Languages on their own can be tools of power or resistance…
Shailja Patel’s “Dreaming in Gujarati”: (excerpts)
I am six
in a playground of white children
Darkie, sing us an Indian song!
in a roomful of elders
all mock my broken Gujarati
Through the years I watch Gujarati
swell the swaggering egos of men
mirror them over and over
at twice their natural size.
Through the years
I watch Gujarati dissolve
bones and teeth of women, break them
on anvils of duty and service, burn them
to skeletal ash.
Words that don’t exist in Gujarati :
English rises in my throat
rapier flashed at yuppie boys
who claim their people “civilized” mine.
at cab drivers yelling
Dirty black bastard!
Force-field against teenage hoods
F****ing Paki bitch!
Their tongue – or mine?
Have I become the enemy?
my father speaks Urdu
language of dancing peacocks
even its curses are beautiful.
He speaks Hindi
suave and melodic
salty rich as saag paneer
laced with Arabic,
he speaks Gujarati
solid ancestral pride.
five different worlds
before white men
who think their flat cold spiky words
make the only reality.
Words that don’t exist in English:
Then there’s American:
Kin’uh get some service?
Dontcha have ice?
May I have please?
Ben, mane madhath karso?
Tafadhali nipe rafiki
Donnez-moi, s’il vous plait
Hello, I said can I get some service?!
Like, where’s the line for Ay-mericans
in this goddamn airport?
Words that atomized two hundred thousand Iraqis:
Didja see how we kicked some major ass in the Gulf?
Lit up Bagdad like the fourth a’ July!
Whupped those sand-niggers into a parking lot!
The children in my dreams speak in Gujarati
bright as butter
sounds I can paint on the air with my breath
dance through like a Sufi mystic
words I can weep and howl and devour
words I can kiss and taste and dream
I take back.
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