Mother Tongue

The documentary I am watching
About the massacres in Muzaffarnagar
Has no subtitles, and so it is only halfway
Between a woman’s sobbing that I realise
She is not saying that her neighbours took away her jewels
But that they took away her daughters.

And it is only halfway through a man’s explanation
(He flinches as if reality is a fly hovering too close
To his eyes)
That I realise the child in his arms is not his
But one he found lost in all the madness.

It is only midway through his story
That I realise his own wife and child are missing.
(Meri gharwali, he calls her,
Which I know means the one who belongs
To my home: our language was never made
For times like these, when homes no
Longer exist).

He had stopped to pick up this child
As one might pick up a key
Knowing only that it means
Something to someone,
Though in all likelihood
It will never be claimed, and the door and the house
Which it belonged to have almost certainly
Been burnt away.

All of this I understand only by degrees,
So much have I forgotten my mother tongue.
Surely, even now, there must be words
That I am missing.
Never have I wished more that I knew it,
Or been more grateful that I do not.

Anushka Joshi is a student at Wadham College, Oxford University.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty