A Different History By- Suajata Bhatt The poem ‘A Different History’ is set in India. In the first paragraph the poet describes how the world is developing at a fast pace and leaving behind culture, morals, value, spirituality etc. But India on the other hand has managed to sustain its tradition and modernity. “Great Pan is not dead; he simply emigrated to India Here, the gods roam freely Disguised as snakes or monkeys; every tree is sacred” Pan is the Greek god of nature. This reference to Greece and Pan could refer to two things.
One of the possible interpretations is that- Rome, Greece and India are considered the hubs of spirituality and they have their own set of gods and goddesses. But over the years Greece has developed and consequently its people have lost faith in god. On the contrary, India continues to be highly spiritual and god fearing and the ‘Great Pan’ emigrating to India could connote how India continues to have faith and believe in god. Another explanation could be the love for nature and respect for the natural environment in India. Legend has it that Pan died due to the depletion of nature and animals in Greece.
At the time this poem was written India was not a shade of what it is now and was known for its natural beauty and its peoples dependence and respect for nature. The next three lines seem to be mocking the Indian psyche of turning everything and everyone to god and creating a god for everything. The stereotypical Indian has a habit of using god’s name to get things done; associating every minute detail in his life to god and this is what I feel the poet is mocking. “And it is a sin to be rude to a book It is a sin to shove a book aside with your foot, sin to slam books down hard on a table, a sin to toss one carelessly across a room. ” “You must learn how to turn the pages gently without disturbing Sarasvati, without offending the tree from whose wood the paper was made. ” These lines describe the Indian culture, traditions and the values that are inculcated into kids at a young age. Sarasvati, who is considered the goddess of arts and knowledge, is, according to Hindu beliefs, resides in books. So books are respected (reference to mockery of Indian psyche) but in this case she is admiring this aspect of Indian culture.
Books are considered an equivalent of god and touching god with your feet, slamming him et cetera is profanity. What the poet is trying to say in the first paragraph is that India is probably the only country in the world that have maintained its values, morals, culture and tradition and these have gone hand in hand with development. She also talks about the element of god being added to an array of things. Some of which, she thinks, are completely bizarre and others that she truly respects. “Which language has not been the oppressor’s tongue? Which language truly meant to murder someone? And how does it happen hat after the torture, after the soul has been cropped with a long scythe swooping out of the conqueror’s face- the unborn grandchildren grow to love that strange language. ” I feel that the transition from the first paragraph to the second is not very good as the connection between the two themes is not evident. In my opinion the connection is that she is drawing a parallel between the pre- British India and the colonised India. She is using the English language as a representation of the colonised India and how it forgot or was made to forget its culture in the name of a ‘better future’ and ‘development’.
Here, she refers to them as ‘oppressors’, ‘murderers’, but murderers of what? In my opinion murder in this context refers not just to taking lives but also the murder of spirits, souls and more relevantly cultures and customs. She seems to be blaming the British for the loss of the culture, customs, values, morals and in this case language as well. She questions how despite all the damage done by the British we continue to speak the English language and have stopped speaking our mother tongue. This is the same language that was spoken by the people who destroyed out heritage and culture used .
This is not only in reference to language but our love for anything ‘foreign’ and our disdain at our very own country and shame at our deep, brilliant and fascinating culture. But a poem is open to interpretation and the tone and the way it is said can change the meaning completely. While reading a poem it is important to analyse what background the poem has, the life of the poet how it is connected to her life. Sujata Bhatt, it was the first time I heard her name. She was born in Ahmedabad to a Gujarati family.
She was brought up in Pune and then in 1968 at the age of twelve she shifted to the US. Currently she lives in Germany. Suajata Bhatt’s life is a complete contrast to the poem. In the poem she keeps talking about how we are forgetting our culture how we have been influenced by the ‘Conquerors’ et cetera. My first reaction to this was that she was a hypocrite. But then I realised that many times in life there are things that bother you, things that eat your insides but it is completely different and much harder to change or work against these things.
I got to thinking that maybe Sujata Bhatt considers herself an example of the ‘unborn grandchildren’, maybe while writing this poem she had herself and her whole life in mind. Maybe she realised how she was losing contact with her motherland how she was losing the Indian in her. This poem could be a poem to reach out to the masses and try to make them understand the value of being in touch with your motherland and not commit the same mistake she had committed. This poem was written in the post colonial period.
At a time when India was finding its bearings in the world. It was a time when India was still hung over from the British rule but at the same time it played the rebellious teen and tried to fight the natural course of things. When your country has been ruled by foreigners, colonisers for as many as three hundred years there are bound to be an influence on the country. The British ruled over many many generations of Indians and after a point of time the British way of living and approach in general started seeming normal to the Indians and they began to follow it.
When the British left India in 1947 the youth were in an awkward predicament while they wanted to revive their culture and their lifestyle they continued to be westernised. Sujata Bhatt continuously emphasises the importance of a national identity not only in this poem but throughout. A national identity is what defines you globally. On the world map it is not the people who are visible it is the countries. Outside your territory your country plays a major part in your identity. The poet says that if you lose your native habits, morals, values and culture your identity is depleted. * Arjun Nayar 9C