Mother Tongue

Ila Railkar

I babbled my first words
in Marathi, that illustrious dame
who laughed with joy and clapped as hard as
she who gave me birth.

She held my hand 
and guided me as I struggled through
her cadence and words, her rules and quirks
never once getting angry.

School onward 
from a bumbling child to a mature adult
fair English – warm yet exacting and unforgiving,
witnessed me grow.

At street corners,
on TV screens, among friends, even 
at home too ashamed of the provincial Marathi–
cool English is now all the rage.

Foreign lands, foreign tongues 
French and Spanish and German and Arabic;
sirens from far-flung lands of dreams and affluence,
I clasp them close.

My mother tongue
chin in hand observes all, bearing no ill will
for her sisters and cousins and aunts, certain that one day
to her I will come back.

Ila Railkar is a queer Indian poet. She often writes on loss, belonging, identity, and feminism. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indian Review, Blue River Review, One Sentence Poems, The Alipore Post, Madras Courier, and Moss Puppy Magazine.