Songs from a Calling – 1

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Mother, my tongue

Mother, my tongue, unlike yours,
is devoid of the proverb;
quotes from Borges and may be
some lines with the sound of the sea

but not the wit, the wisdom
and the salt of the proverbial fruit
born of the peculiar earth
in which your language took root —

organic and local and springing
from the birthing and passing of a people,
whose mothers all use the same spices
and call the same thing evil.

the toddy tapper atop a tree
seeing the portly priest hurry
rips out a taunt aimed at his belly
only to be fed a retort so spicy

that it travels the tavern, it travels the jetty
the barber’s chair, the bourgeois settee
till all good folk in good faith agree
on what not to say when atop a palm tree.

And so begins the life of a proverb, traveling
on tongues from generation to generation—
chastising with affectionate alliteration,
aesthetic advice apposite to the situation,

pungent wit to puncture the prickly peer,
sensible syllables to temper
young love’s restless, insatiable ardor.
That world, your language,

came undone when
your people began
to take after birds,
only to not return.

Everyone today,
is an exile, an exile
from language; poets some
translate their mother’s tongue

to excavate its treasures
for their selves and their peers;
translate a proverb
and you will hear

how some voices,
will now be
silent
in the forever.


Dear India Poet in English,

There is no love left for me
In this language of ours. This
Language in which I have found

So many words with so much love that
They keep falling out of the cupboards.
Oh yes! I have read

All of ​Kolatkar ​with relish, trodden
The wordshards of ​Agha Shahid Ali
And drank from the so many of you

who set sail into the dawn​-dark sea,
hauling catches worthy of fisherfolk
along the winding Coromandel coast.

And yet won’t you agree
that no matter where we toast, we still crave
for humble rice and fish curry.

Isn’t it obvious, even
on the most cloudiest of days that
zaahir​ is more subtle than ​obvious.

Haven’t you wondered how
you are yet to hear
A harsh word in ​Urdu​, that language

Which begins to make love
exactly where English
Goes of to sleep — ​zehan​, ​zikr​, ​zulf, zubaan.​ …?

Haven’t you felt that ​moonlight
is not half as bright
as ​vennella?

Don’t you lust
for the salty slurp
of the vernacular?

Oh! is there a greater poverty
than being unable to make verse
in the tongues of our many mothers?

For language
is intimacy,
the way a people embrace

and verse
its consummation, its
ecstasy.


Tony Xavier is a writer and poet based in Bombay. “Songs from a calling” is an ongoing series, which he has been working on for over a decade. He can be found at Instagram.com/tonyxavierc