Sujata Bhatt-A Different History-Notes

Sujata Bhatt – ‘A Different History’

In ‘Search For My Tongue’, another poem by Sujata Bhatt, she talks of the strangeness and difficulty of having two languages, and the fear of losing her “mother tongue”, the language she was brought up to speak by her mother. Bhatt was born in India in 1956, moved to the USA in 1968, and now lives in Germany, so she is well aware of how much a change of culture and language can affect people.

‘A Different History’ is in two linked parts: lines 1-18, then lines 19-29. The first suggests that although life in India is – or should be – free, there is constant pressure to conform to other ways of life; the poet uses the way we should or should not treat books as an example or symbol of this. The gods roam freely, but because trees are sacred it is a sin to ill-treat a book in any way, in order not to disturb or offend Sarasvati or the tree from which the paper comes.

The second part of the poem returns to the idea of a foreign language; all languages, it says, have once been the language of an invader or an oppressor, but despite this there always comes a time when younger and newer generations not only speak the oppressor’s language but they actually come to love it.

Some points for classroom discussion:

Are the two parts of the poem really separate, or have they a common theme that links them together? How serious is Bhatt in this poem? Is there any humour in it?

Suggested comparison:

Sujata Bhatt’s poem ‘Search for My Tongue’ can be found on

There is some brief biographical material on these websites:


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