catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 19 :: 2012.10.26 — 2012.11.08



Sometimes watermelons sitting on the riverbed do not mean plenitude, even if the fruits appear like women with their waists spread in attitudes of languor, engaged in village gossip. Men leave their homes looking for jobs in cities, the women scour their yards for potatoes with dried branches of the drumstick tree.

The sky has gone indigo, deepens at every step she takes back from the forest that embraces the dark land coiled in the wasteful heat of a summer night. Protuberances of mahua flowers, intimate like her flesh, nestle in a soft pouch of her sari: she will boil these to make liquor for her man when he comes from the city with aching limbs.

She keeps so light a step that the dust sighs into gentle clouds under her feet. Her man in the city walks in the same gentle manner on roads that see no grass. The trees browned by dirt and soot whisper no stories, and memory pokes harsh fingers to sear his eyes that water with tenderness for his woman at the farm yard.

As a boy, his village moved from place to place, one day under the neem tree, another day close to the mahua tree; but from the window of his mud hut, the sky shared the same secrets with him. He lay on the cool floor and drew a map of the labyrinthine pathways in the forest where he went with his mother to collect roots and honey.

The year dragonflies darkened the skies, he walked with his young bride along the river Orsang, and runnels of water drew patterns of red sand along the pale green veins of her feet. He tasted the mahua wine as the drumbeat from the village rolled toward them muffled like the bleat of a goat stranded on the hill.

When he visited the city the first time, he saw the train long like a row of horses drawn on the wall of his hut; he went back to his village and drew the carriages of iron horses, near his gods. Now he waits in the crowded station of Surat for the train to take him to the mud hut painted a bright red on his wall.

The name “Vanya” comes from the root word “van,” which means forest. The word loosely means “people of the forest,” and the name is used in a derogatory way to signify the primitive nature of the people who refuse to be acculturated into the mainstream.  Ratwa Bhils are the Adivasi people who live in the Chhota Udepur region of Gujarat. Like the many tribes of central India, they were forest dwellers who collected roots and honey, and practiced slash and burn type of cultivation. Now they work as farm laborers or grow pulses and vegetables in their small pieces of land. During the months when the rivers run dry and no farming can be done, they go to cities like Broach, Baroda, Surat and Ahmedabad in search of jobs as contract laborers. Many families have migrated from their villages to these cities in search of jobs. A video made by offers more visuals and details about the Ratwa Bhil tribe of Chhota Udepur.

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