Vijaydan Detha (1 September 1926 – 10 November 2013), also known as Bijji, was a noted Indian writer of Rajasthani literature. He was a recipient of several awards including the Padma Shri and the Sahitya Akademi Award.
Detha has more than 800 short stories to his credit, which have been translated into English and other languages. With Komal Kothari, he founded Rupayan Sansthan, an institute that documents Rajasthani folklore, art, and music. His literary works include Bataan ri Phulwari (Garden of Tales), a 14-volume collection of stories that draws on folklore in the spoken dialects of Rajasthan. Many of his stories and novels have been adapted for the stage and the screen: adaptations include Mani Kaul‘s Duvidha (1973),Habib Tanvir and Shyam Benegal‘s Charandas Chor (1975),Prakash Jha‘s Parinati (1986),Amol Palekar‘s Paheli (2005), Pushpendra Singh’s The Honour Keeper (2014),Dedipya Joshii‘s Kaanchli Life in a Slough (2020), Pushpendra Singh’s Laila aur Satt Geet (2020)
Vijaydan Detha hailed from the Charan community. His father Sabaldan Detha and grandfather Jugtidan Detha were also well-known poets of Rajasthan. Detha lost his father and two of his brothers in a feud when he was four years old. At the age of six he moved to Jaitaran (25 km from Borunda), where his brother Sumerdan worked in a civil court and where Detha studied until Class IV. Sumerdan had a transferable job, so Detha moved with him, studying in Bihar and Barmer. It was in Barmer, while competing with another student, Narsingh Rajpurohit, that Detha realised that he wanted to be a writer. Sumerdan later transferred to Jodhpur, where Detha studied at Durbar School.
Detha considered Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay as his first inspiration. He is equally passionate about Anton Chekhov. He was initially critical of Rabindranath Tagore, but he changed his mind after reading Tagore’s ‘Stri Patra‘.
Detha joined college in 1944. By that time, he had already established his name in poetry. However, he credited his success to his cousin brother Kuberdan Detha, who had left school after Class X. Detha used to pass off Kuberdan’s poems as his, and the appreciation he received for those poems made him want to establish his own name as a writer.
One of his first controversial works was Bapu Ke Teen Hatyare, a critique of the work of Harivanshrai Bachchan, Sumitranandan Pant and Narendra Sharma. This trio of authors brought out books about Gandhi within two months of Gandhi’s death.
— Vijaydan Detha, Bapu Ke Teen Hatyare
In 1950–52, Detha read and was inspired by 19th-century Russian literature. That is when he thought to himself: “If you do not want to be a mediocre writer, you should return to your village and write in Rajasthani.” By that time, he had already written 1300 poems and 300 short stories.
Detha’s stories have been adapted into various films and dramas. In 1973, renowned filmmaker Mani Kaul directed Duvidha, based on Detha’s story of the same name. The film, much of which was shot in Detha’s village Borunda, received worldwide acclaim. Later, Amol Palekar directed Paheli based on the same story, starring Shah Rukh Khan. Paheli was also India’s official entry to the Academy Awards. Prakah Jha made Parinati, a film based on Detha’s story. Habib Tanvir adapted his story into one of his most acclaimed plays Charandas Chor, which was later adapted into a film by Shyam Benegal. Later director Pushpendra Singh made a feature film The Honour Keeper on his short story “Lajwanti“ and in the year 2020 Writer-Director Dedipya Joshii has made the Hindi-Rajasthani film Kaanchli Life in a Slough & Director Pushpendra Singh also made the Gojri film Laila aur Satt Geet on his famous story ‘Kenchuli‘.
Talking to Mahendra Lalas in India Today, he said, “My land [Rajasthan] is full of stories, whatever I’ve written is just a drop of the ocean”. Detha, was inspired by Shah Govradhan Lal Kabra to write in Rajasthani “till date I have not written in any other language”, he said regarding his love for the language. He portrayed the sufferings of the poor in his writings and was also tipped for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011 which ultimately went to Tomas Tranströmer. Vijay Dan Detha is survived by four sons and a daughter.