Santhali Poetry in Translation: A Poem for The Ol Chiki

By Sokhen Tudu, translated from the Santhali by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, excerpted from Witness, The Red River Book of Poetry of Dissent

A Poem for the Ol-Chiki

The Bengali script in Bengal
The Odia script in Odisha
I do not know the Bengali script
You do not know the Odia script
Let us agree to one script for Santhali
The Ol-Chiki is our script.
They write in the Roman somewhere
They write in the Devanagari at some places
I do not know the Roman script
You do not know the Devanagari script
One script will unite us all
The Ol-Chiki is our script.
Dear writer, for how long will you
Write your language using
Someone else’s script?
You are dividing our readers
You are making our publishers lose money
Let us all understand this
The Ol-Chiki is our script.
One language, one Script.
This is what will strengthen us Santhals
The talents of so many of us
Scattered for the want of one script
All of us Santhals, let us solve this script issue.

(First published in 100 Poems are Not Enough, Walking Book Fairs)

Sokhen Tudu is a Mayurbhanj, Odisha-based Santhali poet, haiku writer and Santhali script activist. He was involved in spreading the Santhali script, the Ol chiki, among Santhals in Bangladesh.

 Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar writes in English and occasionally translates from Santhali and Hindi to English.

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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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 
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
oil worth Rs 2
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.

Click here to buy.




When the Quotidian Wrote our Notes of Isolation

By Nabina Das 

We were brought up by folks who respected the encrusted time,

wound in their watches every morning, opened windows to days.

They swept the morning breeze with either their prayerful ways

or brisk footprints out about the gardens of mint and marigolds.


We were taught to eat with hands but not lick the fingers too much,

sometimes given spoons to scoop up manners away from the old world.


Also made to brush our shoes black as squeaky bumblebees on the run,

rub wet chalk every Saturday on the white canvaswear like ghost tales.


Visitors in that world arrived often without having to sniff their hands

from stiff alcohol smells. No furtive glances. They kept wearing shoes.


We were brought up by a man and a woman who valued hugging

and cracking a silly joke or two, elbows pirouetting at the dining table.


They took us to the movies where women with small breasts got laughs

and even men with clownish big arms were thought to be big bores.


Solitude meant suddenly finding hand holding in unexpected places.

A decade has now gone. Taking away easy tactile closeness with it.


Nothing changed as we spotted snails in the grass; she still cooked

while he got the monthly grocery home counting money with care.


Days of déjà vu-ing didn’t matter and he read the inscrutable Prufrock

in his gong-wide voice; she sang full throated. But it wasn’t called strategy.


Nothing took the rhythm away from books and ink and weekends,

ice cream treats, water color tablets in tin boxes, the neat domestic talk.


It’s not to say we did not hop mad after the moon or swoon in rains

brought mud in our feet, ran amok like twisters on the sleepy town.


He sneezed too hard some days and scared the alley cat and she

scanned the city in her tiny feet, eyes lush gooseberries and face small.


The music was always a rousing breeze through the receptive ceiling,

the food was quite reluctant to let its own vital aroma fade and die


I often read through my story books learning to spell: i-s-o-l-a-t-i-o-n

hidden within the Kamasutra. The neighborhood lay in erotic repose.


What was missing, oh, what was missing, people sometimes asked in jest:

not the doorknobs, not the bloody ancestors, not new birds on chipping beams.

Nabina Das is a poet and writer based in Hyderabad. She has published three books of poetry, one short fiction collection, and one novel. In the age of Corona virus, she tackles here the questions of isolation already experienced while she grew up in Guwahati, Assam, among ginger roots and swamp dragonflies.