In A Different History by Sujata Bhatt, the poet is trying to tell the history of the commonwealth countries in a poetic way. She also asks a few disturbing questions about the present day world.
As the British Kingdom slowly rose to power, the Greek and Roman culture died a slow death and lay buried till the renaissance. Even after the renaissance, there has been a cultural dominance by the colonialist powers whether in Indian subcontinent or in the American continents.
Great Pan is not dead;
he simply migrated
The poet argues that the great European classic culture did not die away. She cites the example of the Great Pan, the Greek God. Everything, from nature worship to rituals and customs that this God stood for can be seen in India even today.
Here, the gods roam freely,
disguised as snakes of monkeys;
In India the gods are treated like human beings and pantheism or ‘the belief that everything from tress to monkeys are gods’ is not frowned upon but considered as a part of the common belief system. The poet herself doesn’t consider them snakes and monkeys; she considers them gods disguised as snakes and monkeys. This stance that she takes is crucial to the poem. You are not supposed to be rude to other life forms, insult a tree or touch a book with your foot. She has a great admiration for this culture.
After a very simple statement about the cultural migration in the first line, she gives us a composite picture of the things considered sacred and sinful in India. Even though all of these are moral issues, none of them is about human relationships or interactions of any kind. But the composite picture with its comprehensive nature shows us in a flash how everything in this world is connected in one way or another.
You must learn how to turn the pages gently
without offending Saraswathi,
without offending the tree
from whose wood the paper was made.
In the second part of the poem she raises questions which are not often asked by the offender or the offended. She considered language as the strongest element of culture. She asks,
Which language has not been the oppressor’s tongue?
This is not a reference to any particular language but a statement that there have been oppressors in every language and that it was used as propaganda, scriptures, maxims and laws to oppress the helpless. However, language was never meant for that. It only turned out to be a weapon in the hands of the oppressors. Language is the soul of a culture and we see it being
with along scythe swooping out
of the conqueror’s face-
The poet finds it strange that the unborn grandchildren of the oppressed grow to love the language of the oppressor. She is pointing out a phenomenon that we witness in our world today. The oppressors are not only pardoned by the oppressors, they are also admired by the future generations of the oppressed for the power they wielded. This could be attributed to the lack of awareness of history. They are not aware of the atrocities the language and its speakers unleashed on their ancestors. This may be why she wanted to write a ‘different history’.
The poem of full of strong images which gives us snapshots of all the things that the poet wants to refer to.