“Search for My Tongue” was written by the poet Sujata Bhatt, who was born in Gujarat, India, but immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 12. “Search for My Tongue” combines English and Gujarati, Bhatt’s native language, as it explores what it is like to be an immigrant in a new culture, the pressures of assimilation, and the relationship between language and identity. “Search for My Tongue” was first published in 1988, as part of Bhatt’s first collection of poems, Brunizem.
You ask me ...
... in your mouth,
and lost the ...
... the foreign tongue.
You could not ...
... a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue ...
... while I dream,
munay hutoo kay ...
... modhama pakay chay
it grows back, ...
... other tongue aside.
Everytime I think ...
... of my mouth.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Interview with Sujata Bhatt — Read this interview with Sujata Bhatt to learn more about why she values poetry and how different cultures influence her work. The interview includes an audio and video clip in which Bhatt discusses the importance of poetry to her.
Sujata Bhatt on the Blending of Languages in Poetry — Watch this short video to see Sujata Bhatt discuss why she writes poetry in English, as well as why in some poems, including “Search for My Tongue,” she combines English and Gujarati, her native language.
“Search for My Tongue” Recited by Fatima Djalalova — Watch this clip from a 2019 Ted Talk to hear 11th-grader Fatima Djalalova from Uzbekistan recite Bhatt’s poem and discuss what it means to her. Djalalova is a native speaker of Russian and Uzbek, and a student in an international school where English is the dominant language. In this clip, she explores the connection between language and identity and talks about the importance of linguistic diversity.
Biography of Sujata Bhatt — Read more about Sujata Bhatt’s life and work in this article from the British Council.
Audio of Poems from Brunizem — Listen to Sujata Bhatt read a number of poems from her first collection, Brunizem, in which “Search for My Tongue” first appeared. Like “Search for My Tongue,” many of the poems in this collection draw on different cultural influences and linguistic traditions.
1You ask me what I mean
2by saying I have lost my tongue.
3I ask you, what would you do
4if you had two tongues in your mouth,
5and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
6and could not really know the other,
7the foreign tongue.
8You could not use them both together
9even if you thought that way.
10And if you lived in a place you had to
11speak a foreign tongue,
12your mother tongue would rot,
13rot and die in your mouth
14until you had to spit it out.
15I thought I spit it out
16but overnight while I dream,
17munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha
18may thoonky nakhi chay
19parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay
20foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh
21modhama kheelay chay
22fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh
23modhama pakay chay
24it grows back, a stump of a shoot
25grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
26it ties the other tongue in knots,
27the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
28it pushes the other tongue aside.
29Everytime I think I've forgotten,
30I think I've lost the mother tongue,
31it blossoms out of my mouth.