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Friday, August 08, 2014

Author Interview: Vithal Rajan, author of 'The Legend of Ramulamma'

Dr Vithal Rajan
Talking of Dr Vithal Rajan could have led to pages and pages of writing. Because he is a B.A. Hons (McGill), Ph.D. (L.S.E.) and that was just the beginning. So, I would rather let the man, do the talking or well, writing… 

Hope you caught my Review of his book,  and bought the book 'The Legend of Ramulamma' here.

How did ‘The Legend of Ramulamma’ happen? 

I have worked in rural Deccan for over 30 years with Dalits, poor women, and agri labour. 

I came to admire them and bemoaned the fact that politicians, bureaucrats, and opinion makers see them only as beneficiaries of ‘aid’ and not as the most vital partners in development.
Did you have to research anything while putting the stories together? What kind of research was it and how did you conceptualize it?

My own experiences were enough.

How did you come up with the core idea and develop it?

When I first started working with civil society I wanted to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s advice of reaching out to the poorest person you can meet – the Dalit woman agricultural labourer suffers from the triple oppression of caste, class, and gender.

So, I made such a person my hero, but made her a dai or midwife.

How would you relate the book and its characters to the lives today?

Well, a role model for all of us should be Dr Arole of Jamkhed in Maratwada.

He left an excellent practice in the USA and set up a community health system covering hundreds of villages in which Dalit rural women are the core. So, there are several ‘Ramulammas’ there, I am sure.

How much of the series is based on facts and how much is fiction?

It is fiction, but no book of fiction is any good unless it faithfully reflects life, ‘holding a mirror up to nature’ as Hamlet puts it.

What is the most fulfilling part of writing the book?

Honouring poor people, especially women, and bringing to light the great capacities they have.

What book is coming from you, next? When do you see it released?

This year, I published a children’s book, 'Jungu, the Baiga Princess', about tribals and
their values and how we cannot protect the environment or wildlife unless we see them as the first guardians.

Do you have another part coming up for this subject?

Other books are on offer but publishers should like them, as much as I do.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

I always wanted write even when I was a boy but life did not permit it till I was 69.

Any advice to writers that would like to be published today? How tough is it to be published in India?

It is a very tough world, for the focus is on selling and what moves in the market. The publishing industry is controlled by young women who naturally have a different point of view from mine, about what is good or interesting.

I myself am a struggling author so; it would be presumptuous to offer advice to anyone else. I would say if you are driven to write, do so without delay and do not wait as I did till the very evening of life when you have little energy left even to write.

As Krishna says, do not worry about the fruit of your labours, if writing is part of your Sva-Dharma, write.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

I was brought up on English literature from a very young age, so my favourite authors are English. I also prefer humour so many humorous authors are favourites.

In my teens, I loved to re-read William Shakespeare and PG Wodehouse, always very close to me; then of course, Jane Austen [my mother was a feminist before they coined the word] – some children’s writers like Richmal Crompton, and I have always respected Rudyard KiplingLeo Tolstoy, Honore de Balzac, were household figures – the  list is too long.

Which book are you currently reading?

I have created a digital library of old books, around 40,000, for my grandson so that when he grows up he can still access old books. I hope to revisit them with an e-reader.

What else do you like to do on a daily basis?

I like to play with my grandson who is 3, and learn from him once again about life.
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