An American’s journey in the footsteps of a Hindi novelist (Feature)

August 10th, 2009 - 11:48 am ICT by IANS  

By Imran Khan
Aurari (Bihar), Aug 10 (IANS) He sits on a chowki (wooden bed) with villagers, dressed in a lungi and banian (vest), totally at home in the surroundings. But Ian Woolford has travelled far, from a university in the US to a dusty village in Bihar to research Indian rural life inspired by the writings of Hindi novelist Phanishwar Nath Renu.

Woolford, an American researcher, has been doing research on Renu’s village - Aurari near Farbesganj in Araria district - to present a picture of village life, folk songs and traditions before the world, particularly to people in the US and Britain.

Woolford, 30, a PhD student from the University of Texas, has already spent nearly six months in Aurari village in the last four years to understand village life.

“Renu’s writing is unique as it mainly focuses on village life. The folk songs mentioned in his writings are still alive in his village,” said Woolford, sitting on a chowki along with villagers and family members of Renu.

Renu is the author of several novels including “Maila Anchal” on which the 1966 award-winning film “Teesri Kasam” starring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rahman was based. “Maila Anchal” was Renu’s first novel. It depicted life of the people of Bihar, especially the backward classes.

Woolford is happy that his hard work has paid off as he has been appointed a lecturer in the University of Texas.

“I was informed by my wife that the University of Texas has appointed me lecturer in July,” Woolford told IANS before leaving the village for the US last week.

He would dress like any other villager, in cotton lungi and vest.

He recalled that it was around five years ago when the folk songs in Renu’s writings impressed him so much that he came to the village.

“I reached Renu’s village without knowing anyone but what surprised me was the warm welcome, friendly help I received here that changed me forever and I decided to research on Indian village life in the backdrop of the village,” Woolford said.

“Till now, very little has been written in English about Renu’s village and his writing. I am doing research and writing my thesis in English. It will help others to know about Renu’s writings,” he said.

He has already completed more than 60 percent of his research work.

“Renu’s village attracts me like no other place. I am proud to say that it is my second home and the villagers are my second family,” he said.

Woolford has visited Renu’s village six times for research work but admitted that it is not easy for him to visit so often because of his family back in the US.

Woolford plans to teach students in the US about Indian village life.

“I am working on the syllabus of a new course - Indian village life - in the department of Asian Studies in the University of Texas,” he said.

Woolford, however, felt that poverty in rural India is a matter of concern.

“Poverty and the lack of education sadden me. Things have changed in Renu’s village in the last two decades. Now girls are joining schools, awareness has increased about health and sanitation,” he said.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

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