A Different History, Sujata Bhatt, Analysis, Summary & Themes

"Discover the profound exploration of cultural identity and language in Sujata Bhatt's poem 'A Different History.' Uncover its thought-provoking themes today."

Poem Text

Great Pan is not dead;
he simply emigrated
to India.
Here, the gods roam freely,
disguised as snakes or monkeys;
every tree is sacred
and it is a sin
to be rude to a book.
It is a sin to shove a book aside
with your foot,
a sin to slam books down
hard on a table,
a sin to toss one carelessly
across a room.
You must learn how to turn the pages gently
without disturbing Sarasvati,
without offending the tree
from whose wood the paper was made.
Which language
has not been the oppressor’s tongue?
Which language
truly meant to murder someone?
And how does it happen
that after the torture,
after the soul has been cropped
with the long scythe swooping out
of the conqueror’s face –
the unborn grandchildren
grow to love that strange language.


• Shows a deep reverence and appreciation of religion, nature, and God (Or Gods in the poem)
• Discusses the act of being friends with nature rather than Man VS Nature
• Kind of takes a dark turn when they start talking about Man VS Man related things
• Setting: in persona’s thoughts

Split into parts according to stanzas

Part 1: Stanza 1 (Religion, Nature, Man)

The poem explores the migration of Pan to India, where gods freely roam as snakes and monkeys. It emphasizes the sacredness of trees and books, condemning actions that disrespect them.

Part 2: Stanza 2 (Man VS Man)

The stanza questions the oppressive power of language, highlighting the history of languages used as tools of oppression and violence. It contemplates how people can come to love the very language that once caused immense suffering.

Major Themes

The themes present in the poem "A Different History" by Sujata Bhatt include:
  1. Cultural Identity: The poem explores the complexities of cultural identity, emphasizing the significance of heritage, traditions, and beliefs in shaping one's sense of self.
  2. Language and Power: Bhatt delves into the power dynamics associated with language, highlighting the historical oppression and violence perpetuated through dominant languages, while also questioning the potential for language to inspire resilience and transformation.
  3. Colonialism and Postcolonialism: The poem addresses the lasting impact of colonization, examining how it has influenced cultural practices, language, and the perception of one's own history.
  4. Nature and Spirituality: Bhatt explores the connection between nature and spirituality, portraying the gods in India as freely roaming entities and emphasizing the sacredness of the natural world.
  5. History and Memory: The poem contemplates the role of history and memory in shaping individual and collective identities, highlighting the importance of acknowledging and understanding one's past.
  6. Identity Formation: The poem raises questions about how cultural and linguistic influences contribute to the formation of personal and cultural identities, and how these identities can evolve and adapt over time.
  7. Oppression and Resistance: Bhatt confronts the history of oppression while also exploring the potential for resistance, resilience, and the reclamation of cultural heritage.
  8. Cultural Relativism: The poem invites readers to consider different cultural practices and perspectives, challenging ethnocentric notions and encouraging a more inclusive and open-minded understanding of diverse cultures.

Critical Analysis

"A Different History" by Sujata Bhatt is a thought-provoking poem that delves into themes of cultural identity, language, and the impact of colonization. The poem presents a contrasting view of religious and cultural practices, particularly through the figure of Pan and the gods in India. It emphasizes the sacredness of nature, as well as the reverence for books and language.

Bhatt's poem challenges the notion of a dominant language by questioning the history of oppression and violence associated with certain languages. It explores the complexities of language and its relationship to power, highlighting the impact it can have on individual and collective identities.

The poem's structure, with its two distinct stanzas, highlights the different aspects of the subject matter. The first stanza explores the interplay between religion, nature, and human behavior, showcasing the interconnectedness of these elements. The second stanza focuses on the historical and sociopolitical implications of language, raising important questions about the influence and consequences of linguistic dominance.

Bhatt's use of vivid imagery and metaphors adds depth to the poem, enabling readers to engage with the ideas on multiple levels. The juxtaposition of Pan's migration and the sacredness of language challenges preconceived notions and invites readers to reflect on their own cultural heritage and the power dynamics inherent in language.

"A Different History" prompts critical reflection on the complexities of cultural and linguistic identity, urging readers to consider the legacy of colonization and the evolving nature of language in shaping our understanding of the world.


• Quite literal language but a few memorable figurative aspects
• Personification: ‘offending the tree’, ‘rude to a book’
• Simile: ‘as snakes or monkeys’
• Repetition:
• 1st Stanza: ‘a sin’ repeated four times
• 1st Stanza: ‘without’ repeated twice
• 2nd Stanza: ‘Which language’
• Juxtaposition: ‘love that strange language’


• No evident rhyme scheme
• Indentation: Line 3/10/12/14
• Enjambment: Line 9+10/11+12/13+14/15+16

Sound devices

• No rhymes
• Sibilance: ‘a sin to slam’
• Power of 3: ‘shove’, ‘slam’, ‘toss’
• Alliteration: ‘whose woods’


First stanza

• Love and Respect for nature: ‘turn the pages gently’, ‘without offending the tree’
• Reverence for religion: ‘Great Pan’ (Greek God of Nature), ‘without disturbing Sarasvati’ (Hindu Goddess of the Arts), ‘a sin’ (word from Christianity)
• Almost like a sensei teaching a grasshopper to be calm: ‘sacred’, ‘gently’, ‘disturbing’, ‘offending’
• Sense of freedom too: ‘roam freely

Second stanza: completely different

• There is an air of darkness: ‘murder’, ‘torture’, ‘scythe’
• It is also very literal in the sense that she (an Indian) uses the language of those (The British) that conquered and killed her own ancestors
• A sense of hypocrisy as she is using the language in the poem
• Leaves a dirty taste in the mouth

Linking poems

‘Horses’, ‘Pike’, ‘Hunting Snake’ and ‘Thought Fox’: have mention of an animal
• ‘Pied Beauty’ and ‘Summer Farm’: appreciation of nature and God
• ‘The Planners’ and ‘The City Planners’: how man can destroy things, even themselves
• ‘A Birthday’: Both have a strange twist in there 2nd stanza
• ‘The Woodspurge’: Have a link between religion
• ‘Where I Come From’: Have a link between the Man and Nature aspect

Sujata Bhatt

• Many of her poems contain love and violence (interesting combination)
• Known for exploring racism and cultures around the world in her poems
• Considered ‘one of the finest poets alive
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