggests a continuation. “disguised as snakes or monkeys;” This similie gives the readers a vivid image of the Gods being snakes or monkeys. The theme of nature is seen here.
The theme of religion is also introduced, as this line can be an allusion to the Indian Gods Shiva (who is known as Naga-Dev or snake god) and Hanuman (who played a major role in the Indian epic Ramayan). In another perspective Bhatt may be slightly mocking, having been away from her own religion for so long, she may be questioning whether her way of viewing things is indeed the right way. Again the semi-colon indicates a continuation. “every tree is sacred” In this line Bhatt uses the formal word “sacred” to create a sense of respect as paper is made from trees and we get books and knowledge from paper.
It can also be because trees are considered sacred in the bible. By making reference to the bible, Bhatt has included the Christian religion in the poem causing a clash between it and the aforementioned Indian religion. Again the theme of religion is reinforced. The pace seems to pick up due to the lack of punctuation such as colons, semicolons and full stops. “and it is a sin to be rude to a book” Not coincidentally Bhatt talks about books which are made from paper. She speaks of how you cannot be insulting towards books because when insulting books you are also insulting the goddess, Sarasvati.
Again, you are also insulting knowledge, which Bhatt holds very dear to her having been brought up without much money and being taught to value education. She uses the word “sin” to lay emphasis on how it is important to not disrespect books. “It is a sin to shove a book aside, with your foot” To touch something with ‘your foot’, the object would have to be very inferior to other objects. Bhatt is expressing the fact that she believes that a book deserves the utmost respect possible. Between the lines, she also means that the goddess, Sarasvati, must be treated with the utmost respect. a sin to slam books down, hard on the table,” Once again, we see a reference to nature when she mentions slamming the book on the table, which is made of wood. “a sin to toss one carelessly across a room. ” These sentences have a serious and reprimanding tones much like someone going on a rant. She uses informal words like “shove” , “slam”, “toss”, to show how inappreciative people can be towards books and knowledge. These words are also visual imagery. By the repetition of the words “a sin” the author wants to emphsise on what a great sin it is to be disrespectful to books which are sources of knowledge.
At this point, there is finally a full stop, an indication that the poet has made her point. The atmosphere changes and the reader can feel she is going to change the subject. Bhatt is, in the end, giving the impression that nothing, however inanimate or lifeless, must be treated without utmost respect. “You must learn to turn the pages gently” Bhatt uses a soothing tone here through the word “gently”. She now starts speaking to the readers directly using the personal pronoun “you”. This makes us as readers feel the impact of the poem directly. “Without disturbing Sarasvati ithout offending the tree” In these lines an allusion is made to the Indian Goddess Sarasvati, who is the Indian Goddess of knowledge and music by assuming that the reader would already have an insight into the Hindu religion. By making reference to Sarasvati. Bhatt is laying emphasis on how we should respect everything we use to learn as it is believed that Sarasvati is present in them. Bhatt takes a special shine to Sarasvati, more so than other goddesses and gods, because Sarasvati is also the goddess of writing. It is said that words ‘pour from Sarasvati’s mouth like a flowing river’.
This is very close to what Sujata Bhatt has described when writing her poems on numerous occasions. The anaphora used in these lines makes emphasis on the point to not be rude to books so as to not offend sarasvati or the tree. An imperative tone is used here. “from whose wood the paper was made” again a reference is made trees and that paper is made from trees and thus should be respected. Some lines in the first stanze are indented to lay emphasis on them. It also has quite a fast pace as there are no words above 3 syllables (emigrated, carelessly, offending. )
The second stanza contains 11 lines, again with no rhyme scheme as the author is portraying a serious matter. The pace of this stanza is quite slow as it is meant to be read slowly with understanding and also because Bhatt wants the gravity of what she is saying to sink in. “which language has not been the oppressor’s tongue ” “Which language” is written in a separate line to lay emphasis on it. This stanza starts with a rhetorical question so as to make the readers ponder upon what Bhatt is trying to say. The language she is talking about could be said to be English because this poem is written after the British colonisation of India.
Bhatt might be using the word oppressor’s as a reference to the British and english as their tongue. The oppressor’s tongue focuses on how the British took their language away from them. “Which language truly meant to murder someone? Again a rhetorical question is used to prompt the thinking of the audience. The repetition of “which language” lays emphasis on the English language and makes reference to the British and their brutality toward the Indians. Bhatt shows this through informal words such as “murder” and “oppressor”. “And how does it happen that after the torture, after the soul has been cropped with a long scythe swooping out f the conqueror’s face-” Bhatt uses an angry tone here and creates an atmosphere of pain and helplessness. The mood here is hopeless and fearful and the atmosphere is sober and solemn. The alliteration used in “long scythe swooping” lays emphasis on the ‘s’ sound and creates an auditory, visual and kinesthetic imagery of a devil-like British person whipping out a long scythe to crop out a helpless Indian’s soul. The conqueror could be an allusion to the English general Nelson. The hyphen suggests that she will continue her sentence with an explanation of what will happen after. “ the unborn grandchild grow to love that strange language”
Bhatt is bothered by the fact that even though the British tortured the Indians and made them suffer. The new generation of India seems to love and speak that language as their own. Here, Sujata might be talking about herself. If her grandparents lived during the time of war, she would be the unborn grandchild, knowing nothing of the horror that the British had put them through. Loving the language of her homeland’s oppressor was not something that Bhatt wanted. The exotic language that should have seemed evil to her, her grandparent’s associated with invasion and pain however it became, in a way, the most important language of all.
In this stanza Bhatt contemplates on how the British took the Indian’s language, knowledge and identities. This relates to Bhatts own confusion of identity as she is not sure which culture she belongs. Throughout the poem we come to see how Bhatt is confused about her identity. After all the cultures she has been exposed to she does not know where she fits in anymore. Through the way she undermines the Gods of India we can see that she has beging to question the religion she grew up in and that she is not a very religious person. Perhaps she once was a great devotee of the Indian deities but she is now confused about her identity and beliefs.
Form: The form of the poem is irregular. This draws us to the fact that Bhatt has often felt as though losing her mothertongue would be like losing her identity. I believe this represents her emotions; all over the place. Using the enjambment, the sentence cuts off at certain points, which I think reflects on how she had new obstacles thrown at her without her knowledge. Rhyme: There is no particular rhyming in the poem, which is free verse. This gives us an insight in the author’s mind; she was focusing more on what she was writing and how to get her point across than how it sounded.
This reflects on Sujata’s life as well- a new surprise at every corner, no chapter of her life the same. She was faced with new obstacles, both small and big, which can be linked to the different lengths of the phrases as well. Another valid point can be the introduction of new cultures in India. This is because when these said cultures were introduced, there was no particular order in which they were brought, and although they no two cultures, religions or myths were alike they all fit in the same country…
Rhythm-pace: The poem starts out with many pauses, as though the phrases are being said very slowly and deliberately. At the sentence “every tree is sacred”, the pace goes slightly faster, in a way that shows the passion, and almost desperation of the author. For a few lines, the words “it is a sin” is repeated many times. This puts emphasis on how bad harming books can be, almost like a teacher drumming an important piece of information in the student’s head. Here we can refer to the author’s childhood in India.
The author has been quoted to have said “the fact that I had to leave India certainly made me think about it more. ” This means that she constantly went back to it in her mind, as she goes back to these words in her poem. The stanza surrounding the book almost has a lilting, musical touch to it. After the sudden rush, the pace slows down dramatically. The four lines beginning with “You must… ” to “… the paper was made” is like a saying. The rhythm builds up in the second half of the poem, like a political leader trying to get their point across.
Finally, there is a lull and you can feel the poem gradually slowing down until it comes to a stop. In conclusion we can say that Bhatt has written this poem after a lot of thought, making references to different cultures and her own past. This poem is written in such a way that it is almost as though Bhatt is sharing her own story with us making the poem more engaging. She depicts the clash between cultures and also shows the process of colonisation and its effects in a very visual manner, which helps the audience have an impression on what was going through Bhatt’s mind as she was writing this poem.