Vijaydan Detha, fondly known as ‘Bijji’, brought ‘to prominence not only the richness of the storytelling traditions of Rajasthan, but the inventive forms of locution characteristic of Rajasthani.’ He treated folklore as a seed, attempting to explore limitless stories from it.
I envy you if you already know of this man, and more so if you have read his stories. A folklorist from Rajasthan’s Jodhpur, Detha spent his childhood listening to his grandmother’s tales. It is said of him that he spent his life collecting stories from people, especially women, from marginalised sections of the society. Inspired by the likes of Camus, Sartre and Dostoevsky who wrote in regional languages, Detha’s original writings are in Hindi and dialects of Rajasthani.
What is folklore?
Folklore is most commonly defined as consisting of customs, rituals and beliefs carried through generations by word of mouth; they tend to be region-specific and carry moral lessons. Detha did not just tell these tales in beautified language, he modified them to an unrecognizable extent of profundity. His genius lay in his ability to draw upon underlying philosophical insights into human nature. This is captured in his story Anekon Hilters (Many Hitlers), where he provokes his readers to question and address their similarity with the likes of Hitler and propagators of the most heinous crimes that one would naturally feel incompetent of taking part in. Mention and criticism of capitalism, patriarchy, religion and nation states was common in his stories; and his stand against them made him a precious mouthpiece for the marginalised.
It is no surprise that despite having won the Padma Shri, having been nominated for the Nobel Prize and after film and theatrical adaptations of his stories, he is still little known in his own country. His significance lies in the wisdom of his tales and, his power, in his savage yet beautifully written attacks on a society like ours wrought with gender based crimes, communalism and obsessive nationalism. Do yourself a favour and allow yourself to be led on and be shown the mirror by Detha, the writer and philosopher we should dearly hold on to.