This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge where one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the fifth of the 36 books — the book from Rajasthan — in this literary journey across India.
Padma Shri Komal Kothari (1929–2004) was an authority on Rajasthani folk traditions and oral history. Though his academic training was in Hindi literature, his interest in oral narratives and traditions led him to examine local epics, songs, riddles, music, drama, religious beliefs and practices, caste compositions, economics, village power structures, agricultural practices, land and water use, migration, etc. leading to an understanding beyond established paradigms. Kothari was not just interested in exploring the traditional ways of understanding the world; he was more interested in the process by which oral knowledge was learnt, remembered and passed from generation to generation.
Kothari is, perhaps, best known for the documentation, preservation and development of folk music by working with traditional musicians of Rajasthan, especially the Manganiyars and the Langas, and putting them on the world map. So great and pioneering was his work that he attracted scores of scholars of ethnomusicology, folklore and cultural studies from across world and India.
Rajasthan: An Oral History — Conversations with Komal Kothari (Penguin Books, pp. 358, 2003) by Rustom Bharucha is an attempt to document “Komalda’s intimate knowledge of Rajasthan through extended conversations and dialogue” (p.2). The book is the outcome of such conversations with Kothari on the cultural geography of Rajasthan over a two-year period. As Bharucha says in the “Introduction” to the book: