A Tale of Two Tongues

i’m a chameleon with two tongues in my mouth
Punjabi and English
my mother tongue
and the other tongue
one the language of my blood the other of reason 

i couldn’t speak anything except my mother tongue until i was five
Punjabi is what i spoke, it was how i was safe and survived
Punjab comes from the Persian words panj, meaning five, and ab meaning water
it represents the five powerful rivers flowing across the lands

school expanded my world, throwing open new doors 
vowels and consonants came tumbling through
i went from 40 tidy sounds sitting neatly on the line
to never ending variations of 26 letters
all dancing above below and all over the line
for 5 year old me, it was a little confusing
the language of home and the language of school 
for the first time the chameleon in me awoke
i had two identities 

my mind my heart my tongue all disagreed on which I identified with most
wrestling together to see who had more muscle and power
both pulling me different directions
like a chameleon i learnt to change and adapt
i quickly undressed out of one and slipped into the other
trying to camouflage and blend in
like water mixed in a bowl of milk – undetectable to the eye
but your tongue would taste the difference

give me the English culture, the art, the poetry
give me the freedom of expression,
the democracy and the possibilities bestowed upon me

give me the vibrant Punjabi bhangra music, 
my body charged with energy 
give me the mouth-watering dishes, the jalebi, daal and roti
give me the tight knit community, we are a collective heartbeat

when I think in Punjabi it’s always about the collective family
English is what taught me individualism and to switch between I and We.
living with two cultures is not easy
you learn to appreciate and love them in their own way
both have shaped you, cultivated joy and transformed you
feeding your mind and heart
it’s impossible to single one out
like trying to choose between two parents
you embrace the good and the bad

aren’t we all part of a giant tree? 
that originated as one family
its branches grew and stretched out to lands afar
declaring their independence and shedding their roots of long ago
from Indo-European to Indo-Aryan then Punjabi
to Indo-European, Germanic then English
if you trace it all back, we are of one tongue, a common home

in the end, I embrace it all
i know how to live with multiple tongues
i’m a chameleon with three tongues in my mouth
Punjabi, English and French
my mother tongue
the other tongue
and his tongue
one the language of my blood, the other of reason and the last of love
i have expanded my tree to include the branches of romance, Gallo Iberian and French
realising they are just different instruments
that I choose to play in harmony as part of a great band
all mine to love and command

Angela Rideau

Angela Rideau is a London-based British-Indian Spoken Word Poet. She is the host of Poems From My Heart, a spoken word podcast sharing stories and poetry that explores taboos and difficult topics such as colonialism, body image, living within the diaspora, and feminism through poetry. 

Her debut autobiographical poetry collection, honeybee, is an exploration of trauma, identity, growing up within the South-Asian diaspora, healing, motherhood, and femininity.

Listen to our interview with Angela Rideau on The Nasiona Podcast where Angela joins Julián Esteban Torres López to explore taboos, their relationship to trauma, and how our taboo resistance is both a revolutionary act and a step toward healing. Musical Guest: Mallika Vie.

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