The poet in ‘Go to Ahmedabad‘ presents her hometown’s culture and social issues, simultaneously dealing with her difficult position between the two countries as she visits Ahmedabad after ten years.
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The speaker, probably Sujata Bhatt herself, in ‘Go to Ahmedabad,’ talks about her hometown from where she had migrated. The poet talks about her old memories, mental state, and contemporary social issues. She raises the problems of the marginalized sections and presents their pain to her global readers. Highlighting the gravity of the issue, Bhatt portrays the impact of deprivation on the bodies and psyche of people who experience it.
Deprivation causes long-term physical and mental sickness. The speaker impacts the readers by evoking them to feel the pain and endless angst of the deprived. The poem also shows the condition of women in a patriarchal society. Women get doubly marginalized during a crisis like poverty.
Simultaneously Bhatt portrays and deals with her troubled psyche and liminal position due to her migration. Immigrants’ exposure to new ideas and opportunities leads to a global perspective on discriminating socio-cultural practices and values. However, amidst this exposure, they fear losing their roots and identity that emerge from their native lands. While trying to strike a balance between the two, the speaker or immigrants occupy an in-between, or liminal, position between the two cultures and countries.
Suffering from a creative block in America, the poet accepts her liminal position and new identity, presenting the blessing of being in such an ambivalent position. Her liminal position and creative writing create an empowering space for Bhatt. Concurrently, she not only provides global support to her people but also preserves and presents the culture of her hometown through her poem.
The poet uses the following literary devices to convey and evoke emotions:
- Metaphor – Two different ideas or things are compared, and one thing is described as being another to show specific attributes. The speaker uses instances from her personal life to metaphorically portray the extent of psychological pain poverty causes.
- Irony: Dramatically exposes the contrast between appearance and reality to represent reality impactfully. The poet often juxtaposes different things or ideas to describe the reality of poverty and women’s condition in Ahmedabad.
- Symbolism – To use words, people, color, instances, etc., as symbols to represent other things and ideas. The child in the third stanza represents the speaker’s childhood. The scar on the child’s chest symbolizes the speaker’s present wounds.
- Paradox – Self-contradictory situations or statements invite readers’ attention to understand the truth. The poet uses paradoxical situations and emotions to present her chaotic mental state.
- Repetition – When a poem’s lines, words, or phrases are repeated to emphasize something. The poet uses “hunger is when” repeatedly to emphasize the angst associated with poverty. Poet repeats, “Go to Ahmedabad,” evoking the readers to know the city and feel the pain of the deprived people.
- Epistrophe: It is the repetition of words at the end of sentences. In stanza three, the poet repeatedly uses the word “place” at the end of a few sentences. It emphasizes the centrality of the poet’s hometown in her life and its impact on her psyche.
Go walk the streets of Baroda,
go to Ahmedabad,
go breathe the dust
until you choke and get sick
with a fever no doctor’s heard of.
Don’t ask me
for I will tell you nothing
about hunger and suffering.
The poet begins by directly addressing the readers, asking them to walk “the streets of Baroda” and Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad and Baroda are cities in the state of Gujrat, India. Further, the speaker asks the reader to go and experience the diseases and suffering themselves. Thus, making it clear that she will “tell nothing” about “hunger and suffering.”
Bhatt introduces her hometown with its deprivation and directs the reader using the imperative “go” to observe it themselves. She keeps mentioning that she will not say anything about hunger. Still, in the poem, the speaker metaphorically explains “hunger is when” through her personal life experiences. The poet wants the readers to feel the pain of deprivation. Thus, she does not directly paints a picture of squalor; instead, she presents the anguish caused by poverty.
As a girl I learned
never to turn anyone away
And yet, I say nothing
about hunger, nothing.
In the second stanza, Bhatt metaphorically portrays the agony of hunger. During childhood, the speaker learned the value of sharing food with her mother. But years after migrating, she learns about hunger, when in America, the doctor tells her that her mother is malnourished and her bones are weak. The speaker’s mother is malnourished because there was never enough food in her house, but she had to feed her children just like those “women who came” begging at doors in Ahmedabad.
The poet never experienced hunger literally in Ahmedabad but could not escape its pain. She presents her anguish through irony by juxtaposing the childhood value with the present reality of her malnourished mother. So, for her, hunger is the knowledge of her mother’s sacrifice behind her blissful childhood as she feels the bitter pain and ensuing guilt years later in America. Along with the continual mental and physical consequences of deprivation, Bhatt also portrays the generational damage it causes in families who suffer from it. The experience also leads to a troubled psyche. Therefore, for the poet, hunger is also when terrified by its pain; one ironically loses appetite and gives food to the poor instead of money. So, she “say(s) nothing about hunger” because it is painful. Secondly, its literal description won’t encompass the mental agony of hunger the poet knows about.
The poem also presents women’s position in a patriarchal society. The line – “The children must always be fed” suggests a moral duty. However, like the poet’s mother, the onus of fulfilling the needs of children falls on women in a patriarchal society. The patriarchal society in India expects women to fulfill “duties” and uphold values while sacrificing themselves for their families. Malnourishment of women in India is a significant social issue.
I have friends everywhere.
This time we met after ten years.
Luckily, just then
someone tells a good joke.
Stating in the last stanza that she talks nothing about hunger, the poet begins this stanza talking about her friends and meeting them after ten years. However, soon it seems as if she gets lost in a dream of her disturbing thoughts amidst meeting her friends.
Each of the initial five sentences of the stanza ends with a full stop seeming like the news of present reality. The reader might expect more news; however, the streak breaks oddly as the speaker suddenly holds the baby in the sixth line, who is crying due to a “strange rash.” Afterward, Bhatt presents various odd scenes put together in a dream-like situation. The “strange rash” seems to symbolize the wound of anguish and guilt due to her mother’s suffering that the speaker carries over her chest. That scene is soon disturbed by another pestering thought of the speaker that concerns her marriage and children. Patriarchal society expects women to get married and bear children at the “right age.”
Abruptly, the next scene of a “crowded bus” reminds the readers of the deprivation while taking them back to the crying baby. Then suddenly, the sleeping “old man,” unaware of whatever was happening around him, assumes the poet to be the mother of the child and blames her for the child’s sickness, outrightly saying, “how could” she “let” the child “get so sick.” The old man presents another stereotype prevalent in a patriarchal society – mothers are responsible for everything that happens to their children. Thus, the crying baby again symbolizes the speaker’s childhood, leading to her present anguish and guilt. Her mother would also have to face or fear similar stereotypes. Thus, the stanza presents the spiral of troubling thoughts of the poet fused in a dream-like situation.
I have friends everywhere.
This time we met after ten years.
not for me to tell you about.
This stanza begins like the previous stanza. It seems as if the speaker has woken up from the dream due to somebody’s laugh, and now she articulates her present situation, starting from the beginning again. In this stanza, the poet directly expresses her suffering. She suffers due to her paradoxical emotions toward Ahmedabad.
The speaker states that she has “friends everywhere,” but ironically, she meets them after ten years when she is finally in Ahmedabad. The irony indicates the poet’s loneliness and alienation in America. Immigrants like the poet, post-migrating, have to adjust to a new culture, beliefs, and worldview, which often conflict with their native culture, beliefs, and worldview that provide them a stable identity. Thus, they struggle while adjusting and feel alienation, homelessness, nostalgia, identity crisis, and ambivalence in the foreign land as opposed to the homeland’s warmth, security, and stability, which makes them feel “at home.”
However, when the speaker returns to her hometown, she doesn’t feel that old stability but drowns in troubling thoughts. She realizes she has developed some distance from her hometown as well due to newly developed perspectives, knowledge, and a better lifestyle. Accordingly, she will always choose to live in America while fearing she might lose her hometown and identity. But the poet can’t “write a damn thing about” America because she will always resonate with the issues of her homeland as her identity and existence emerge from her homeland and culture. Thus, the poet occupies an in-between or liminal position between the two places, simultaneously belonging to and alienated from both. She struggles to come to terms with her liminal position amidst overwhelming thoughts. Moreover, it is “not for” her to articulate the suffering of her paradoxical emotions, as her readers want to know only about the deprivation of Ahmedabad.
Go walk the streets of Baroda,
go to Ahmedabad
that’s why there’s always someone
who knows a good story.
The last stanza begins like the first, invoking the readers to ‘Go to Ahmedabad‘. However, in this stanza, along with poverty, Bhatt also talks about her hometown’s beauty and culture. She does not paint a stereotypical black-and-white picture of squalor or eulogize her hometown. Instead, presents a balanced view of Ahmedabad. While juxtaposing the image of cow dung with the sky, Bhatt reminds the reader also to see the “January sky” full of kites.
Bhatt addresses the ignorance of her readers and requests them not to ask “how it feels” when the doctor reports terrible news. The anguish of deprivation is inexpressible in literal words and hard to talk about. The speaker keeps saying in earlier stanzas that she will not talk about hunger. The fear of deprivation is so overpowering it gets enmeshed even in simple cultural “tulsi tea.” The speaker suggests people “make tea with tulsi leaves” always in preparation for an epidemic as tulsi increases immunity. Thus, instead of describing “hunger and suffering,” the speaker asks the reader to “go and live it yourself.” The psychological distress and angst of poverty can’t be understood by reading factual news or stories from a few privileged who migrated. One can only understand and feel the people’s pain by closely connecting with them and observing their plight.
Bhatt uses the personal pronoun “we” for the first time in the poem. She represents her homeland’s people, addressing the questions of the global community. The speaker resolves her paradoxes in the last stanza and uses her liminal position to express distinct views. Dismantling the stereotypes, the poet creates an international space for her people through her creative writing. She also preserves her culture and true identity in her poem, writing about Ahmedabad with all its beauty and traditions, loving and hating it.
‘Go to Ahmedabad‘ was published in Bhatt’s first poetry collection, Brunizem, in 1988. Brunizem is a type of dark prairie soil found in Asia, Europe, and North America, the three places where Bhatt has lived. Thus, the collection title symbolizes Bhatt’s belongingness to different places like Brunizem.
Diasporic Literature includes works of authors who have immigrated from their native lands to different countries. Diasporic works are associated with the native land and culture. Their themes include nostalgia, homelessness, identity crisis, alienation, liminality, etc. ‘Go to Ahmedabad‘ is part of Diasporic Literature as Bhatt has migrated from India. Bhatt presents the troubled mental state of a diaspora. Moreover, she adds a new thread to Diasporic Literature as she embraces her distinct position, which gives her unique sensibility and range.
The themes in ‘Go to Ahmedabad‘ include the issues of marginalized sections of society, their psychological pain, and the diasporic condition and identity of the poet.
One can interpret ‘Go to Ahmedabad‘ as the speaker’s psychological journey. Initially, creative writing provides a space for the speaker to articulate her complex emotions, ambivalence, and angst concerning her hometown. Thus, the poem becomes the poet’s therapeutic journey. Completing the journey towards the end, the speaker accepts her liminal position and her hometown in its entirety. Moreover, the speaker becomes confident in her liminal identity instead of being split into paradoxes. Thus, the poet’s position becomes empowering and, in turn, contributes to her creative writing, providing distinct views while enlightening readers.
The following list contains other poems by Sujata Bhatt similar to ‘Go to Ahmedabad.’ Readers can consider reading these interesting poems:
- ‘3 November 1984’ – The poem deals with riots in Bhatt’s homeland and presents the speaker’s disturbed psyche while she is in a different country.
- ‘The One Who Goes Away’ – Through the journey of migrating speaker, the poem explores the idea of the home, dealing with themes of homelessness, alienation, and in-betweenness of the speaker.
- ‘Search for My Tongue’ – Explores the struggle of the immigrant speaker as she tries to adjust to a new culture while fearing that she may lose her core identity and native culture in the process.