For centuries, Rajasthan has been a gold mine of oral traditions and histories with Padma Shri Vijaydan Detha being one of the foremost storytellers of all time.
Translated by Vishes Kothari, Timeless Tales from Marwar offers some of the oldest and most popular fables from the Thar Desert region. It is a hand-picked compilation from the much-celebrated Batan ri Phulwari — Garden of Tales — a fourteen-volume collection written over a span of nearly fifty years.
The following is an excerpt from the book.
‘ . . . It feels to me like every letter of this story is a priceless gem . . . as if this story is about the collective subconscious of primal man. The subconscious mind of one human is different, and the collective subconscious is different. The subconscious of primitive man regards the non-living to be living like itself. Like them, stones, fodder and wood chat among themselves, smile and laugh and dance and play. Small and big creatures— lice, mosquitoes, ants, spiders, snakes, elephants, foxes and jackals—all wear clothes like men and women, deck out in jewels, bindis, tikkis and mehndi. Celebrate Holi, Diwali, Goga1 and Teej. The trees, bushes and fruits and vegetables talk among themselves. Feel pleasure and pain. They see their reflections in nature. And feel like all of nature is their extended family. And behave with it as per this. Everything that man does, all the small and big creatures of nature also do. Sleep, eat, toil and dream.’
There was a joo2. She used to live on the head of a girl. The girl took great care of her. She would give her seera3 and poori to eat. When the joo would walk on the girl’s head, the joo would leave lines of gold and encrust her hair with diamonds and emeralds. The girl’s head now had several lines of gold and was encrusted with priceless diamonds and emeralds. When the joo would consider leaving the girl’s head and going away, her head would begin to itch. The girl would then quickly catch the insect and not let her leave her head. And if the joo didn’t think of leaving, the girl’s head would not itch at all! One day, the joo decided to leave. She began to make her way very, very softly, but even then the girl’s head began to itch. The girl got highly suspicious. To distract the joo, she began to ask her questions about this-and-that things—
‘Joo-joo, where do you go?’
‘To pluck on chana leaves.’
‘How do you pluck on them, ae?’
‘How do you cut them, ae?’
‘How do you cook them, ae?’
‘With a cham!’
‘How do you eat them, ae?’
‘With a sabad-sabad!’
‘And where do you sleep, ae?’
‘Behind the stove.’
‘What do you spread, ae?’
‘What do you cover yourself with, ae?’
‘What do you keep under your head, ae?’
‘The rolling board.’
‘What do you keep under your feet, ae?’
‘The rolling pin.’
‘With what you do you keep warm, ae?’
‘How do you cough, ae?’
‘With a khoo-khoo!’
Then suddenly, the girl, catching the joo between her nails, said, ‘You are my joo. Where do you go, ae?’ But her nails had grown lately. The joo got crushed as soon as the girl pressed hard with her nails. The girl began crying. One teardrop fell on the crushed body of the joo, and instantly, it became a blood-red ruby. The girl sold the ruby for a lakh and a quarter. She celebrated her wedding with great dhoom-dhaam and enjoyed herself for many years.