Pains of Migration in the Poems of Sujata Bhatt


 The paper focuses on the issue of experiencing pain during crossing the border for settlement in the host country as described by Sujata Bhatt in her poems. Despite willingness and attempt to cultivate the dynamic of integration with the places of migration, the poets and creative writers have created a space for themselves to which they often return in order to register their hiatus with the land or the culture they come from. Avtar Brah argues that “home” becomes a mythic place of desire in the diasporic imagination.(Brah ,192)

Border-crossing has constituted a major theme in the postcolonial writing. It has added an exploratory dimension, coupled with authenticity of experience and expression. Whatever prospect of border-crossing, careerism, opportunism, or material or professional prosperity-it is likely to generate a kind of indeterminacy, uncertainty, a sense of vacancy or rootlessness which gets reflected in the writing and which enriches, enlarges, animates the writing, adding to it a tensional quality in the writing that makes it authentic and genuinely human to the core. Border-crossing also amounts to the fusion of ideas, images, ways of thinking and writing. It also leads to the enlargement or construction of vision depending upon the willingness and ability of the creative writer to integrate him or her to the already crossed boundaries or to dissociate or isolate from such territories. In both the experiences, one’s writing is likely to be affected, shaped and reshaped, in order to reflect the emergent vision of the creative writer.

Sujata Bhatt- as a Poetess of Diaspora

Sujata Bhatt, born on 6th May 1956 in Ahmedabad, is an Indian poetess, a native speaker of Gujarati. She was brought up in Pune until 1968 when she migrated to the United States with her family. She has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, and for a time was writer-in-residence at the University of Victoria, Canada. She currently works as a freelance writer and has translated Gujarati poetry into English for the Penguin Anthology of Contemporary Indian Women Poets. Her poems have appeared in various journals in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, and Canada, and have been widely anthologized, as well as being broadcast on British, German, and Dutch radio. Bhatt now lives in Bremen, Germany with her husband, German writer Michael Augustin, and daughter. She has written many poems, most prominent of which is the English poem “Search for My Tongue“. This poem is one in a section of “Poems from Different Cultures” in an anthology that is compulsory study for many fourteen to sixteen-year-olds in the United Kingdom. Many of her poems have explored issues such as racism and the interaction between Asian, European, and North American culture.

Themes of Anguish in Sujata Bhatt’s Poetry

Sujata Bhatt’s poetry shows her signs of contemporarneity by way of writing variously on time, history and cultures and on the impact that these forces leave on the poet’s own self or identity. Her volumes Brunizem (1988), Monkey Shadows (1994), The striking Rose (1995) and Point No Point (1997) – reflects the kind of tensional quality that adds richness to the diasporic writings .She feels the pains of displacement, but does not like to make an exhibition of it, for she remains an instinctive insider who carries, wherever she goes, the seeds of home that she has left. A sense of continuity in terms of her relationship with home pervades through her poetry. She makes her decision clear-cut, as she writes:

          I am the one
Who always goes
Away with my home
Which can only stay inside
In my blood-my home which does not fit
With any geography. (The One Who Goes Away)

Even if she goes away from home, she does not allow her home to part from her. She herself remains extremely possessive about it:

          But I never left home.
I carried it away
With me- here in my darkness
in myself.(The One Who Goes Away)

Whatever is the existential or physical space for the poet, whether darkness or light, centre or margin, it is home that remains central to her consciousness. Her global concern is whirled back to the local, to the native experiences. She passes through the global or local as they pass through her. Whenever she paints poverty, she bears in mind the familiar picture of Ahmedabad where hunger and poverty loomed large.

Image of Homeland in Sujata Bhatt’s Poems

Sujata Bhatt’s perception of her own nation and home as the insignia of one’s identity shapes her vision. She goes on constructing images of home and nation by way of falling back on memories of individuals, anecdotes, legends, family rituals and on the history of country. The poems Brunizem and Monkey Shadows bear similarities in the construction of home or nation through certain images. Peacock, buffalo, lizard, crocodile, monkey spontaneously contribute to the development of a geographical rather than physical identity of a place that never leaves her psychic domain. Through the personalities of Swami Anad, Nanabhai  Bhatt, Nachiketa, Kalika, Grandmother she revokes a past without sentimentalizing which conditions the diasporic writer’s sense of identity. But in many of her poems she has reflected her familiarization with the western culture and ethos. But in the description of the images of nation, a kind of passionate involvement and absorption is observed. Where as in the representation of western culture coldness a sense of unrelatedness is observed. In Kankaria Lake she makes use of the newspaper reporting to inscribe tale which is entirely different from that of the poem Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge, July 1990.

          Sometimes a gardener
Or a homeless man
Or a wandering story teller
Would fall asleep on the grass
Too close to the lake
And soon enough the newspapers
Would report about how
The crocodiles had devoured
Yet another careless man.(Kankaria Lake)

In the Brooklyn Bridge poem Bhatt informs about a matter- of –faculty story from the newspaper.

          In another section
Of the newspaper I read
About the ever growing problem of refugees.
Who will take them in?
Especially the ones from Vietnam’
A favourite subject for photogarphers.(Brooklyn Bridge)

This happens to most of the diasporic writers. When they draw images from home nation, they amalgamate memory and desire, when they draw images from the locations of migrancy, they mix desire with reality. Suffering and grief, alienation and loss stem from the exile experiences.

In many poems of Augatora, Bhatt presents the wounds of displacement. History of Broken narrative and New Orleans Revisited depict the pangs of displacement and her postcolonial consciousness.

          Pick a story and see where
It will lead you.
You take your language where you get it.
Or do you
Get your language where you take it?
And then someone changed it:
Indian English convent school in Poona,
Years later, the very old Miss Ghaswala
Managed to change my New Orlean style.(History of Broken Narrative)

Through the poems like A Memory from Marathi, Honeymoon, My Mother’s way of Wearing a Sari Bhatt sustains her preoccupation with her childhood and past.  This leads her to construct the image of home and/or nation. In many of her poems she uses Gujarati words, even sentences, with English translations and sustains cultural link through language.

Casteism, husband-wife relationship and purity of house image have been depicted in her poem. For My Grandmother recollects the days of mourning after the grandmother’s death, and painfully presents her own sense of loss:

          Aaji, there was an eleven-year-old girl
Who sat on our doorstep
During the feast
Of your mourning.
She would not cry or eat
Sleep or speak.(Brunizem,25)

Bhatt’s depiction of myths, legends, rituals also enables her to the representation and construction of nation. She says about the Agni that

          pure Sita, returns again and again-
It is worshipped by prostitutes in Bombay
As they cleanse themselves , leaping
Over flames between customers,
That Agni returns again and again
Even to me. (Brunizem,80)

Bamboo, rose, neem, and agni and even Sita are elements of a cultural construct which not only correspond to an identity but also register the integration between the identity and specificities of a culture or a nation. In Well,Well,Well Bhatt raises some vital questions and issues with regard to home and displacement. In the middle of the poem, she frankly admits:

          I know I’ve made the mistake
Of loving America too much (Brunizem ,106)

She tries to argue that displacement does not displace the mother tongue:

          Everytime I think I’ve forgotten
I think I’ve lost the mother tongue,
It blossoms out of my mouth. (Brunizem,66)

One cannot really spit out the mother tongue when one lives in a different country, uses a different language.

Bhatt also constructs the image of the nation:

          (Ranindrasangeet gaati gaati)
The monsoon sky giving rain
All night, all day, lightning, the electricity
Goes out,
We light the cotton wicks in butter
candles in brass
And my mother in the kitchen,
My mother singing:
I can’t hear my mother in English. (Brunizem,68)


Sujata Bhatt has constructed the images of home, nation and created link of language with the culture of homeland. Her poems reflect the pains of settlement in an alien land with foreign culture which is not an easy process. As a Diasporic writer she brings forward the culture, language and places of her nation on global perspective.

 Works Cited

  1. Bhatt, Sujata. Monkey Shadows, Delhi:Penguin Books, 1993.
  2. ___, Brunizem, Delhi:Penguin Books, 1993.
  3. ___, Augatora, Manchester, Carcanet, 1997.
  4. Brah, Avtar, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities, London:Routlegde, 1997.

Jagdish S Joshi, Professor & I/C Director, UGC-MHRD Centre, Gujarat University,  Ahmedabad. E-Id: joshijagdish          


Bhatt Mahesh Bharatkumar, Assistant Professor in English,  Gujarat Arts & Science College,  Ahmedabad.  E-Id: