• Tulika Publishers

Q and A with Rinchin

We are intrigued with Rinchin’s storytelling technique and the way she weaves the story and its social, political, cultural and environmental issues into a fine tapestry that not only made a great read but also made us think. So we asked her a few questions. In return, we got such honest and moving answers that we had to share them with you.

​1. Can you tell us a bit about your life and work?

For the past twenty years, I have been involved in social movements and my life has been nomadic and rooted at the same time, if that’s possible. That’s been my life largely spent in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Within the largely political work, a big part has been cultural. Writing, translating, publishing through autonomous groups stories of people, films and non-fiction books that should reach the general public.

2. Why did you choose children's fiction to tell your stories? I don't choose it, it chose me! I don't exclusively write for children. I write all kinds of stories. One never starts with thinking of the audience, or keeping in mind who it’s going to be for. As one writes, I think the story, its scope and the way it needs to be told determines how it comes out. But apart from that, I enjoy engaging with children. How they see the world, how they express their thought and how they interact with adults interest me. And it’s not only from the outside, when you write from the point of view of the child, somewhere one is also speaking for the child that lives within us. Sometimes these stories also allow for me to address the questions, joys and anxiety of that child too.

3. What inspired you to write Mati's story in I Will Save My Land? What was the starting point?

It started with a child helping her family on the fields and being stubborn about wanting to do certain tasks that were according to the adults too difficult for her. When denied, she sulked. “Is it not mine?” she kept asking. I was living with that household then and we all tried to placate her but it took a lot of placating. That was the germ. Of course, displacement and the threat of losing land is a reality in the central Indian Adivasi belt, so that is the natural context of the story. Her question resonated in my mind. It connected with me at various levels – how is it that the land to which women have a right is never completely theirs, even though they work so hard on it? Almost all of us have been told that our maternal homes are not truly ours. Then here, Adivasis are told that their land is not theirs. The government can give it away through a legal procedure to companies. Then there is caste, a big way through which people are marginalised and disinvested of their land. In fact, after I had written this story, in the course of something we were doing, I walked into a field of an Adivasi woman. She had cleared a part of the forest for agriculture — many of the landless farmers have done that. Though she was the only woman who was working all by herself, every one said that her fields were better than any of the other ones in which the men also worked. And she had help from her three granddaughters. Sometimes one finds a living story after one has written the story. It happens many times with me. And if you see agricultural work, especially in labour-intensive farming, you'll always see women. These were the images that all went into the story. That is Mati’s world seen through my eyes.

4. You have explored several social issues casteism and sexism in I Will Save My Land. In The Trickster Bird, you have explored the issue of Paardhi tribals of Madhya Pradesh. Yet neither book is weighed down by them. How do you achieve this balance between the issue and the story?

Because one doesn't start with the issues; it starts with something personal about the character. But the character’s life and context bring in the issues. You can't separate that from the life the character leads or even the kind of the life the writer leads. I don't know about balance but one thing is certain the writer’s life and the politics or the views that one has will determine how the story comes out. In a sense they will determine what you see, what you think is important, what will pop out at you and demand to be made into a story. One can’t sit on a desk and determine an issue and then write about it. It won’t ring true. Sometimes when you know the context the story will flow naturally. And sometimes the characters will lead you to questions you don't understand very well or know and force you to explore them to know more, to engage more. For example, caste is a reality of our society. One cannot escape from it, not even in a children's story: you have to confront it.

5. What intrigued me (and other readers) while reading I Will Save My Land was that I could listen to the local language through the skin of English. How do you manage to bring this out?

Because what I'm writing is a translation of the local language in English. The language of the characters translated into the language I write in. So in a way, I write in translation. It’s not an effort; that’s the way it happens. But in that it does break away from the structure of regular English. It does not always subscribe to its rules. And slowly I've realised that I can’t keep to just one language, other languages push their way in and I can’t translate everything. So they all coexist. I don't think in one language. Most of the times even in our heads we are translating from one language to the other. That’s how it comes out in writing to too.

6. You have written very strong women characters in I Will Save My Land, The Trickster Bird and Sabri's Colours. Does the inspiration to create strong women (and girl) characters come from yourself and/or the women you see around you? Always the women around me, and there are so many. So in the women I see their struggles, their strength; it inspires me. But again it’s not something deliberate that one starts with thinking that I will have a woman character. It just happens. Women are 50 percent of the population. So 50 percent of the stories should be written about them? Where they are the protagonists? They populate this world. There has to be stories about them: of their strength, weaknesses, victories and defeats. In land struggles it is the women who are at the forefront; they are the ones who come-out on the roads. In the Paardhi context, because men always have the danger of being arrested, it is the women who interact with the police in case someone is picked up. They risk the humiliation or even the beating when they go to get someone released. They are the ones who will rag-pick to earn, while the men may try to look for other work. Because women and their work are valued less, whatever they do doesn't get enough importance. We see that unfairness in all our lives. Being the weaker sex takes a lot of strength. I think the effort sometimes is to bring this out. Because I think it is through many such stories that we read that we develop our own sense of self — to see ourselves as equal.

September 15, 2017