My mother tongue flows from your lips,
graceful as the peacock blue sari you wore,
In old black and white photos,
Now hidden in suitcases,
gathering dust on top of the wardrobe.
Its turquoise and teal waves,
out of place against the grey clouds,
And rain soaked pavements of Luton Town Centre,
As you clutch your carrier bags,
waiting for the bus home.
My mother tongue speaks in the colours of a different sun,
Which sets in Monsoon skies.
Of hennaed hands and red bridal veils,
The partition between the past and the present,
Tied together by gossamer silk, embroidered with gold.
My mother tongue pours from the scratchy biro you use
And turns into smooth, undulating waves of urdu,
As you write to your Ammi on pale blue air mail letters,
The colour of the Indus on an old sandstone map,
My mother tongue slips from your lips,
Like the prayer beads that flow through your fingers,
Delicate as the bangles that chime on your wrist,
As you make rotis on the hot stove.
I longs to share my mother tongue
and savour its metaphors,
Yet I hold my tongue, bite my tongue,
Swallow my words whole
I silence my mother tongue,
Hide it from those who hate the colour of my skin.
And yet my mother tongue still calls to me,
Like the call to prayer from distant minarets,
Whispering softly in my ear and filling the loneliness of silence
I listen as my mother tongue flows from your mouth,
like the powerful current of an old river,
curving smoothly around the ebbs and flows
as you remind me to uphold your traditions.
I long to share my mother tongue,
But as I trace the sound of the words,
The Urdu letters, smooth and curved as the dome of a mosque,
Sound clumsy in my mouth, as I’m reminded this tongue is not mine
I speak in half a voice, an out caste from two worlds,
Always foreign, no matter what I say,
The words get stuck in my throat
Leaving me tongue tied
As my words fall on deaf ears
And I fall silent in two languages
Alia Waheed is a journalist specialising in writing about issues affecting women from the Asian community. She is currently working on her first novel. Of ‘MY MOTHER TONGUE’, she says “this poem is about trying to find a voice when you are growing up on the borders between two cultures.” @AliaWaheed
This poem is in response to a prompt selected by our Creative editor Monika Radojevic, “If these rivers lead somewhere, where would they go?” To stay up to date and submit your response to next month’s prompts, follow us on Instagram where we make the announcement.