Poems on the Mother Tongue

Poems on the Mother Tongue

By Nabanita Sengupta


Her mother tongue




I searched for my language

along the uneven surface of

Chhotanagpur, words rolled down

like pebbles, that we had

kicked with the tip of our

Bata shoes – jet black, polished

to shine and we bantered or

laughed. The boys cursed,

mothers and sisters at the

edge of their lips, meanings

versatile, occasions numerous.


I sought a language of my own

along city streets, in buses

and cars, in friendly quips

in the poems and stories,

juggling between tongues,

from Chota Nagpur to Delhi

to Kolkata, exchanging words

across states, across rituals

yet all I found were borrowed tongues


heart pumped words into the

veins, spreading from limbs to

mind to lungs.


words breathed, words mouthed,

aliens in my body, transfused in

the system by donors everywhere.

body rejects.

failed transfusions

colour my poems red.

I, a woman,

shed off the borrowed tongues

in search of a language called

my own.

I seek her

in each tongue I speak.




in an auction of words,

the meekest ones came

to me. Bidding, I raised my

bar higher, to grab the

powerful, yet each time

was outdone, a baritone won.


at a friend’s birthday,

words were packed

in coloured wrappers

and kept in a basket. my

turn to choose came

I unwrapped, delicate

dainties, pretty words.


my inheritance from

my mother were the words

dutiful and docile, spelled

to please and comfort. my

streedhan for the future,

assets to sail through rough weather.


I city hopped

cruised the seas

bartered words

swapped lingos


everywhere I found

women bartering


yet her body

spelt the same





Metamorphoses of Tongue


In a growing war field of languages

my body turns multilingual

and lives in translated spaces.

On a sleepy afternoon

it breaks down the imperialism

of everyday prose

and metamorphoses

into cottony clouds,

floating high up in infinite,

cooing love songs

in a new parlance.


Then it becomes a sea

hiding in its deepest deeps

stories of desires

prohibited in arid land;

with the chiming of a bell,

in the music of a waiting conch

it ushers in a whole new carnival


And when it turns into a forest –

whispering wind chants

its magic mantra

the ancient abracadabra

of the world before Babel

and valleys, mountains

wetlands sparkle

in a million blooms


Nothing gets lost in translation

as I pick up each touch

that metamorphosis incurs

and weave them tight into my skin

my multilingual self celebrates

freedom of warring tongues.


Harlequin Soul


What brush do I use

if not words

when polychromatic tongues

paint me in their hues


Crimson Bangla buried deep,

flowed quiet in the veins,

beneath the sun soaked epidermis

আমার প্রাণের ভাষা শিখে ডাকে পাখি পিউ

Bangla, placidly drifted, hidden

beneath the other tongues –

till she revealed herself

in the fertile green of a matured sun


in the courtyard of childhood

seven colours played,

तू जहाँ जहाँ चलेगा

मेरा साया साथ होगा

the rainbows of life –

friends and playmates,

shared lunches or kabaddi

brown and ochres on uniforms white

claimed a space in the

flowchart of time


yet English sparkled

irradiscent, multicoloured

structuring the faiths,

and the visible mien,

weaving dichotomies,

fab india cottons and fulia taant

and a world full of Plath

Kafka, Atwood or Achebe

all across the globe, they

housed in my mind,

shaped up my world


a bit of maithili here, or Assamese

and even splashes of French

Punjabi, Kannad, Tamil

made me friends,


limited potential…

i learned nought



each language is a home

a riot of colours


a polyglot – a harlequin soul



* – আমার প্রাণের ভাষা শিখে ডাকে পাখি পিউ  – a line from a Bengali song. It can be translated as –the bird learnt the language of my heart and cooed.

Transliteration: amaar praner bhasha shikhe daake pakhi piu

** तू जहाँ जहाँ चलेगा/ मेरा साया साथ होगा – translated as – wherever you go, my soul will be with you. a popular song in Hindi

Transliteration – tu jahan jahan chalega, mera saya saath hoga


About the author:

Nabanita Sengupta teaches in an undergraduate college in Kolkata as her profession and engages with poetry, fiction and translation to nurture her creative self. She is also actively associated with two literary groups, Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library and Kolkata Translators’ Forum.

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