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In Kashmir the dying art of winter storytelling

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Srinagar: The bone-chilling winters of Kashmir have been one of cold and misery but there’s more to it. It has also been the magical backdrop to the unending narrative of traditional storytellers in the past that would transport the young and the old to fairylands of princes, princesses, demons, djinns, mythical birds and wooden horses that could fly.

Both in Srinagar city and the countryside, long and dull winter nights were brought alive by storytellers who had mastered the art in such a manner that they would especially be invited for night-long sessions.

“As radio, cinema and television came to Kashmir, the demand for the storytellers died down gradually till the present times when the younger generation of Kashmiris don’t even know anything about this tradition”, said Noor-Ud-Din, an octogenarian who lives in Ganderbal district.

The storyteller would come to the village with regular periodicity during the winter months in the past and the event was no less than a small village celebration.

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“Children and elders would all gather around the storyteller whose session would begin after dinner. He would sit in the centre of a large room surrounded by his audience. The room would be lit in village homes by an oil-lamp and in well-to-do urban homes by a kerosene lantern since electricity was not even heard of in our childhood,” said Habibullah Dar, another resident of the same district.

Dar’s uncle called ‘Wali Maam’ was a master storyteller.

“He belonged to Anantnag district. He would come to our village for a few weeks during the ‘Chillai Kalan’ (40-day long period of intense cold beginning December 21). The entire village would wait eagerly for his visit. After dinner, he would begin his stories that often revolved around fairylands, love-smitten princes, demons, the mythical birds called the ‘Rooks’ which would lift a person and take him to the ‘Koh-e-Kaff’ (A far off the mountain).

“The changing colours of Wali Maam’s face were so intriguing that the audience would forget the biting cold outside as the magic of shadows thrown by the faint light of the oil lamp added to the suspense inside the room,” Dar said.

It was an endless narrative that would be interrupted in the morning only to be resumed the next evening, Dar recalled.

He strongly believed the celluloid stars of today could learn the art of articulation and dialogue rendering from Wali Maam.

“His voice would rise and fall as if he was on board with the prince who had invented a wooden horse that would fly to the fairyland of his lady love. The prince had to fight the demon who had carried his beloved to the land of djinns and beasts. You couldn’t fall asleep as rounds of ‘Kehwa’ would continue for the entire night to keep the audience alert.

“It was so participative that in between his narrative, the storyteller would ask someone in the audience to repeat the last line of the tale.

“This is perhaps what you people in today’s world call interactive audience,” Dar said as he laughed.

However long the winter night and the narrative of the storyteller, the conclusion was inescapable – the triumph of good over evil.

“Storytelling in the past was not just an art to keeping you amused during the dull and dark winter nights. It was a lesson in morality in which the mighty demons and power villains would always lose to the hero who embodied love, sincerity and compassion”, Noor-Ud-Din said.

While folk theatre and Sufiyana music are being revived in Kashmir, it is the time the art of storytelling is also preserved as the grand heritage of this land. (IANS, Sheikh Qayoom) (image courtesy:c1.staticflickr.com)

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The Plight Of Kashmir’s Pandits

The Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora said a memorandum signed by thousands of Kashmiri Pandits has been addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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Kashmiri Pandits
Plight of Kashmiri Pandits continues: Community members. Flickr

Dozens of Kashmiri Pandits on Friday paid homage to civilians, Army men and their community members killed since 1989 and said the plight of Pandits still continues.

For 28 years, the Kashmiri Pandit community has been observing September 14 as ‘Martyrs’ Day-Balidan Diwas’ at B.K. Ganjoo memorial park in Central Delhi.

United Kingdom-based activist Shafalica Bhan Kotwal who has been fighting for the rights of the Kashmiri Pandits, said: “There is no major change in the lives of Kashmir Pandits, their plight still continues despite Bharatiya Janata Party being in power.

Kashmiri pandits
Kashmir. Pixabay

“Most of them were thrown out of their homes. They are living in pathetic conditions in shelter homes with no basic facilities.”

She said the community was once accustomed to living in minus 17 degrees Celsius. “Their families are now living in the hostile Jammu weather,” she added.

The son of Kasmiri Pandits’ leader Tika Lal Taploo, Ashutosh Taploo, was at the meeting. He said: “My father was killed not just because he was a Pandit..because he was looked as the Hindu community leader.”

Kashmiri Pandits
Kashmiri Hindus protest renaming of Shankaracharya Hill. Flickr

Taploo said his father was the first Pandit to have fallen to terrorist bullets in the Valley.

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“Till today no government has brought any major change in Pandits’ lives, the atrocities we experienced and psychological trauma we suffered is fresh” he said.

In a statement calling for justice to “victims of terrorism,” the Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora said a memorandum signed by thousands of Kashmiri Pandits has been addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and submitted to Union Minister Hansraj Ahir. (IANS)

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