Name: Vajesinh Pargi. Born: 1963. Village: Itawa. District: Dahod, Gujarat. Community: Adivasi Panchamahali Bhil. Family members: Father, Chiska Bhai. Mother, Chatura Ben. And five siblings of whom Vajesinh is the eldest. Family’s livelihood: agricultural labour.

His inheritance from being born in a poor Adivasi family, in Vajesinh’s own words: ‘darkness from the womb of his mother.’ A ‘desert-full of loneliness.’ A ‘well full of sweat.’ Also, ‘hunger,’ with ‘the blue of gloom,’ and ‘the light of the fireflies.’ There was also a love for words that came at birth.

Once, caught off guard in the middle of a fight, a bullet ripped through the then young Adivasi’s jaw and neck. His voice too suffered with that injury from which he never recovered, even after seven years of treatment, 14 surgeries, and an insurmountable debt. That was a double blow. Born into a community that had little voice in the first place, the one he was personally gifted with was also now seriously damaged. Only his eyes remained as sharp as ever. Vajesinh has been the finest proofreader Gujarati literature has seen in a long time. His own writings, however, have never received their due.

Here is a Vajesinh poem written in Panchamahali Bhili in Gujarati script, reflecting on his dilemma.

Listen to Pratishtha Pandya recite the poem in Panchamahali Bhili

Listen to Pratishtha Pandya recite the poem in English translation

મરવું હમુન ગમતું નથ

ખાહડા જેતરું પેટ ભરતાં ભરતાં
ડુંગોર ઘહાઈ ગ્યા
કોતેડાં હુકાઈ ગ્યાં
વગડો થાઈ ગ્યો પાદોર
હૂંકળવાના અન કરહાટવાના દંન
ઊડી ગ્યા ઊંસે વાદળાંમાં
અન વાંહળીમાં ફૂંકવા જેતરી
રઈં નીં ફોહબાંમાં હવા
તેર મેલ્યું હમુઈ ગામ
અન લીદો દેહવટો

પારકા દેહમાં
ગંડિયાં શેરમાં
કોઈ નીં હમારું બેલી
શેરમાં તો ર્‌યાં હમું વહવાયાં

હમું કાંક ગાડી નીં દીઈં શેરમાં
વગડાવ મૂળિયાં
એવી સમકમાં શેરના લોકુએ
હમારી હારું રેવા નીં દીદી
પૉગ મેલવા જેતરી ભૂંય

કસકડાના ઓડામાં
હિયાળે ઠૂંઠવાતા ર્‌યા
ઉનાળે હમહમતા ર્‌યા
સુમાહે લદબદતા ર્‌યા
પણ મળ્યો નીં હમુન
હમારા બાંદેલા બંગલામાં આસરો

નાકાં પર
ઘેટાં-બૉકડાંની જેમ બોલાય
હમારી બોલી
અન વેસાઈં હમું થોડાંક દામમાં

વાંહા પાસળ મરાતો
મામાનો લંગોટિયાનો તાનો
સટકાવે વીંસુની જીમ
અન સડે સૂટલીઈં ઝાળ

રોજના રોજ હડહડ થાવા કરતાં
હમહમીને સમો કાડવા કરતાં
થાય કી
સોડી દીઈં આ નરક
અન મેલી દીઈં પાસા
ગામના ખોળે માથું
પણ હમુન ડહી લેવા
ગામમાં ફૂંફાડા મારે સે
ભૂખમરાનો ભોરિંગ
મરવું હમુન ગમતું નથ.

I don’t like to die

When the mountains collapsed,
the ravines dried up,
villages invaded the forests,
days of roaring and ululating
were gone,
gone with the wind.
Not a breath was left
in my lungs, not enough to play a flute;
and yet this stomach was hollow at the pit.
That’s when I left this village behind
and went into exile…

In a foreign country,
in some crazy city,
where no one cared for us –
we, the lowly people.
Lest we send our wild roots
down there,
the city-folks gave us no land,
not an inch of space,
not even to rest our feet.

We lived inside plastic walls,
shivering in the cold,
sweating in the heat,
soaked in the rain.
No shelter for us
in the bungalows we built.

Auctioned at the crossroads,
selling our labour
like livestock,
we were sold for a pittance.

Piercing my back,
like the sting of a scorpion,
are the barbs of
mama and langotiya
the uncouth and Adivasis in loincloths.
The poison rushes to my head.

I feel like leaving this hell,
this daily humiliation,
this suffocating life.
I want to return to my village,
to rest my head in its lap.
But there lurks a snake,
hunger hissing,
waiting to devour us.
And I,
I don’t like to die…

Translated from Panchamahali Bhili by Pratishtha Pandya

The poet is presently battling the fourth stage of lung cancer in Dahod's Kaizar Medical Nursing Home.

Vajesinh Pargi

Based in Dahod, Gujarat, Vajesingh Pargi is a poet writing in Panchamahali Bhili and Gujarati. He has published two collections of his poems titled "Zakal naa moti" and "Aagiyanun ajawalun." He worked as a proof-reader with the Navajivan Press for more than a decade.

Other stories by Vajesinh Pargi
Illustration : Labani Jangi

Labani Jangi is a 2020 PARI Fellow, and a self-taught painter based in West Bengal's Nadia district. She is working towards a PhD on labour migrations at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Other stories by Labani Jangi