Walker, Amelia, Social Alternatives
Brohmon is an ethnolinguistic exploration of tensions within and between Kolkata's three dominant languages - Bangla (Bengali), Hindi and English. Through narrative poetry and prose, it considers ways in which language can reflect, maintain and even create relationships of power between groups of people. The narrative draws on my experiences as an Australian poet participating in the Kolkata poetry scene in late 2007 and early 2008. The creative artefact is supported by a foreword discussing Brohmon's relationships with broader issues of language and power in diverse post/colonial and multilingual contexts.
According to Pavlenko and Blackledge, language is 'inseparable from political arrangements, relations of power, language ideologies [and] identities' (2004, 1). Brohmon supports this claim, describing tensions within and between Kolkata's three dominant languages - Bangla (Bengali), Hindi and English. Each section relates an incident or incidents where language reflects, maintains or even creates relationships of power between groups of people. Quotations from various other creative and critical texts show these incidents to be neither contained within themselves nor peculiar to India but, rather, linked to broader issues of language and power in diverse post/colonial and / or multhingual contexts.
Writing Brohmon, I grappled with two dilemmas beyond the issues directly discussed in the work itself. The first involved questions of if and how poetry can function as academic discourse. My urge as a poet is towards subtlety, towards saying things obliquely and leaving ends open. But that urge contradicts the necessities of academia, which calls for clear arguments and strong supporting evidence. But real academics don't have urges. And they don't begin sentences with 'But'. Or 'And'. Or 1Or'. I have attempted to address this conflict through the inclusion of endnotes offering further explication of how the incidents in Brohmon connect to broader issues involving language and power. I made the choice of using endnotes, rather than inserting this text directly into the creative work, because it leaves readers free to choose if, when and how they read these explications or to ignore them and create independent ones. Endnotes are also used to clarify Bangla and Hindi terms.
My second dilemma was the work's potential to fall into the trap of what Edward Said termed orientalism - afield of writing, research and other activities that outlined basic differences between East and West, Orient and Occident (Said 1995, 2). Said argued that orientalist discourse did not only describe, but in many ways actually created conceptions of 'the Orient' as other, 'the Occident' as self, and the distinction between the two. This self / other divide supported the domination of imperialist nations such as Britain over colonised nations such as India (Said 1995, 3-5). My intention in writing this piece was not, however, to highlight the differences between India and Australia, but rather to examine issues that our two countries share in common - as do other multhingual contexts including Ireland and the Persian Gulf States. Said stressed the need to study culture's role in creating and maintaining power relationships (Said 1994, 3). I hope that Brohmon can make some small contribution towards addressing that need.
I am sitting in my parents' lounge room, opposite my mother, attempting conversation, but my eyes and thoughts keep darting:
- these sofas - that television in its huge case - filled with DVDs and electronic appendages - the coffee table - laden with after-dinner nibbles - and this lounge room - bigger than the whole flat that I call home -no- called -
'Well?' My mother's voice brims with frustration.
'Sorry... I missed what you said...'
'Will you come visit Mary's baby tomorrow?'
'What is the program?' Mum's forehead crinkles. 1I mean, what time? …