The rollicking, folk-based tales of Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha have been winning awards in India since the 1970s. Only recently, however, have they been available in English translation.
Detha has a gift for selecting the most provocative tales he hears from his fellow villagers and re-creating them in a literary form as engaging and daring as his oral sources. In one tale a ghost uses his powers to change a woman’s sex so that she can stay married to the woman she loves. In another—re-created in film by Mani Kaul in the early 1970s as Duvidha and more recently by Bollywood director Amol Palekar as the wildly successful Paheli—a ghost falls in love with a young bride and assumes her husband’s form so convincingly even her in-laws are fooled. In the title story of this collection, a group of Bania merchants engage in battle to the death with a group of nomadic Banjaras over a misplaced fleck of straw.
These stories pose riddles that fi nd new relevance across languages and eras: Who has the right to tell us whom to marry? What counts as truth when it comes to protecting someone we love? How do the epic stories we hear encourage us to repeat scenes of ethnic violence?
Detha’s tales combine the local Rajasthani storytelling idiom with narrative technique from the modern short story to set a new standard for contemporary writing in India. Translator Christi A. Merrill has worked with the author and his Hindi translator Kailash Kabir to craft a style that allows these stories to come alive in English with equal inventiveness and vibrancy.