Rajasthan continues to fascinate the world for many reasons. Some of the more obvious ones include its colours, music and dance, venerable history, forts, fortifications, palaces, step-wells and old towns, and rich textile tradition. Rajasthan also brings to mind the vast tracts of golden desert to its north-west and west, juxtaposed by the scattered green and dust-mantle clad valleys, plains and hills of its south-east and east, with their rivers and rivulets and lakes.
Rajasthan is also famed for its rich oral and written traditions, drawn from mythology and religious tales as much as from the history of the area. The oral and written traditions are sometimes coloured by the blood of battles, sometimes romantic with the folk-remembered tales of Moomal, Dhola and Maru, Nihal-de, and often based on real-life tales of sacrifice and duty of valourous men and women like Maharana Pratap, Prithviraj Chauhan, Jaimal, Patta, Gora, Badal, Panna-dhai, Achaldas Khinchi, Durgadas Rathore and countless ordinary citizens.
Dipping into this rich heritage, this book brings to its readers a collection of short stories from Rajasthan. These are based on real people and events, but are somewhat fictionalised in the narration. The nine Rajasthani tales in this book are but a fraction of the amazing legacy of Rajasthan.
Archaeologist, historian, and writer Rima Hooja is Consultant Director (Library & Archives) Maharaja Swami Man Singh II Museum, City Palace, Jaipur; Managing Trustee Jaipur Virasat Foundation; Editor Journal of Heritage Management; and Adjunct Faculty at Ahmedabad University's Centre for Heritage Management.
She has been a Member of India's National Monuments Authority (2011-2014), Director Minnesota University's MSID India Program (2003-2014) and Faculty Director New York State Independent College Consortium for Study in India Program (November zeta-February 2016). A PhD from Cambridge University, Distinguished International Academician of Minnesota University, and Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, the author has held several academic posts and served on various governing boards, committees and councils.
Rima has several books, research papers, newspaper articles, and conference presentations to her credit. Known for her fondness for animals, she runs an organisation named Animal Care Trust, and currently cares for 80-100 cats in Jaipur. She occasionally also writes!
The classical opening line in north Indian folk stories that one grows up hearing is equivalent to the “Once upon a time ...” in the English language.
That line could and did spill over into many variants. Tales of kings and queens from mythology, or history. Tales akin to Aesop-ian Panchatantra and other morality stories. Tales of talking birds and animals, or at least about a central character who understood the language of birds and animals. Tales involving a king with seven daughters, with the youngest as the hero/ine; or involving seven poor brothers, with, once again, the youngest as the protagonist. Tales from India’s epics, juxtaposed with tales from India’s villages. Tales, somewhat simple and simplified-or not, as the case may be-of what I now recognise as “origin myths”. Tales of mysterious journeys and hidden treasures. Tales of real-time experiences by local raconteurs. One could think of any subject, and there were stories to fit into every category!
I got my fair share, and more, of hearing stories and real incidents retold over different time periods. In both cases, the stories often came with the multi-perspective aspect built-in, since the retelling was done by more than one person. Furthermore, being a fussy eater as a child, I had the “reward” (in retrospect) of extra stories to listen to, as my reluctant jaws worked to keep my food intake going. It is more than possible that some of those “eat-as-you-listen stories” were just made up on the spot, as the teller of tales ran out of immediate recall-stock. I recall one time Nala and Damyanti’s story had King Vikram of Ujjaini and Mahatma Gandhi/Bapu both come into it.
That oral learning-hearing moved to garnering my own stories from the written medium of books and comics (oh, ok, graphic novels now if you say so), the audio-visual medium, and festival-linked dramas, dance-dramas and sung versions.
I never stopped to analyse them-critically or otherwise- and never stopped enjoying them. Somewhere along the line, I was also creating some in my mind, but, as that too was not academically dissected or thought through, the exercise had no name and no set aim.
Until the subject of retelling some of the events one had learned about while reading, researching and/or teaching began to take shape. There was nothing exceptionally original in the idea of retelling something from history, but the more I thought about it, the more I was drawn to the idea of penning something from the history of Rajasthan-an administrative division of India I had researched and written about, and grownup in (the two are not necessarily the same thing).
Fortunately, my publisher liked the idea. Having got a green signal, however, I began the long process of procrastination, and more procrastination, and yet more procrastination, even as I shortlisted and selected episodes, individuals, and places that could find a place in the proposed book, and started to put down rough outlines on paper and/or my computer. At last count, I have enough “raw data”, i.e., draft versions, to make up at least twenty to thirty more such collections.
My publishers travails weren’t over, though, in terms of the time frame; nor were mine-and for a different reason. In the retelling of tales from the history of Rajasthan, some of the characters began to assert themselves. Sometimes, I felt that some of the characters were speaking out to me across time, and even taking control of the tale. At times, I wrote in descriptions or dialogues that I felt were flowing naturally from the story being retold, even while realising that I may have been taking the notion of poetic license too literally, and could have knowledgeable readers send in reams upon reams of corrections and addendums.
Readers of this collection may put it down to an overactive imagination, and suggest I take to penning fiction, or desist from penning anything, other than dry technical reports in the future, but this made the recounting of these “real tales from Rajasthan’s history” that much easier, and yet that much harder for me.
In the end, I have not just the above-mentioned draft versions of lots of stories, but I also have nearly- finished or ready-to-polish versions of lots of other stories, which simultaneously tried to get told, or which I tried to retell. Once again, the two are not necessarily the same thing.
It has not been easy to make the final selection, despite my attempts at a methodological and systematic way of working. Many stories I wanted to share have been left out by me for various reasons, though I would very much hope to include them in a future compilation.
The present collection of nine stories are mainly focused on tales of heroism, the self and the State, that stern old-fashioned task-master/person called “Duty”, and on sacrifice, warfare and the human spirit, and the world the warriors of Rajasthan belonged to. There is some logic, at least in my opinion, to where I have placed them in the collection, but they can be read in any order. All but one of the stories are based on some historically accepted facts, and the one that might be considered a historical (“Two Kings of Shrimal”), falls into that category simply because it is commonly believed to have happened too many centuries ago to be historically verifiable.
Various friends have, at different points, asked if I have a kept a balance between the “voices” of the rural and marginalised vis-a-vis the rulers and elite? Whether I have consciously looked at gender issues? Whether I have dissected and analysed the stories critically? (This one is easy to answer: see my comment in paragraph 5 above). And, whether I realise that I am glorifying “battle, honour and sudden death”?
I will not answer those queries and issues here. Instead, I simply present this collection as a window to the historical past of Rajasthan.
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