In snowy, peaceful nights, Ghulam Mohammad and other children of his family would sit around his father every night to listen to Kashmiri folktales (Daleel). Stories about love, people and fantasies were narrated to them and the children would fall asleep while listening to these stories.
Recalling his childhood memories of cold winters, 80-year-old shopkeeper, Ghulam said, “We would never sleep without listening to Aba’s folk stories. Aba had heard these stories from his parents. The stories are gems that we have received from our elders. These stories were interesting and moral based.”
Kashmir has a rich tradition of storytelling. Narrating folktales is a part of Kashmiri culture. The art of storytelling was mostly prevalent in winters when people would sit together and listen to stories. From children to old, the stories cater every person regardless of age and status. The stories were told in the form of prose and poetry.
Zin mazoor, Peat Koum Dastaan are some of the Kashmiri folktales. As per historians, Akanandun and Hemal Nagraj are tales that have originally evolved from Kashmir.
For children, tales with characters comprising Rantaas (witch), WanMohnui (wild man), Bram Bram Chouk (monster with burning eyes on the top of his head) were narrated.
“In our childhood, there were less means of entertainment. To engage us, our parents would tell us stories. We would stick to our places like children today stick to their mobile phones,” Ghulam said.
He feels that the younger generations nowadays have different interests like web browsing and gaming which has led to the fading interest of listening to folktales among youth and children.
A PhD Scholar and a writer, Muddasir Ramzan too feels that the tradition of folktales is not that popular among youth now. One of his short stories, ‘The Witch’ is about the encounter of Bashir, one of the characters in the story, with a Raantas.
“I have heard these stories in my childhood and I write with the intention that younger generations should also hear what I have heard back then. Our parents and grandparents used to tell us these stories but now the tradition of telling folktales is on decline,” he said.
The stories that Muddasir wrote are not exactly what his parents and grandparents have told him but he uses his imagination to involve the characters like Raantas and Wan Mohnui.
“There is a need to preserve the Kashmiri folktales by writing about it more and more because these are not only tales but how people communicated and felt about things then,” he said.
He suggests that events should be organized where folktales can be narrated as there are people who are interested in listening to such stories. “I got a good response when I started writing and people wanted to listen to more stories,” he said.
He believes that every culture has folktales and are easily available whereas the Kashmiri folktales are not even available in our indigenous language.
“Our culture can only be preserved when we write and make it easily available to the public. The folktales carry moral messages and they are part of every culture. It was a good medium to teach moral values to children. These folktales connect us to our pasts,” he said.
Nida Noor, a young author of the book- Two and a half, the knock of Chillai Kalan (Chilai Kalan is a local name of harsh 40 days of winters), presented a story of Waivoph (a mythical creature with humanly body and a head of a cat) who steps in the valley every year at the beginning of the Chillai kalan to trap the soul of a person in her kangri.
In 2019, she watched her younger cousins glued to mobile phones and she felt the need to write a book to retell Kashmiri folktales while keeping in view the present times.
“Children are interested in reading about fantasies but we do not tell them stories from our land. This place is rich in traditional folk stories. Children should know about these stories that are related to our culture,” she said.
Living in Srinagar, she grew up while listening to folktales from her grandmother and father. She said, “Most of the folktales offer lessons. It’s about our own land and I have written this book as a tribute to our elderly folks who made our culture beautiful with such stories.”
The title of her book too holds a story. According to myths, Waivoph used to shout the name of the person two and a half times: two shouts loudly and the half a bit slowly.
While talking about the dearth of Kashmiri folktales in written documents, she felt that there is a need to write more folktales in English, Urdu and Kashmiri language as she always finds folktales of other states easily available.
Currently, Nida is working with a US based company. Every day she takes out time from her schedule and works on her next book. “Now I am working on another folktale book. It’s something that we have to preserve. Nobody will preserve it for us,” she said.
Nida said, “There is a role of parents in introducing kids to the folktales. They can narrate it at bed time. Folktales if presented visually can be way more interesting.”
A poet and a historian, Zareef Ahmad Zareef said that in villages there was a more tradition of storytelling than in cities. Padsha Kath (stories of kings) was narrated while women sat to spin yarn on spinning wheels and men used to work on shawls.
Years ago, Zareef said, the storytelling was done by story tellers called Daleeli Gour in Kashmir. “People in the village would assemble together, call the storytellers and would listen to stories all night while working on the shawls and yarns. In city areas, rich people would call storytellers to their homes and would listen to them,” he said.
He said that the stories written in the past were manuscripts, written on yellow colored paper. When Islam was introduced in Kashmir and Persian education too find its way from Central Asia to Kashmir. People would travel and get the tales of other countries in printed form here too. This is how Kashmiri folktales started getting printed.
Laale Majnoon, Shreen Farhad, Gul Raez, Gul e Snober are some of the popular folktales that are popular even today.
“Aka Nandun is a folktale narrated by 5-6 Sufi poets of Kashmir. Samad Meer and Sebzaar Garen and other famous sufi poets have contributed to Aka Nandun. It has Kashmiri character and is famous till today,” said Zareef adding the folktales carry stories of bravery, war and kings.
According to Zareef, the art of storytelling has faded almost 50 years ago. Then with the coming of radio and television, the art of storytelling died.
He suggested that in order to review the folktales we should record them in tapes and telecasted on television. “If children and youth would listen to such stories only then they will find it interesting and it can be brought back to life,” he said.