‘Mother Tongue’ is, outwardly, a simple poem, but it houses profound emotions towards one’s native tongue. Padma Sachdev, an acclaimed poet and fiction writer from Jammu, India wrote this poem. Sachdev predominantly writes in Dogri and Hindi. She wrote ‘Mother Tongue’ originally in Dogri and later translated it into English.
Explore Mother Tongue
In ‘Mother Tongue,’ Padma Sachdev conveys her message in the form of a simple conversation. It is a conversation between the poet and a stem that gives quills to write (poetic license/power of imagination). The poet calls herself the servant of her mistress, Dogri: A writer calling himself/herself a servant/slave of the language s/he uses for writing is quite common and very relatable. Through the conversation, the poem takes a subtle dig at capitalism. It also addresses the issue of capitalists exploiting natural resources.
Initially, the poet asks a hanging stem for a quill. In response, the stem asks the poet a series of questions. The poet answers all the questions asked to her. While they indulge in this conversation, it is revealed that they both are servants of the language – Dogri. The reason for the poet to request quill after quill is to serve her Sahni by producing literature.
The poet indicates that she serves her mother tongue by writing poetry through it: Her poems are meant for the world to read, enjoy, realize, and celebrate the richness and beauty of Dogri. Convinced by the intentions of the poet, the stem (who also considers himself a servant of Dogri) readily agrees to provide the poet with as many quills as he can. It is for this reason, the stem, at the end of the poem, gives his hand away to the poet with the satisfaction of doing something worthy and noble.
You can read the poem, here.
I approached a stem
To give me a quill.
The poem, ‘Mother Tongue,’ opens with the poet approaching a stem hanging on a reed. To the stem (as if it can talk!), she asks for a quill. What would a poet possibly do with a quill besides writing poems with it? It is a simple thought expressed in simple and direct language. But this poem’s like an onion with layers that come off as one keeps on with the process of reading.
Are you some sort of an accountant
Where you need a new pen
Every other day he asked.
The stem, visibly annoyed, remarks that he (the stem) gave her one in the recent past. Further, he goes on to ask her why she requires a new one so soon. Besides this, he also asks her what she has done with the quill she already got from him. Before she answers, the stem continues to ask her another question. He asks her whether she is an accountant of a Shah (master) for her to need a new quill every day to do her accounting work.
No, I don’t work for a Shah
I said, but for a Shahni, very kind,
That Shahni is my mother tongue
Now, the poet answers the stem’s questions saying that she works for a Shahni (mistress) and not a Shah. She also gives away details of her mistress by calling her: very kind, very well off, and her (the mistress’) many loyal servants who are ‘ever-ready’ to happily carry out her orders. She further adds that her mistress is her mother tongue Dogri.
Give me, a quill, quickly
She must be looking for me
I too am her servant.
At this point in ‘Mother Tongue,’ the poet becomes hasty and urges the stem to give her a quill as quickly as possible. This is because she realizes that her mistress must be looking for her already. As a loyal servant, she does not want to keep her Shahni waiting for long. After hearing her out, the reed cuts off his hand and gives it to her. And while handing it to her, he says that he too is a servant of Dogri, the beloved Shahni.
Form and Structure
Firstly, this poem, ‘Mother Tongue,’ stays true to the concept of modern poetry: It has no meter or rhyme. Although it is a short poem, it could as well be passed off as an essay if one puts it all together in the paragraph form. Secondly, the poem is written in the first person. Also, ‘Mother Tongue‘ a dialogic poem where the poet converses with a stem that hangs on a reed. Moreover, the poem plays out like a drama. Thirdly, the poem is full of visual cues that make it an interesting read.
As already mentioned, ‘Mother Tongue’ is a conversation. It is in the dialogic form. The poet, the stem, and Dogri are the principal characters. But only the poet and the stem are active participants in the conversation. Dogri is passive throughout.
Almost three-fourths of ‘Mother Tongue’ is in written the Q&A format. First, the poet makes a request. The stem responds with a series of questions. Then, the poet answers the questions.
‘Mother Tongue’ has a stem that can talk like human beings do. This trait of attributing human qualities to inanimate objects is what is famously called personification. Throughout the poem, one can see the stem indulged in a conversation with the poet. Besides talking, the stem expresses other human qualities like questioning, analyzing, decision-making, and so on.
‘Mother Tongue’ addresses a very important and pertinent issue: the threats posed by the capitalist mindset. It describes the suffering of a particular language’s loyalists. Loyalists who cannot stand the sight of their native tongue being robbed of its right to exist in its original form. In this case, particularly, the poem deals with the unwelcome influence of the Persian and Devanagari script on Dogri whose original script was based on Sharade. Keeping up with the capitalist notions, the language in question, Dogri, was robbed of its original beauty. Under the pretext of standardizing, the authoritarians have spoiled the originality of the language by ignoring its native script, Sharade.
The word accountant makes the divide between creativity and capitalism obvious. The word accountant indicates the capitalist who neither appreciates nor respects literature. On one hand, in the society that we live in, accounting and accountants are so important that they have nature at their service: they can have any number of quills, for, theirs is an all-important job. If they don’t get enough quills to do their job, the world would collapse and come to an end. On the other hand, poems and poets have to run daily for a basic requirement such as a quill to write poems. After all, poets or poems neither have nor add any value to society in terms of money.
About Padma Sachdev
The author of ‘Mother Tongue’ Padma Sachdev hails from Jammu in India. She is the recipient of the prestigious “Sahitya Academy Award”. At a young age of 30, she has carved a niche for herself in the field of literature in India. She is prolific and has to her credit a lot of poems in Dogri and Hindi. She also writes fiction. Some of her works are translated into English.