Below, you’ll find the poem and part of an analysis of the poem ‘Nanabhai Bhatt in Prison’ by Sujata Bhatt.
Includes a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem on the links below.
Stanza 1: At the bottom of Takhteshwar hill there was a house in the shape of an L, hidden from the road by five mango trees that had been planted by Nanabhai Bhatt.
Stanza 2: Huge crows fly over the L-shaped terrace, red-beaked green parrots fight over the mango trees. Sometimes the heavy rain season of monsoons sweeps away too much and leaves the area feeling bare. It is 1930, 1936…1942. Nanabhai sits writing for a moment while my grandmother gives orders to everyone.
Stanza 3: The next day, he is put into prison again: thrown in without a trial for helping Gandhi, for ‘Civil Disobedience’.
Stanza 4: One term in college I spent hours trying to imagine him in my mind: a thin man with large hands, I imagined how my grandfather looked in the middle of the night, in the middle of writing, between his own ideas he pauses to read from Tennyson, his favourite poet –
Stanza 5: (Lines from Tennyson) A hand that can’t be touched any more – Look at me, I cannot sleep, and I creep to the door like a guilty thing at the earliest hours of the morning.
Stanza 6: What did he think about the Northern trees? The old yew tree, the chestnut tree, and the strange season of falling leaves that happens every year – did he spend hours trying to imagine it all?
Stanza 7: I know that when he was a student in Bombay he saved and saved money, living on one meal a day for six months, just so that he could pay to watch the visiting English Company perform a Shakespeare play…
Stanza 8: And I spent hours thinking about his years in prison: Winter 1943; it is dark in his prison cell. He is sixty years old. I see him sitting cross-legged on the floor and I wonder what literature he had memorised by heart, I wonder which lines gave him the most comfort.
Stanza 9: That term at university was endless, he participated in a restless Baltimore March (presumably a protest march), when the tight buds on the forsythia plant teased our blood. And I, impatient to move on to other writers, had to slow down to study the same poem.
Stanza 10: So much information, swallowed like vitamins, so I could pass final exams –
Stanza 11: Yet, I stopped and thought deeply about each poem, in turn, wondering which parts of it my grandfather had loved the most.
The speaker of the poem is Bhatt herself; she recalls memories of her grandfather, a famous educator, writer and philanthropist, whom she clearly admires and considers one of the greatest influences in her life. Throughout the poem, she explores the hypocrisy of the grandfather’s imprisonment when he was altruistically working alongside Gandhi (see the context) to improve social conditions for communities in rural India. Nanabhai’s taste in literature seems also to have a significant influence on Sujatha, in particular, she considers his love of ‘Tennyson’ and ‘Shakespeare’, classical writers of English literature that allude to India’s colonial heritage.
|POSSIBLE ESSAY QUESTIONS|
1. Discuss Bhatt’s treatment of the issue of colonialism in ‘Nanabhai Bhatt in Prison’ and one other poem from the collection.
2. In what ways does Bhatt explore the connection between memory and identity in the poem?
Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here. This includes:
- Story + Summary
- Speaker + Voice
- Language Feature Analysis
- Form and Structure Analysis
- Attitudes + Messages
- Themes + Deeper Ideas
- Key Quotations
- Extra tasks to complete by yourself
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