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Adivasi Poetry

A poem by Jitendra Vasava translated from the Dehawali Bhili via Gujarati by Gopika Jadeja, excerpted from Witness, The Red River book of Poetry of Dissent

Adivasi Poetry


When the sorrow of all the directions 
gathers as a whirlwind 
rising high as a pillar 
scattering 
as it reaches the roof of the earth 
making the heart shiver, 
there emerges Adivasi poetry. 

When there is anguish 
in jungle, mountain, grasslands
in the bowels of the earth, in the waters of the rivers,
when people leave their mud huts —
like mice escaping a flooded nest —
carrying their handlachaatva* 
in the crooks of their waists
in search of land
what rises with the tears in their eyes 
is Adivasi poetry.

After a few drops of rain 
trucks from the sugar factory 
arrive and stare at the empty huts. 
We toil, naked, on the earth for months
in the burning sun
without davaduri*.  
Do we crush the sugarcane 
or does the sugarcane crush us?  

It lies like animals 
at the edge of the river
on the outskirts of the village. 
Just like a dog, 
Adivasi poetry. 

As the day dawns, standing in queues, 
noses lowered, at the crossroads in cities 
like cattle in cattle markets
to sell our labour. 

All day and night, lying curled up 
invisible, with the hungry ones, 
Adivasi poetry. 

Like the one who carries the weight of the house  
rising with the first cock crowing 
going to the jungle with axe on her shoulder 
walking to the city through five villages 
with the wood on her head, 
pregnant, but carrying back 
one kilo of flour
rice
oil worth Rs 2
salt
chilli powder.

Just like she cooks rotlo for two meals  
a day, her blood turning to sweat 
Adivasi poetry 
is made. 

*handlachaatva: Earthen cooking pot and wooden spoon 
*davaduri: Medicine

Jitendra Vasava was born in Mahupada on the banks of the river Tapi in the Narmada district of Gujarat. He writes in Dehwali Bhili, one of the few poets in Gujarat writing in a tribal language. Vasava established the Adivasi Sahitya Academy in 2014. As the president of the Academy, he has also edited Lakhara, a poetry magazine dedicated to tribal voices published by Bhasha, Vadodara. Vasava has been awarded a PhD for his research on the cultural and mythological aspects of oral folk tales of the Bhils from the Narmada district.

Gopika Jadeja is a bilingual poet and translator, writing in English and Gujarati. Gopika publishes and edits the print journal and a series of pamphlets for a performance-publishing project called Five Issues. Her work has been published in Asymptote, Modern Poetry in Translation, Wasafiri, The Four Quarters Magazine, The Wolf, Cordite Poetry Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Indian Literature, Vahi, Etad, etc. She is currently working on a project of English translations of poetry from Gujarat.

This poem has been excerpted from Witness, The Red River Book of Poetry of Dissent, edited by Nabina Das and brought out by Dibyajyoti Sarma of Red River Books.

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