«A Different History» – Essay

In our Literature class, the last poem we analyzed was «A Different History» by Sujata Bhatt. Therefore, we were asked to write an essay answering the following question:

  • Comment closely on how Sujata Bhatt reflects and explores on the ideas of ‘culture’, ‘values’, human struggle and religion.

Throughout “A Different History”, Sujata Bhatt deals with and reflects on various themes connected to the ideas of ‘culture, ‘values’, human struggle and religion.
Firstly, she depicts how she believes that many values have been lost due to the imposition and oppression of cultures. Although, throughout most of the first stanza, she focuses on one of India’s main value that wasn’t lost, which is the respect that people are supposed to have towards nature and literature. “You must learn how to turn the page gently (…) without offending the tree from whose wood the paper was made”, this quote shows a restrictive and firm side of Indian culture, that still stands, but thanks to the merge with other cultures, has become more flexible.
However, she focuses mainly on the loss of the native language, and does this by doing a memorable question in the second stanza: “Which language has not been the oppressor’s tongue?”. By asking this, she reflects on her own country and makes the reader think of their own situation. How nearly no country speaks their mother tongue, only the way of communicating that our ancestors were forced to learn. Besides, she is the living evidence of that. Being from India, but speaking English, is a clear example of how the British colonised the eastern country and imposed their own ways of living. In addition, the fact that it is a rhetorical question creates a bitter tone that shows how resentful she is about being deprived from her native identity.
Nevertheless, by naming Great Pan, a Greek god, she represents herself. This is because he, being half goat and half man, creates a parallelism with her, being half influenced by the Indian culture and by the English language culture. Therefore, she doesn’t only criticize the clashing of cultures, but recognises that culture and identity, are combinations. Combinations of what form us as people, either if it is different languages or religions that our ancestors passed on to us, or values that aren’t originally from our country, but that show our country’s history. This was also mentioned in the first stanza. How the influence of another culture, changed people’s stern perspective on how to treat nature and literature
Speaking of religion, by naming the latter god, and Sarasvati, an Indian goddess, she reflects India’s merge of religions. In the fourth line she expresses that “[there] the gods roam freely”, which conveys the country’s freedom to follow any belief that you want, which, during the colonial times, wasn’t allowed due to the oppression.
Finally, she finishes the poem with the idea of human struggle. She struggles with her identity because she is confused. She cannot possibly understand how, even though the conqueror has eradicated and ‘murdered’ the native language, “the unborn grandchildren grow to love that strange language”. However, this inner battle of confusion, disappointment and frustration comes to an end, because the fact that we’ve grown up to be proud of this language imposed to us, reflects how we have surrendered, the writer included as she acknowledges this acceptance on our behalf to worship this language.
In conclusion, the writer makes a lot of different points by dealing with the different themes. Such as the loss of values during the period of colonisation, the clash, imposition and oppression of cultures; the religious oppression that has been replaced by freedom to follow any belief, and the human struggle that is frustration, because of the incapability to speak our actual mother language, and confusion, because it seems impossible to understand how we’ve accepted this infliction of a different culture.