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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Poems by Dan Vaghela


Translated from Gujarati by Dr.G.K.Vankar

Eklavya Day

Tight in One two three four varnas,
As a nail is separate from a finger
I am the thumb that Drona asked for.

The longings growing in the eyes of a bird
Are killed by the jealous arrows ,
Watching the image of fish in the water
The deceivers won Panchali
If I perceive similar loneliness of a crowd in solitude
I block that barking mouth with arrows
That hit the target.
As the nail is separate from a finger,
I am the thumb that Drona asked for.

Covering the sunrays in a basket with a lid
Everyone embraces truth in dark.
The sleep of identity is confused in the seven labyrinths,
Hence they go to Himalayas to freeze their bodies.

With the black of bow , alphabet feels polluted
And yet I learnt the samskars by faith alone.
As a nail is separate from a finger,
I am the thumb that Drona asked for.

(From the anthology Dundubhi)

Another World

Throw away the caste from self and go out
Take the light, leave the night and go out.

The dividing line may become transparent
Leave discussions of others, and go out.

Since so many eras you are a building, ruined,
Leave cyclone alone, and go out.

You drown the hollow rituals
In the seven seas, and go out.

You will be able to see another peaceful world
Leave the pretentious teeth, and go out.
(From the anthology Dundubhi)


the hope is old,
the thirst is old,
who will carry
the corpse is old?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Poems by B.N.Vankar

Translated from Gujarati by Dr.G.K.Vankar


This cow
at our place
never walked
never mooed
neither it gave milk.
then what is the point
of debate and distress?

To cross the vaitarni,
don’t worry,
we will ,
an overbridge.

Vaitarani, A river one has to cross to reach heaven, a gift of cow to Brahmin ensures a cow while facing the river, clinging to the tail of the cow one can cross vaitarani.


There is no bread
But there is royal food

There is no loincloth
But there is pitambar

There is no home
But there is hermitage.

What a misfortune!
How miserable is man!

Pitambar :Yellow clothe, royal dress of Krishna

In a Chawl of closed mills

The area of the chawl.
screams for a grain.

The dim yellow light too
Is about to put out
In the rooms

And what happened to
the bodies like steel?
The limbs are paralyzed
The billows of lungs whistle
The circulation slows down.

In the volcano of unemployment
Burns the hunger
Burns with the roots lives.
On one side, silent screams
On the other side, silence everywhere.

That’s why
The sabarmati of civility and riches
Has dried out
And the Manchester
has turned into a mortuary.

Sabarmati river divides Ahmedabad, on the eastern side the slums of old city and on the west are posh areas. Ahmedabad was known as Manchester of India because of textile industries

Honour Be to You

If you close your finger into a fist
then honor be to you.

All the three
taking support of
the thumb,
how do they together eat butter and cream?
Mohan, why the small finger is left alone?

How the three formed a triangle
to avoid the little finger ?
the curd is spent, the pot overflows,
and yet here, O Mohan, the little finger touches it barely!

All five are threaded together in the wrist
To give test of strength of wrist.
The circles of the karma and dharma are such
That when you open the fist
All become ‘others’.

If you can close your fingers into a fist
Then honor be to you.!

We Refuse

We refuse
To cool the fire within us
In the sea of pain
And we grow
In our sad eyes
The raging volcanoes.

We refuse
To give palpitating embrace
To hateful inequality
And in the terrified palms
We draw lines of fate afresh.

We refuse
To preserve the worn out walls of
A narrow world

And beyond horizons
We soar
The new sky.

The Bat-house

I am the stone of foundation
Of the building that stands there.
I have toiled to create it.

To tell you the truth
I had wished for good of all.

But the bats of
Caste and class
Lived in it.

In the name of dharma,
In the name of artha,
In the name of kama,
In the name of moksha,
Gradually became owners
And devoured
My nose, ear, eye and thumb
Even my torso.

That’s why
Spitting at this
Foul-smelling ruin
Of the bat-house
I have moved away.

Search for the dawn

Be cursed this Midnight!

If you climb on the top of a hill
And call
The horizons would not open the doors.

Of the walls
Huge walls, planted
Since centuries
How many hands do support these walls?

Like a seawave
Sharks rejoice,
Let the fish die, trembling.

Craving for grass
Innocent deer get killed in jungle
And the stray beasts trample the lush green fields.

As if they have monopoly
Of skinning
Humans alive

On the earth studded with thorns
The bleeding feet
A trail,
That too ,stings you?

is the wealth of the mind.
Though half a century
We wasted in wilderness
But the feet did not sprout wings
Let’s walk to the east, now
Let us find
The dawn.

Be cursed this Midnight!

Feet = shudras


They drowned us
midsea ,
feet chained and eyes blinded.

But we have preserved
The sky beyond horizons
In our eyes,
And the sunrise
In our fist.

That’s how
Turning into the surging waves
Through the fire burning in the sea,
We will swim to the shore

The Existence

You fix our feet
With iron chains
And ask:
‘Fly, fly
The whole sky is yours, isn’t it!’

But this unjust atrocity
Itself will light
The fire of revolt.

Taking together
Earth with our feet,
We will soar the high skies
Like a hawk
One day.

Our answer shall be
Nothing but

Our graceful existence,
Riches full of pride and
Unmatched ability.

Poems by A.K.Dodiya

Translated from Gujarati by Dr.G.K.Vankar

Talk about

Talk about the air which is worth breathing,
Talk about a mirror and a lamp.

If they do not consider you human being, what can be done?
The disease is old, talk about the cure.

We shall fight, if there are no alternatives,
Do not talk about leaving your home.

Why to stare at the sky?
Talk about your aim with an arrow.

Where they hoard our rightful things,
Talk about breaking those treasures.

I agree that we are at the bottom,
Talk about rising above the sky.

(From ‘Suryonmukha’)

You write

For the first time you write the twang of existence
For the first time you write the struggle in words.

It should not become an occasion of commotion
Write in words the interaction of silence.

The pains of the era would arrive in the words
You write the screams coming from all directions.

Some moment will catch its meanings
Write the shapes emerging on the walls.

The caravans will move towards the sun
You write such a thought piercing the night.

Our sufferings have remained unwritten
Write, do write all the incidents in detail.

The eye that discriminates between man and man
Write the scorn of whole human race.

(From ‘Suryonmukha’)

Poems by Harjivan Dafda

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar

 Ghazal 1

I am tired of carrying a mountain, day in and day out,
O one who walk with me, now you carry it for some time.

A man died of thirst here, close by
When o good man, you were watering a tree.

Since I opened my eyes, I wander, homeless,
Which door, could I lock, like you?

The trees of inequality have grown so huge,
Becoming mite, you uproot them all.

You open your own umbrella and sit in the sun.
Have you ever seen a palm giving shade?

Ghazal 2

It was impossible to live, and yet we lived
All the time suffering innumerable beatings, we lived.

Though we knocked the doors, no one opened,
We lived, carrying only ‘no’ in our bags.

The store is never full, any year,
We lived saving a glassful of jwar.

Like a dove, we spread the shaking
We lived our lives as if on loan.

We lived with our existence, passed years helplessly,
Did we live a sharp life, so that it breaks slavery?

Ghazal 3

I can not find the answer to the thirst.
It is always in the stage of investigation.

How can I see all the growth of the moon
As the curtain of dark night obstructs my vision,

Where is the question of the shirt?
Kaniyo still goes on picking cotton!

In the old book, they struck off my name,
The only objection I came to know was my dress.

Waiting and waiting, the woman grew old and died,
Some day, she hoped, the light will be born in the house.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mayor's Bunglow: A memoir by Chandu Maheria


Translated from Gujarati by Dr.G.K.Vankar

Since I came to live in Gandhinagar I have only two kinds of dreams, either of police or of toilets. Among the ever-expanding colonies of workers in the eastern belt, Rajpur, my home or native place, is one of them. Father used to say that he did not find any work hence he left the village. Thereafter, wherever we live is our village. Father worked in ganjifarak mill of Rakhiyal. In eastern Ahmedabad, as a shadow of every chimney of a textile mill there existed a chawl. One such chawl in Rajpur Gomtipur is Abu Kasai’s chawl. My home was in that chawl.

As the respiratory system is linked with my existence, so is my excretory system. If I stretch my memory to the time very close to my birth, then what emerges immediately in my mind are the latrines of Hiralal’s chawl in our neighborhood. Somehow or the other we were able to fill the pit of belly, but where to go for toilet was a major problem.

It was like this. Our chawl did not have its own latrines. That’s why we had to go to toilets of the neighboring chawl. We children would squat anywhere on the footpath but what about the elders? What about women? In our chawl mostly Rohits  of Kheda district lived. In the other chawls, mostly Vankars  of Mehsana lived. We did not have our own toilets hence we had to go to the toilets of the neighboring chawls. The residents of Hiralal’s chawl were possessive of their toilets hence they would tease us calling us Chanotara.

And what were the toilets like? The seat was neither of marble nor of tiles. The wall plaster was peeling off. The doors were not in place and the stopper? Sing praise to Rama! As footrests there were two stones. But of these, one was either broken or was on verge of breaking. Hence one was compelled to squat with a slant. One had to sit with the chain secure in one’s hand and if the queue outside lengthened, they would shout. If someone said that a particular toilet is occupied by a chanotara then they would barge in, would pour away the chambu3 water. If we were in the queue and our turn was next, at that juncture even if a child of Hiralal’s chawl came, we had to forgo our claim. The first lessons of social inequality that I learnt were in the queue of the toilets.

I sometimes think that we dalits, instead of using the word sugandh or suwas (fragrance) use the word gandh (stink); why so? In the dalit dictionary there are no words like sugandh or suwas -gandh of the roses and gandh of the scent. And then I wonder that if one has ever experienced the smell of the toilets then how could words like sugandh or suwas even enter in his or her perception. Not only of our chawl, toilets of other chawls and slums too would be fully studded with shit, even today.

Besides, in our toilets, people would even release rats caught in traps. Hence, when we were squatting, mama mushak   would arrive all of a sudden to startle us! In the shit packed toilet when feces fell, then it would splash all over our body. Moreover when the toilets overflowed time and again, the smell would become intolerable. And yet I have not seen anyone covering nose with handkerchief or clamping nose with fingers.

Just in front of the toilets, there is an open space. Children and adolescents squat there in the open. When I had to go to the toilet in the morning making way through their shit, how difficult it was, I can still visualize that vividly. These toilets had customers throughout the day. But the young girls and women usually came to toilets at night. Young wives would come covering chambu with end of sari. Most women would sit with the doors open and their sisters-in-law or friends would stand guard holding the door; and would chatter standing there. I wondered why everyday at night youth would frequent the area. I came to know the secret after quite some time. To meet one’s love or betrothed, one was not required to go to a restaurant or a garden. If at night one stood near the toilets, he could see all women. The toilets of Hiralal’s chawl were their love garden.

Near our toilets there was the Ahmedabad  Municipal Transport Service (AMTS) bus stop of Hiralal’s chawl. The college going boys and girls from the chawls would wait for their turn at the toilets in a queue or would pass with a chambu in hand. I have witnessed how they would try to hide themselves from eyes of their collage mates. The caste Hindu boys and girls used to call this bus-stop near the toilets, ‘hollywood.’ The college going boys and girls were so ashamed to get down at this stop that they would rather get down at kamdar maidan or Gomtipur and then walk back to their homes.

When the toilets overflowed, it would be terrible. Shit and dirty water would spread all over the road. The cleaner of the toilets would mostly be a lean thin woman, usually a widow or a separated woman. The overseer would assign them only this work. I have seen so many sweeper women dying very young cleansing the toilets of Hiralal’s Chawl. The toilets had no doors, or the doors were broken or else many wooden layers of the doors were peeled off. She had to go to clean the toilet even if a man was sitting in the toilet. Besides if the man who came were headstrong or influential, he would order her to pour two extra chambus of water to clean the toilets.

On the Diwali nights mermerayas  and on the New Year mornings khalkhokhro   they would put near the toilets only. Many would dump the waste directly in the toilets or in the gutters of the toilets. Hence on the New Year mornings the toilets would overflow without fail. My house was on the entrance of the chawl. Municipal footpath was our front extension of the house. Hence it was we who were troubled by the smell most. My bosom friends Indubhai Jani and Harshadbhai Desai would come to greet me on the New Year day in the chawl home. Mother and we all would be tense right from the morning because of overflowing toilets. Mother would be busy from the morning to cleanse the faces with a tin plate or a broom. She would blabber and abuse while she went on cleaning. We would pour much water but would the smell of the toilet go like this? We had to welcome Indubhai and Harshadbhai with the smell of toilet only. We would light incense sticks everywhere in the house, but can that conquer the smell of the toilet? For using such toilets we had to pay tax. I heard about Aamir Khan’s Oscar nominated film Lagaan (tax) only recently, but I was introduced to lagaan of the toilets long back. Some influential or headstrong person would come to our homes every month to collect the toilet rent. He would come dead drunk. Uttering abuses he would demand the rent. If someone told that he has not yet got monthly salary, then he would be troubled to the point of death. So many women would supplicate and give the toilet tax.

Since I grew up, I had thought of doing something about the toilets. My small efforts of getting constructed our chawls’ independent toilets were the beginning of my public life. As the population in Rajpur became dense, then the issue of widening the roads came up. The toilets of Hiralal’s chawl also came within the boundary of the road and hence the two rows of men’s toilets were demolished. At that time, many like me had pangs in their hearts as if their own houses were demolished.

These chawls had problem of urinals, too. One caste-Hindu doctor in the area would go to Gomtipur village to pass urine. This was because, to reach urinal of the chawl was so difficult and on the wall of the urinal there was some sticky substance which smelled so foul. Another doctor friend would never go to the public urinal ,but would pass urine in his clinic behind the screen of the injection room only in the chokdi.

When Municipality declared a scheme of construction of private toilets with 80% contribution of corporation and 20% contribution of the owner of the house, we got our toilet constructed. When it was being done a funny thing happened. Seeing that a single toilet was being constructed a vaghri  woman could not help asking my mother- “why are you constructing only one toilet? Would you not make one for the women?” Toilets should be separate for men and women in the house too – that was her belief. When the toilet was ready with its white tub, brand new tiles with borders, we were struck with wonder. The ceiling of rest of my house is made of tin, that of the toilet and bathroom are pucca. In the house, the floor had a cement plaster but the toilet has beautiful tiles. To tell the truth, in the whole house it was the most clean and nice place where one would like to sit and eat.

Gradually many houses had their own toilets. But the toilets of Hiralal’s chawl remained as they were with all their dirt. So many workers and youngsters have tried to construct community hall, shops, K.G. there, but the smell was difficult to be eliminated.
When in 1997, there was an incident of damaging of Dr.Ambedker statue in Ramabai Colony, Mumbai, dalits throughout the country were agitated. In protest, Ahmedabad and Gujarat bandhs were announced. That night the road was full of agitated dalit crowds. The youth wished to give vent to their anger, but how? Someone had a funny idea and talked of demolishing toilets of Hiralal’s chawl. The whole vanar sena  was called into action. Within minutes, the toilets were demolished. People took away even the bricks smeared with shit. Then there were discussions for several days what to do with the space. Some thought that the toilets were owned by the chawl and hence the residents of the chawls should decide. There was another opinion that now that most houses had personal toilets, we should not construct toilets again at this place. Some wanted that the toilets should be constructed. Finally it was decided to construct toilets as per the ‘Pay and Use’ toilet scheme. Within twelve months, fine toilets were ready. The toilet stands with new color and decor - with its walls, floor with tiles, and beautiful plants at the entrance. The toilet is such that rather than going for shauch (toilet) one feels like sitting there for soch (thinking). For using the toilet, one has to pay one rupee. The textile mills are closed, the factories have dull market, and whole area is afflicted with poverty and unemployment. Hence pay and use toilet is hardly being used.

Whenever I go to Rajpur, in place of toilets of Hiralal’s chawl, I see ‘Nutan Pay and Use toilet’ and it pierces my heart. There are only few beautiful, shapely, colored buildings in our area comparable to these toilets; we call this decorated toilet as ‘Mayor’s Bungalow’. I see such Mayor’s Bungalows not at one but so many places. In the midnight I have dreams of toilets of Hiralal’s chawl and they keep me awake throughout the night and compel me to write something about them.

Rohits,Vankars = SC sub-castes
Chambu =  Cylindrical vessel made of tin for water for washing after toilet
mama mushak = Maternal uncle mouse
mermerayas  = Earthern lamps taken in a procession on Diwali night,
khalkhokhro = Earthen vessels that are changed on New Year Morning.
chokdi = A square spot generally in the corner of a room, set apart for accumulating waste
vaghri = OBC community
vanar sena = Army of monkeys, mischiveous crowd

The Author
Chandu Maheria

Chandu Maheria, born 28 June 1959, is an activist, poet and a writer. He retired as an Officer in the Gujarat State Government.
He edited Asmita: A Collection of Representative Dalit Poetry (1984) and Visfot (1984). He also edited ’Madi Mane Sambhare Re’ ( A collection of memoirs about dalit mothers, 1994). He is credited with more than one thousand letters to editors on vital issues.
His address: ’Nirant’, 1416/1, Sector 2B, Gandhinagar 382007, Gujarat.