I was born in Mahupada in Narmada district in Vasava clan of Bhils. It was one of 21 villages on the Maharashtra border (then part of Bombay state) that were mapped into Gujarat when it was being formed as a separate linguistic state after the Mahagujarat Movement (1956-1960). So my parents knew and spoke Marathi. The belt between the Tapi and Narmada rivers is home to Bhil communities who speak Dehwali Bhili. “On the other side of  Tapi till Jalgaon in Maharashtra people speak some form of Dehwali. And they speak it on this Gujarat side until Molgi and Dhadgaon villages in Satpura Hills. It is a big area across the two states.

I write in Dehwali Bhili and people who do not know much about us identify our languages by our communities. So, sometimes they say I write in Vasavi – my family belongs to the Vasava clan. The language in which I write is one of the languages that Adivasis in Gujarat speak. Bhils in Gujarat’s Dangs speak Warli. The original Bhils from the area speak Bhili, those who have come from Konkan speak Kokni. In Valsad they speak Warli and Dhodia. In Vyara and Surat, Gamit; Chaudhari, towards Uchchhal; in Nizar they speak Mavchi; between Nizar and Sagbara, the Bhils speak Dehwali. Then there is Ambudi, Kathali Vasavi, Tadvi, Rathwi, Panchmahali Bhili, Dungari Garasia, Dungari Bhili…

Imagine the treasures hidden in each language, like a forest in a seed. They carry literature, knowledge, worldviews. I struggle to cultivate, curate and celebrate this treasure through my work.

Listen to Jitendra Vasava read his poem in Dehwali Bhili

Listen to Pratishtha Pandya read the poem in English translation

आमुहूं बीयारो हाय, जोंगली

कोरोडों वरसाँ पेल्ला दाबाय गेयलें
आमाँ डायें तोरतीम
तुमुहूं भुल माँ क्याहा आमनेंहें तोरतीम डाटाआँ
जेहेंकी तोरती वादला री
वादला पाँयू री
खाडी दोर्या री रेहे, तेहेंकी
खुब लांबो वेहवार हाय आमाँ तोरती री
उगी जातेहें आमूं चाळ बोणीन
आखरीप, आमुहूं बीयारो हाय, जोंगली
आन बीयारो ता जोंगली ज वेराँ जोजे

तुमुहूं विचाराहा, इयाहांने पाँयुम बुडवी देजी
तुमुहूं नेंय जाआँ
आमाँ मूळबीयारो ज पाँय हाय
किडा, मोकडांहें राखीन
माहांही लोग पोची ज जातेहें
आखरीप, आमुहूं बीयारो हाय, जोंगली
आन बीयारो ता जोंगली ज वेराँ जोजे

तुमुहूं आमनेहें चाळ आखी सेकतेहें
आखाँ वेय ता पाँय नेत
डोगू बी आखी सेकतेहैं
हां, एहेकी ता तुमूं आखीत देदाहा
आम्नहें 'जोंगली'
आन ए ज आमाँ हाची ओळोख हाय
आखरीप, आमुहूं बीयारो हाय, जोंगली
आन बीवारो ता जोंगली ज वेराँ जोजे

पेन माँ पावुहूं, तुमुहूं जाँताहा का?
बीयारा से जुदा वेरुलू मोतलोब?
आँय फुचाँ होदुहूं
तुमुहूं पाँय नाहाँ ता काय हाय?
चाळ, डोगू नाँह ता बीजं काय हाय?
आँय जाँअहू
माँ सावालु तुमूं जोवाब आपी नेंय सेका
आखरीप, आमुहूं बीयारो हाय, जोंगली
आन बीयारो ता जोंगली ज वेराँ जोजे

We are seeds, wild

Aeons ago
my ancestors were buried,
But don't you dare
make the mistake of
burying us underground.
We are to the soil
as the earth is to the sky,
the cloud to the rains,
the river to the sea –
in a long, intimate relationship.
We grow into trees
Afterall, we are seeds, wild.
And seeds should be wild.

You may want to drown us
in deep waters
But water itself is
our original core.
From ants to insects to
human beings
we reach up all the way
After all, we are seeds, wild.
And seeds should be wild.

You can call us trees
or water if you like, or hills.
Well, you call us ‘wild’ anyway,
and that is who we are.
After all, we are seeds, wild
And seeds should be wild.

But my brother, do you know
what it means to be separated
from the seed?
I want to ask you
what would you say you are
if not water
if not trees
if not hills?
I know you can’t answer my questions.
After all, we are seeds, wild.
And seeds should be wild.

Translated from Dehwali Bhili and Hindi by Pratishtha Pandya .

Jitendra Vasava

Jitendra Vasava is a poet from Mahupada village in Narmada district of Gujarat, who writes in Dehwali Bhili language. He is the founder president of Adivasi Sahitya Academy (2014), and an editor of Lakhara, a poetry magazine dedicated to tribal voices. He has also published four books on Adivasi oral literature. His doctoral research focused on the cultural and mythological aspects of oral folk tales of the Bhils of Narmada district. The poems by him published on PARI are from his upcoming and first collection of poetry.

Other stories by Jitendra Vasava
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