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Vajesinh Pargi: The Proofreader-Poet

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Exhibit at a calligraphy exhibition in Kochi

I had not heard of Vajesinh Pargi; not many have. Someone had put up a meme, a few lines from one of Vajesinh's poems, on her Facebook timeline, and those lines brought me up short:

All my life
I have been rowing this boat day and night
with no shore in sight.
That is how vast the ocean is
and then the storms;
nothing here tells me that
I will reach the other side.
But I can’t
just can’t put these oars down.

From the comments on the Facebook post, I learned that the poet was someone called Vejesinh Pargi, and that he had passed away a few months ago. There was a link to the following article by Pratishtha Pandya:

A word of warning: it's a searing article, painful to read, because Vajesinh was suffering from terminal lung cancer when he agreed to the interview with Pratishtha, and they met in Vajesinh's hospital room. Vajesinh passed away a few days after the interview. The article features many photos of Vajesinh taken in his hospital room. They show a frail, sick man, and it speaks volumes for Vajesinh's mental toughness, drive, and strength of character that though he was almost on his deathbed he not only consented to an interview but gave so much of himself to it. I wish the article had featured a few photos of Vajesinh in his prime to balance all the images of a dying Vejesinh. True, there is a photo of him as a youth, a photo in a photo; it sits on a chair that occupies centerstage in a room where his relatives have assembled after his death. It's an impressive photo; the young man has a face that is not just handsome but strong.

Vajesinh was an Adivasi, a tribal, and his life was blighted by abject poverty. Like indigenous people the world over, Adivasis lead precarious lives, their land and traditional livelihoods usurped by displacement and occupation. Vajesinh's sheer force of will won him an education against all odds, which liberated him from manual labor. His dream of becoming a teacher was dashed by an accident, and he became a proofreader. He also wrote poetry.

The poems are translated by Pratishtha Pandya from Gujarati and Panchamahali Bhili, Vajesinh's mother tongue. The translations are excellent, in the sense that the poems flow well in English; as I do not know the languages in which they were originally written, I'm unable to judge how faithful the translations are to the original. I hope you enjoy the poems as much as I did.


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