This essay is comparing two cultural poems, both written by people who have been taken from their ‘home’ culture, to another one, which is different. The poems – “Search for My tongue” and “Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan”- are similar in some ways, but different in others. This essay will compare the two cultures, and the similarities and differences. Moniza Alvi wrote “Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan”. She was born in Pakistan in 1954 but was moved to England when she was a young child.
As Moniza grew up in England she was separated from her origins and never felt entirely at home. This is shown in the poem – “half-English” – When Moniza revisited Pakistan she felt very English – her cultural background was affecting her more than she realised. I feel that Moniza wrote the poem to show others how different it is to change cultures, to half belong to one and half belong to another culture. She mentions in a BBC interview her poem is autobiographical and reflects her growing up.
At the start of the poem there is a strong sense of image, which helps to build up a feeling of adoration and beauty. We first see the idea of culture of culture in this poem in the clothing from Pakistan, which shows a rich sense of colour and beauty. When these clothes are later compared to with the ‘ cardigans from Marks and Spencers’ it is easy to see how one culture appears to ‘splash out’ with colour in the various items of clothing, like the Salwar Kameez (loose trousers and a tunic, woven and worn traditionally by women).
In the first stanza (verse) the beautiful clothing and strong visual continue but this beauty also has a dangerous side -the bangles she receives snap and cut her – giving a slight sense of confusion which builds up slowly throughout the poem, coming back at stages. In stanza two it is obvious that the clothing is not what she wants. She feels that it doesn’t suit her, that it is gorgeous but also too exotic – “alien in the sitting room” – line 17, suggesting that she prefers a more dull type of clothing, as shown in the second part of the stanza.
“I longed for denim and corduroy” – line 20-21 shows that her British clothing is what she prefers. The Pakistani clothing sets her aflame and she can’t rise out of its fire. This part of the poem describes her and the clothing like a phoenix. She then describes herself as “half-English”. This may suggest that she feels that she doesn’t fit in, she has no home. However, in stanza three there are some things that she likes about Pakistan, the camel skin lamp (Although this may not be from Pakistan it has more exotic qualities than English ones). She admires the transformation of camel to lampshade and the colour produce by it.
Her mother’s jewellery is described to make it look beautiful and precious. It almost seems inevitable that it will be stolen, as it shows a sense of danger, as do some of the other items from Pakistan, like the bangles. The items in the wardrobe give a good image of the differences between the two cultures. The dull, plain wardrobe and the dull, plain English clothing are completely opposite from the vibrant, bright Pakistani clothing, which stands out immensely. Her school friends are unimpressed with her clothing and want to see her weekend clothes. This shows a major cultural difference between her and her friends.
She, However, admires the clothes and the mirror work. The poem moves into a flashback of her early childhood, as she is moving to England. She is left alone in her grandmother’s dining room, suggesting that even in her early life she is isolated and separated from everyone else. In the poem, Moniza portrays a bad image of her homeland. The pictures that she has are from the time of her youth, though they are not described in the poem, show where she was born. They are different from the newspaper reports she reads later in her life when Lahore is a war torn country, “a fractured land”.
She has pictures of Lahore in her mind, expectations of her country should be like to her. The environment she pictures shows a sexist environment, where the women and the men are separated. In the final stanza, we see that Moniza is isolated, left with the beggars and the sweeper girls, “of no fixed nationality”. It seems that wherever she goes, there is no sense of home, no place that she can belong to. All throughout the poem, there is a strong sense of wanting to belong, but in no way being able to belong, a sense of disappointment and regret.
Search for my Tonguе was written by Sujata Bhatt. She was born in India in 1956. Her family moved to America, where she was educated, and she now lives in Germany. The poem was first printed in her book, entitled Brunizem, in 1988 (The word Brunizem is a soil, a dark prairie soil which is found in Asia, Europe and North America This may reflect on the fact that she has lived in these areas ). Search for my Tongue can be split into three parts. The first part is the lines 1 to 16, the second part is the Gujerati (lines 17 to 30) and the last part is lines 31 to 38.
The first part of the poem describes how she has lost her tongue or her language. She describes two tongues in the poem, the mother tongue’ and the foreign tongue. The mother tongue is in reference to her original language, Gujerati and the foreign tongue is her new language, English (At the time the poem was written, Sujata as living in America). The lines You could not use them both together even if you thought that way show that even if you commonly use both languages, one can still dominate and possibly destroy the other one, leaving you with only one tongue.
In the second half of the first part of the poem, we can tell that the mother tongue has gone rotten and died, causing the person to spit it out. However, the seed of the tongue is still in the person and comes back to her when she dreams. This part of the poem reflects some of the ideas bought forward by “Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan”. Both of the poems show a sense of cultural loss, one that is hard to regain. The Gujerati in section two is there for two reasons. One is to isolate the people who cannot speak Gujerati. Although the text can be read without this section, it helps to build up a sense of atmosphere in the poem.
The other reason for the Gujerati to be there is that it shows the impact of the dream. It interrupts the poem, like a dream would interrupt, showing that the comeback is sudden, and cannot be controlled. Section three is an extended metaphor, a reflection of what section two is. The language is described as a plant, which has died, but left a seed for a new plant to grow, whilst another plant has taken its place. The first plan t grows from this a takes its place back from the other plant, and strengthens itself – “grows strong veins” as time goes on.
This is a way of succouring itself against the foreign tongue. The image the poem gives of both the plants is a very different one. The foreign tongue is given the image of a weed, one which has choked and held back the mother tongue, which is given a more beautiful image of ‘blossoming’. There are many similarities and differences between the poems. The ideas of culture are strong in each one, both contributing to the ideal culture of the writers, one which everyone is welcome and can speak the same way, without feeling isolated.
Both the poets have been taken from their original, home cultures and thrown into a harsh society to them, one that prevents them from fully finding themselves. Both the poems have strong imagery, which is vivid. An example of this is the phoenix reference of “rising from the ashes” to be reborn, something both writers either wish to experience or have experienced. The main differences between the poems is the fact that in ‘Search for my Tongue’ the person recovers their culture, whilst the other person in “Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan” loses their culture.
I feel that “Search for my Tongue” is a more metaphorical poem, a dream-like one which discusses the aspects of a lost language, a major part in any culture. I feel that it has more influence than “Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan” as this is more literal and I don’t fell has the depth of “Search for my Tongue”. The culture in both of the poems has shown how moving from one country to another can have a major impact on people’s lives and can affect them in a way which they do not understand or want.