Two Poems

Jitendra Vasava

Living and dying in a foreign tongue

The language that was at home in the ear
and seeped into our blood
with the thread of grandma’s story
in the dark night.

Through forest-river-field, astride grandpa’s
shoulders, the language that entered within through
the eyes.

The language of the light of a morsel of food
chewed and fed by mother.
The living language of the family, neighbourhood, village
seen through my fingers entwined with my father’s
at festival time.
A language alive
in the family-courtyard-village.
Everyone lives as one.
Dances, sings, works as one.
The sorrow of one
is the sorrow of all.

Our language that takes us to
this higher path
could not even climb
the threshold of the schoolhouse.

I sat alone in school
while our tongue sat outside
whining, like a dog.

The master said: don’t speak in our language.
I was scared and could not ask:
Why can I not speak our tongue?
Who forced that foreign tongue into
our master’s mouth?
From 10 to 5 during the day
it sat on the iris.
Like the deep darkness of the darkest night,
as letters, it made its way into me through the eye.
At times, as if possessed,
it forces its way into my body through my fingers.

Forcing its way through the lashes
of the teacher’s green stick
that foreign tongue.

Proving us uncouth,
night and day
it tries to civilise us.

How to rule over each other?
Letting us live, it kills.

That language teaches
how teeming mid-bazaar
to snatch the fruit
of someone else’s labour.

It leaves us living dead
that foreign language.


Do not make the mistake of burying
our ancestors inurned
in the womb of the earth for centuries
Like earth with cloud
cloud with water
river with sea
we have a long relationship
with the earth 
We sprout as trees
We are junglee seeds
and seeds should remain

You may think
Let us drown them in water
Our essence is water
From insects, we transform
again over ages into humans
Seeds should remain junglee

Do you know, my brothers
the meaning of being separate from the ‘seed’?
I will ask you, what are you
if not water
tree mountain earth?

translated from the Dehwali Bhili by Gopika Jadeja