Unusual storyteller from a dreamy tribal village

Basanti Majhi’s bilingual novel in Kui, a dialect used in Odisha, is a universal work.

Published: 17th March 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th March 2013 11:58 AM   |  A+A-

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Hence Balia became the Earth God and his wife metamorphosed into a golden oriole and flew away.” This is not a Marquezian line expressed in magical realism. Rather it comes from a young tribal woman who writes in an unofficial language that is used by a quarter million tribal people of Odisha.

Kui is a dialect mainstream people don’t know. But it has not deterred Basanti Majhi’s imagination from taking the flight. Basanti the story writer is unknown and unacknowledged. Not even equipped with a formal education. She works in an NGO as a house-keeper to earn her bread. Yet her creative mind spins a story in the midst of a chore. While cleaning utensils or sweeping the floor, her mind envisions a character or a new line. Born to a poor Kondh family in Jharipani village of Kandhamal district, Basanti’s book Kutia Kondh Loka Kahani is a collection of 39 brilliant stories that chronicle the reality of her times with a deft touch that essentially is an inheritance of her tribal world.

The book has drawn attention of the mainstream media as it speaks about her life, the life of her people and the earth she lives with. The jungle whispers sparks her imagination. One can find out a little girl coming out from a bundle of beans and doing the household chores. All her creativity springs from a social reality that is isolated from the world and has grown in the innocence of the place she lives in. Drought, hunger and human sacrifices narrate their gory details in her stories. For Basanti, her three siblings and their parents, survival was a question. Like any other Kondh girl, her dawn broke to a working day in paddy fields and the dusk came with a tired yawn.

At 18, she was married and by 20, Basanti had lost her husband to an unknown disease. The limited days of her romantic rendezvous is still vivid in her mind.

“I never thought of marriage to be a humanly affair. I imagined my bridegroom to be a character from the lore of my grandmother. I met my husband in a community gathering arranged by Seva Bharti, a local NGO. From the first sight, he wanted to take me for his bride but I never gave a chance. After two years of hide and seek, he succeeded in expressing his love to me and I conceded to his wish. But the mother earth had a wish to take him back. So I lost him.”

The pain was insurmountable and she became an impulsive writer. Raghunath Rath, an eminent folklorist and historian discovered the hidden spark in the dainty child woman on his visit to Seva Bharti office in Mundigarh village.

He learnt about her unusual interest for story writing. Rath took the initiative to translate the stories in Odia and Seva Bharati published them in a bilingual book. It was a completely unexplored genre in Odia literature. She adds, “I write my journey without thinking of the destination.”

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