These poems by Parimal Hansda are from his poetry collection, Dhunwa Otang Og Kana, the winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar 2016 (Santhali). They have been translated for the first time from the original Santhali by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar.


The poem is based in a fictional village called Lalgorh in the Jangalmahal area of West Midnapur district of West Bengal. The Jangalmahal area is a Naxalite belt, and the Santhals living in villages often find themselves in conflicts against either the police or the Naxalites.

The month of Sohorai passed by right before the eyes
But the loud, frenzied beating of the tamak and the tunes on the tiryo
Were not heard
As the sun god conceals himself behind a corner of the earth
A foreboding calm descends everywhere
A gunshot was heard in the distance
After that, a man’s voice, dying, in pain
Ah –

From a mahua tree, an owl
Flew away towards the hills
The earth is curled in fear
A young woman at a well at the end of the street
Urged, “Delana, hurry up,
Let us return to our houses”

On a tattered cot in the yard of a broken house
Lies Lalmohon’s old father
Staring at the sky above
At the moon in the night sky, with tears in his eyes
He is waiting for a new moon
To rise
A moon on whose body there will not be
Even a hint of a scar drawn with soot

Which Way Do I Go?

This poem narrates a conflict between the animist Sarna faith that Santhals follow and the Hindu faith that several Santhals indentify with now – a conflict that can often kill the identity of a Santhal, as shown through the scene of a burning pyre in the last stanza. The narrator mentions a fight between the Adivasi king Hudur Durga and the Hindu deity Goddess Durga and tries to think which way he should go. The mention of a bridge named after the Adivasi freedom fighters Sido Murmu, Kanhu Murmu, and Birsa Munda – “Sido-Kanhu-Birsa Bridge” – in the first stanza hints at this poem’s being a search for one’s identity. Also, the narrator standing on a bridge named after the three Adivasi freedom fighters can be interpreted as the Adivasi past supporting the Adivasi present.

Standing above the Subarnarekha river
On the Sido-Kanhu-Birsa Bridge
On a morning towards the end of Bhador and the start of Dasain
I stare, once, down at the river
Then upwards at the sky, continually
However far my gaze travels
All I can see is
Kasi flowers spread all over
Like the plucked feathers from the injured wings
Of a white rooster after a cockfight
Water in the river, flowing, curving, like a long rat snake
How far has this water flowed
And what will it flow into, I do not know
To know what lies in the depths of this river
My mind is restless like fish born after fresh rains
From the skies, what is it that I hear
Is it a bugle sounding the start of
A fight between Hudur Durga and Goddess Durga
Or a battle fought by the rich kings to protect their kingdom of Koyda
Now I do not know if I should go downwards
Or if I should travel upwards
When I am unable to decide which way I should go
I decide to hide myself under the bridge
And while climbing off the bridge
I see with my own eyes
Just beneath the bridge a pyre has been lit
An unknown man’s dead body being consumed by flames

That Young Woman Who Sells Flowers

That young woman who, standing by the road
Was selling flowers, Today
She herself has turned into a
Very beautiful flower

To suck the nectar of her body
Like bumblebees, buzzing around her are so many
Young men
Today, her address is
A hidden alley in the market
Where, to fight her hunger
She has turned her body into a shop

That young woman, when she stands at the bus terminus
Or walks in the midst of people on the footpath
Then, on spotting her, those very young men
Avert their eyes and hide
Behind the open ends of the saris of their women

That young woman is one of the many young women
And now she is not dependent on anyone anymore
She raises both her hands towards the sky
As if she knows that she would be able to touch and hold
The moving, glowing, blinking stars, planets, constellations

The Smoke Is Wafting Away

That day, as I stood at a corner of the field in Katjuri
Holding a cup of tea in my left hand and a cigarette in my right
Smoke wafting away from the cigarette
At eight in the morning
As the sheet of mist dissolved in the east
And sun having risen and opened his eyes
I saw a group of young Santhal women
Alighting from the Purulia-via-Bankura bus
They have gumchhas slung around their necks
And tall tiffin carriers packed with rice in their hands
They have come out to work
To take responsibility of their homes and families
The bus stand was filled with
The laughs and playful chatter of those young women
In this crowd, a young woman struck my eyes
Is she Kunami, of village Bare Ghutu?

Yes, she is Kunami, indeed
A Sohorai night comes back to my mind
When Bare Ghutu had resonated
With the lively beatings of the tumdak
My heart was captivated by
Kunami’s sweet voice singing a beautiful song
In the rays of the full moon
Kunami’s smooth complexion had glowed
When I saw her dancing rhythmically
The tumdak I was beating seemed to sound better
I looked for Kunami all over
And came to know that she had eloped
With a young man from the other tola

Today, Kunami is standing before me
A gumchha around her neck and rice in a tiffin box in her hands
The wind from the west
Having blown away the dust in the parting of her hair
A motorcycle stops in front of Kunami
A Muslim man riding that motorcycle
His lips red with paan, prints of joy in his eyes
A soft smile was displayed
On Kunami’s face and lips too

Kunami sat on the pillion
The motorcycle ran
And Kunami’s gumchha flew away with the wind
Sunrays are rising like waves
Heating the earth in their wake
My cigarette is burning out
The smoke is wafting away


He too has a life, and all that comes with it
Joy, happiness, grief – he has everything
He talks, he laughs, he gets angry
And he does so many other things
That he alone knows
He lives in the railway stations and bus stands
Of Panskura and Mecheda
A torn piece of a cheap fabric tied around his waist
That doesn’t even keep the cold from touching him
Leftover rice from roadside eateries
Is his daily lunch and dinner
The Dikus do not understand
All that he says
Because when he speaks, he speaks
In Santhali, the language of his birth
And when he has had enough food in his belly
He starts singing Baha and Sohorai songs happily

On my way home after office
I often meet him
I take some money from my pocket –
One rupee or two rupees – and give it to him
This makes him so happy that merely watching him
Cheers me up
I ask him about his home, from where he came
He tries to recall but, perhaps, cannot remember
But yes, he does remember his wife
Her mention remains right there on his lips
As soon as I ask him about her, he tells me
My wife and the son of the majhi
Eloped in full view of the village

Hopeful Heart

Beneath a half-broken sky
Hidden by a mist, lies a scattered life
I bend my head like a bubunj fish
And walk as fast as possible
My hands dream of touching the moon
I take one step forward
And am pushed two steps backwards
The price I earn for all my hard work
Seems as incomplete as a meal cooked without salt
Yet, my hopeful heart isn’t disillusioned

Autumn gives way to
The stiffening cold of the winter
Yet, as spring comes
Trees, vines, boughs, leaves
Return to life like a bird who’s just grown wings
In the pitch dark night of the ambabas
I scramble to pick up some lost rays of the sun
Who knows, if I get to touch those rays
The heaven might itself ask me to return those rays
And drape those around itself like a sari weaved of silk from the Lugu Buru

A Learner

I am stuck in a boat without a boatman
I will have to swim the flowing waters of this river
I do not know how far
Is the bank where I will emerge

Hills and forests are bright with the yellow of the nyunuj flower
Clothed in yellow like a new bride
In the garden, in the middle of a full-moon night
The heady fragrance of the tuberose
Struck my senses
Entered the decorated house of my feelings
As I soared above, towards the sky
Towards where the clouds coalesce

With a work-weary body at dusk
I hear as I sit down to rest
Melodious tunes from the cowherd boy’s flute
The fat man who lives in a broken house and works as an ojha
I see him living a contented life
Even better than Somrai, the rich man of the village
Then I gave up walking on the straight path

Why Is The Air Reeking So Much Of Gunpowder?

Alas…the money which I could have used to buy a handkerchief
Even that has been picked from my pocket
Wherever I am going
I can smell only gunpowder in the air
These speakers are blaring such ear-splitting music
I escaped into a puja pandol
Some time later…phat phot photas
I hold my nose and try to escape
But I couldn’t find a way out

I went to a bank for loan
For a new house
I was followed inside by two-three men
With black cloth covering their faces

Some time later…drim drim doram
I trembled
And fell down right where I was standing

A doctor friend got married
I was in the bariyat
We had just dug into the feast when…pot pot potas
I was so stunned that the rice I had fed myself
Stayed right there in my mouth, I couldn’t swallow it

I see the workers walk
In the rally of a political party
Some time later…tass toss torass
Stunned, I keep standing in the middle of the road
As the rally walks past