|Volume 49 Number 4, March 9, 2019||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Never has it been more true that women are at the front and centre of the struggle to emancipate society from its current state of crisis whilst at the same time fighting to safeguard the future of society and bring the new into being. It was in this spirit of organising for the new that on March 8, 2019, a number of women got together to celebrate International Women's Day in London.
It was decided that everyone would bring poems and music written by and about women, with the main theme being to join together to speak In Our Own Name. Many poems and songs were presented. Two in particular - one poem and one song - gave voice to the tremendous spirit of the whole event and get-together. These included the poem "Search For My Tongue" by the Gujarati poet, Sujata Bhatt, and "Ella's Song" as rendered by the group Sweet Honey in the Rock.
"Search For My Tongue" eloquently expresses what it is like for anyone trying to live, survive and express themselves in a land which is not their country of origin, having their own customs and language. And in the country in which they find themselves or that they have made home, their voices are often suppressed or are counted as nothing or criminalised.
"Ella's Song" was written to honour the Civil Rights activist, Ella Baker (1903-1986) who was an instrument for teaching others to stand up and fight for their rights and for the rights of all. The lyrics and music were written by Bernice Johnson Reagon and then the song was taken up and popularised by Sweet Honey in the Rock, an African-American female a cappella group. Its final verse loudly proclaims the importance for women of finding and speaking in our own name: "I'm a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard."
At their best, they show that women will not be relegated to the margins of society but that they are in fact at the forefront of struggles being waged throughout society. So the evening proved to be an affirming occasion. It was uplifting and encouraging, and a fitting way to honour and celebrate International Women's Day.
Search For My Tongue by Sujata Bhatt
You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,
munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha
may thoonky nakhi chay
parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay
foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh
modhama kheelay chay
fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh
modhama pakay chay
it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Every time I think I've forgotten,
I think I've lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.