Excerpts from a recent interview with writer Vijaydan Detha as he talks to Mahim Pratap Singh about his inspiration, his writing style and the decision to write in Rajasthani:
Your stories are known and admired worldwide for their wit, sarcasm, irreverence and contempt for traditional structures. How do these come about?
These traits are implicit in most traditional Rajasthani folktales, but they need to be identified and highlighted. I am less of a story-writer and more of a story-teller.
I have always believed that the power of fiction lies in storytelling. For instance, Cross Purpose (Le Malentendu) by Albert Camus was a folk story retold, but Camus' genius lay in the story-telling.
In your stories you have written about a very different and literarily unexplored geographical terrain. How did you make sense of this world; what helped you write?
My village was my university and my literary education, if there was any, came from rural women who always had so many interesting stories, anecdotes and wisdoms to share. When men my age went out to hunt or drink, I used to sit in my courtyard listening to what the women had to say, their gossip, their tall tales. At one point, I specifically started to invite all the women who were willing to just sit with me and talk. There were days when I was surrounded by women lost in conversations for hours at end.
So it was the “gossipy” folk stories told by rural women that you incorporated in your stories?
Those stories were my fodder, yes. Unlike conversations of men, who were corrupted by their travels outside the village and their interactions with different people, quirky feminine gossip was such a landmine of interesting ideas. They mostly served to help me identify the plot of my story which I then built upon based on my own imagination.
I have heard the strong, assertive female characters in your stories were inspired by the writings of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay while the “anti-feudal, anti-caste, anti-religion” ideas came about from a reading of writers of Soviet Russia, including Anton Chekhov? How true is that?
I did not grow up reading these figures but they did serve to shape my ideas. After reading some of my earlier short stories, someone called me the Chekhov of Rajasthan. It was only then that I read Chekhov and it really opened my mind and although I decided to follow in his footsteps, I consciously tried to develop my own distinct writing style.
Your narratives are mostly built on folklore with plenty of idioms and traditional sayings. Why this almost sacred importance to idioms in all your stories?
My stories have conversations, not dialogues. And people in rural areas have this knack of turning lay conversations into special ones by adorning them with idioms. Idioms and sayings are such a vast museum of a society's collective memory.
Most of your contemporaries from the northern part of the country wrote in Hindi. Don’t you think writing in Rajasthani restricted you to a smaller readership?
No. It was a conscious, even political decision. During my schooling in Jodhpur, all our teachers were from Hindi-speaking States and we would be severely reprimanded for speaking in our native language Rajasthani. Experiences like these made me think of writing in Rajasthani.
Besides, there is so much wisdom, detail and dissent in Rajasthani folklore that I felt expressing it in any other language would amount to injustice.