‘Geography of Tongues’ (Book Excerpt) by Shikha Malaviya

GOT Cover

Shikha Malaviya considers herself a morpher, having been born in the U.K. and raised in the U.S. and India. She is founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Project, an initiative to document, preserve and promote the legacy of modern Indian poetry. Her book of poems, Geography of Tongues, was launched in December 2013. Shikha is deeply involved in the poetry community through events/initiatives such as organizing ‘100 Thousand Poets for Change—Bangalore’ in 2012 and 2013; co-founding ‘Poetry in Public India,’ a movement to bring powerful verse by Indian women to public places across India; and giving a TEDx talk on ‘Poetry in Daily Life’ at TEDx Golf Links Park, Bangalore, 2013. Shikha’s poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She also founded Monsoon Magazine, the first South Asian literary magazine on the web. Shikha graduated from the University of Minnesota with BA and MA degrees in creative writing, mass communications and liberal studies. Read a few poems from the collection below. Read her complete interview here.



The voice of a little girl saying

‘Papa’s got big legs,

Papa’s got big teeth’

in a crisp British accent

and from behind her shoulder

a little boy with

a little-boy accent

insisting he wants

to say hello

hello, helloooooo

and doesn’t realize

he already has

The tape recorder has caught it all



Dadi speaks to us in Hindi so that

we will learn, simple things like

come here­—yahaanaao

go there—wahaanjao

eat food—khaanakhao

bring that book—pustaklao

and we do


The Devnagari script


with a straight roof

and a wall to support the sides

each alphabet leaning in


phonetic tricks

uh-aa, e-ee, oo-ooo

ka, kha, ga, gha, na

our tongues performing


all of us partaking

in this linguistic


going for the gold



I remember Uncle Tom’s Cabin

not because it was a sad story

not because Uncle Tom dies

but because I read it

in Hindi

Tom Kaka kiKutiya

I would repeat the title

over and over again

because it sounded funny

and because kutiya mispronounced

meant bitch

and it all sounded


though it was only



I graduated from picture alphabet books

where the Hindi vowel ‘uh’

had a round red pomegranate next to it

and ‘aa’ had a giant orange-colored mango

with a small green leaf on its stem

hungry for all the vowels

the fruit within them

tangy and sour

I plucked them off the page

and into my mouth


Nominated for the Pushcart Prize:


After Brynn Saito’s ‘Like Any Good American’

I turn my face    with acute awareness   not giving them

even an eyelash   I give my phone unwanted attention

scanning numbers   friends who don’t matter

I count down the traffic light   59-58-57 seconds   then feign sleep
knuckles wrap against tinted glass   sometimes they call out

mother  sometimes sister    hair matted  mussed up on purpose

at intersections if I should look   they’ll pull out my corneas

with a grimace   push their scent   on my tinted car window

make me clutch    my purse tighter   half opened palm

the size of my heart     beating  like a silver coin

that I won’t give    because it spoils them



In News of the Weird, a thirty-year-old woman was hospitalized in Sunnyvale, California, this week, when her tongue froze in the process of switching accents. No word yet on which languages she was switching between. Witnesses at the scene say it was a challenging transition between talking with an ethnic shopkeeper, the woman’s child, and a friend, who all spoke in different tongues. This is the first case of what doctors refer to as ‘Lingua Gelatio,’ in the state of California, after three cases were reported in New York earlier this year. Bi-lingual and tri-lingual people are urged to exercise caution, as there is no known cure for Lingua Gelatio. The hospitalized woman is currently undergoing rehabilitation and communicates via written messages, hand gestures and grunts.

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