Sujata Bhatt

3 November 1984 by Sujata Bhatt

In ‘3 November 1984,’ Indian-English poet Sujata Bhatt shows how history plays a vital role in the process of writing poetry, and their interconnectedness.

Sujata Bhatt’s ‘3 November 1984’ is one such poem that refrains from dwelling in the bloody past. Instead, the poet finds what could bring hope and courage to revisit the years that slid behind. The year 1984, in Indian history, witnessed two horrible incidents that led to a chain of terrible events from 31 October to 3 November, termed as 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots or the 1984 Sikh Massacre. Bhatt, in her poem, could not help but think how brothers hailing from different religions (Hinduism and Sikhism) killed each other ruthlessly, without bothering about their unified, closely-knit past.

3 November 1984 by Sujata Bhatt


Summary

‘3 November 1984’ by Sujata Bhatt is inspired by the events that were in news around the year 1984, beginning with the Anti-Sikh Riots in India.

Bhatt, an immigrant poet, lived in the United States while writing this poem. In this piece, she describes how she preferred not to read The New York Times. Whenever she walked into a bookstore, she could not help but stare at the horrific photographs of the people killed in the Anti-Sikh Riots. On 3rd November, she refrained from brooding over the victims of the riots. She did not even want to think about her relatives and friends who were either Hindus or Sikhs. Instead, she cherished the 1978 achievement of the Annapurna (the tenth highest mountain peak in the world located in Nepal) expedition led by American women. Lastly, Bhatt recalls a childhood friend Amrit (a Sikh boy), with whom she used to play.

You can read the full poem here.

Structure and Form

Bhatt’s ‘3 November 1984’ is a free-verse lyric poem. It does not have a set rhyme scheme and meter, written entirely in a conversational manner. The poem begins with a capital “I,” hinting at the fact that this piece is going to be a personal one. This subjectivity and authenticity of Bhatt’s cosmopolitan persona make this poem an interesting read. Structurally, the poem consists of five stanzas without a fixed number of lines. For instance, the first stanza contains eight lines followed by a short, four-line stanza, which is further supplemented with a shorter tercet.

Literary Devices

In ‘3 November 1984,’ the reader can find the use of the following literary devices:

  • Allusion: The poem begins with one important, yet gory historical event in India. The title itself helps readers to figure out the allusion. This is the last date of the four-day-long Anti-Sikh Riots occurring right after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India. There is another allusion to the 1978 American women-led expedition to Annapurna.
  • Repetition: At the beginning of the second and third stanzas, Bhatt uses the line “Today I don’t want to think” for the sake of emphasis. The last stanza also contains a repetition of the phrase, “Now instead of.”
  • Imagery: The poem contains a number of shocking visual details of the 1984 Sikh Massacre in India depicted in leading American newspapers. In the last stanza, she creates an image collecting colors from her childhood and sprinkles authentic emotions of communal love and unity.
  • Metaphor: The compound word “peacock-green-sea-green” that is used to denote the color of the poet’s ink is actually a metaphor. Bhatt compares the color of the ink to that of the plumage of a peacock or sea. In “haemorrhaging trains,” she uses a personal metaphor.


Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

I won’t buy

The New York Times today.

(…)

of dead men and women

I know I’ve seen alive.

The first stanza of Bhatt’s journal-like poem ‘3 November 1984’ begins with a tone of rejection and withdrawal on the speaker’s part. Bhatt’s persona appears to be detached and touched at the same time. She prefers to be an onlooker and not corrupt her memories of communal unity by recent bloody developments. Writing in the present tense, the speaker describes how she preferred not to buy The New York Times of 3 November 1984. When she walked into the bookstore, she could not believe her eyes after seeing the photographs of dead men and women on the front page of the newspaper. The visual details made her freeze for a moment. Alongside that, Bhatt uses enjambment in lines four through eight in order to describe how quickly she was moved by the article.

Stanzas Two and Three

Today I don’t want to think

of Hindus cutting open

(…)

of Amrit and Arun and Gunwant Singh,

nor of Falguni and Kalyan.

She could not help but think of the four-day-long incident. No matter how hard she tried to get rid of the details, they stuck in her mind. However, she manages to move beyond the killings and remember something constructive. The way things went even made her let go of her cherished past. She refrains from thinking about her dear relatives and friends who could have been killed in the massacre. In the third stanza, she recalls the names of some acquaintances from both religions (Hinduism and Sikhism). She spent her childhood with them. Not only the poet, but most Hindus lived in a closely-knit community with Sikhs, Muslims, and people from different religions.

Stanza Four

I’ve made up my mind: today I’ll write

in peacock-greenish-sea-green ink I’ll write

(…)

I won’t think of haemorrhageing trains

I’ll get my homework done.

In the fourth stanza, Bhatt describes how she made up her mind in order to write poems about everything else except the massacre. She did not want to fuel the already tense situation with her words. So, she preferred to write in words that could inspire. She talks about writing in “peacock-green-sea-green ink,” which is a symbolic reference to inspirational, positive poetry.

She alludes to the recent feat of a group of all-women American mountaineers. In 1978, five women first ascended the peak of Annapurna mountain located in Nepal. They did it without a Sherpa leading them to the peak. The Sherpa is an ethnic group adept in mountaineering and living in tough Himalayan conditions. Sherpas generally lead expeditions.

In the last two lines, Bhatt alludes to the massacre once again. It was tough for her to forget the incident. Therefore, she describes how she tried hard not to remember the incident: “I’ll get my homework done.”

Stanza Five

Now instead of completing this poem

(…)

I’m thinking of Amrit.

In the last stanza of ‘3 November 1984,’ the poet describes her difficulty in writing the poem after being aware of the chain of events occurring after 31 October 1984. Even though she had already written a considerable portion of this poem, she got distracted. She started doodling tamarind leaves (“imlee fronds”) all over the page. She tried to find an escape from the present to the past. She remembers how she and Amrit, one of her Sikh friends, spent time beneath the imlee tree. After bathing, their mothers would tell them to go outside and dry their hair. Amrit’s hair was as long as hers. As she thought about Amrit, she brooded over what would have happened to him during the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘3 November 1984’ by Sujata Bhatt about?

Sujata Bhatt’s personal piece ‘3 November 1984’ is about how history and art influence one another. Through this poem, Bhatt explores writers’ difficulty in emotionally distancing themselves from the harsh historical events that happened around them.

What is the historical event alluded to in ‘3 November 1984’?

In this poem, Bhatt alludes to the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots or the 1984 Sikh Massacre that occurred after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31st October 1984. During these four-day-long riots, several Sikhs were either killed or displaced and suffered irreparable emotional damage.

When was the poem ‘3 November 1984’ written?

The title gives a direct hint about when the poem was written. It was written right after the end of the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots. The poem was published in Sujata Bhatt’s first collection of poetry, Brunizem (1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia).

What is the theme of ‘3 November 1984’?

Bhatt’s ‘3 November 1984’ taps on the themes of history, art, childhood, memory, hatred, and the past. The main theme of this poem is the communal love and unity impregnated in Indian culture. Bhatt tries to uphold the past when people from different religions lived in harmony, without mutual hatred and jealousy.


Similar Poetry

The following list contains a number of poems that similarly evoke the themes present in Bhatt’s lyrical piece ‘3 November 1984.’ You can also consider reading more poems by Sujata Bhatt.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap