Ankita Shah

Politics of Speech

From when I begin to listen,
It takes a whole year to make a sound.

Mother chisels my tongue with spices
That is how I say my first word.

Six more months
And I form the first phrase
Part meaningful, part misplaced.

It takes a whole decade then to tell mother
About the bully in school.
I want to tell her of the men that touch me
But I do not know the words yet
I never learn them.

But less than a year later,
I will tell my father that he does not deserve my mother
This time, I know the words,
The outgrowth of my adolescent angst.

When I learn to scream,
I’m almost twenty and it’s cloaked in metaphors.
I say everything I have to say
Without having to say everything.
My mother understands this tongue
Of pause and precision,
A prayer to memory.
She doesn’t speak English
I don’t speak Nepali
And for the first time it stops to matter.

I’m twenty-five
I hear rumours
That everything supposed to be said
Has been said.
I hear: wait for your turn Ankita.
I hear: don’t ask too many questions.
I hear and slowly
Find my tongue curling back
To the time when I didn’t know the idioms
Of hope.

I’m twenty-six.
My broken poems
Have nothing to do
With the pauses
You hand me to fill.

Ankita Shah is a Bombay-based poet and co-founder of a local outfit called The Poetry Club that enables accessing & learning poetry, through discussion-based readings and workshops. Her new poems introspect life, death, and wormholes, negotiating the space between the seen and unseen, past and present, memory and mortar. She’s worked as a program curator and arts administrator for the last six years, mainly in the space of poetry, but more recently, also in the space of theatre, music, design, inter-disciplinary work, and art-based engagement with local communities in Mumbai.