0-24 by Farheen Raaj

I did not have a tongue.
I spoke Gujarati because my parents spoke in it.
I spoke English because my sister spoke in it.
I had a surname I didn’t bleed in, I had a tongue that didn’t whip me.

Fire forged everyone’s words and knives.
I was given a tongue.
One that did not seem to corroborate with what my surname meant to others.
I began to roughhew my speech around that negotiation.
I was born in Gujarat,
I live in Gujarat,
I wasn’t a Gujarati?

I moved away.
Outside of Gujarat, I renegotiated.
I re-grew the pride of the native when faced with outsiders,
I shed the pride of the native when I fell back into the shade of the real natives.
My tongue grew in multiples of English, Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi.
I whispered my voice.

Today, someone asked me if I was a ‘proper’ Gujarati.
For the first time after the 9, I said yes without thinking twice.
Upon hearing the yes, that person asked me if all of us ate food this sweet.
I defended our food before I revelled in the ‘us’.
Told them that if you were to visit my friends in Saurashtra,
their food would burn you on the inside, and you
would enjoy every minute of it.
Today, my voice is not just my tongue.
Not just my surname,
not just my words.


This poem was born in a fit of anger, pride and the ultimate anchor emotion of a Gujarati- hunger. The numbers signify my transit from one age to another, wherein I feel the need to give reference to context for just one age- 9. I was 9 in 2002, a year that will always stand out in the history of Gujarat and this country, least of all in my own history. While the rest is up to interpretation, debate and scoff, I do feel the need to acknowledge that one of the major factors to my being able to voice this voice was the space I found at Sauhard. It is a marker of how safe a place can be that years of inexplicable emotions were unravelled, sorted and packed, as necessary amongst a lot of love, care and creativity. This poem is a reminder of that space- one that acted to respect a fire, not extinguish it and not fuel it.

-Farheen Raaj

(Farheen has been with Sauhard since the past 6 years. She completed her fellowship at Sauhard in 2012 and was a facilitator after that. Currently, she works full-time at Sauhard and co-ordinates the Sauhard Youth Fellowship.)


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