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Watch: Return of Kashmiri folktales via Oxford

Srinagar: Amid COVID-19 gloom, an Oxford returned Kashmiri storyteller Onaiza Drabu takes her readers down the memory lane rescuing some forgotten Kashmiri folktales like `The legend of Himal and Nagrai’ from the past.

In a candid chat with The Kashmir Monitor, the 29-year-old anthropologist talks about her journey to story-telling and how she discovered her love for vanished Kashmiri folklore: Himal te Nagrai Seinz mohabbatache Daleel (The legendary romance of Himal and Nagrai) and other stories from the vale.

Onaiza has carefully preserved her treasure tales in her recent collection of stories, which are peppered with characters like Akhanandun, serpent kings, and long lost lovers.

The story collection is published by Speaking Tiger. It is available on Flipkart, Amazon, and the book stores across India.

“It all started when I was doing my masters in social anthropology from Oxford University. I worked specifically on verbal epithets and how we articulate protests through language in Kashmir,” she said.

In local parlance, she defines her learning of anthropology as “lukhan huend rehan sehan, tem kithen che pane waen kath bath karaan, wathan behann ti rozaan… (I studied about the lifestyle of people, their mannerisms, how they talk and interact with each other in their everyday life).

The seed of Kashmiri literature was sown and from there, she dug out the old fables and folklores with time.

“The stories are told in the everyday words and idioms used by Kashmiris like Wapath Yaraz (Dangerous Friendship), Kokras chai kunee chai kune zang (remaining obstinate),” Onaiza said, who is also a curator of the popular newsletter Daak.

Onaiza said that through the book, she aims to not only preserve the native language but also make access to Kashmiri literature easy, understandable, and visually pleasing.

“At the end of the book, I have also put up a dictionary called dictionary of Imponderabilia, a collection of all these strange sounding Kashmiri words that we use in our everyday language. And which might not completely translatable to an outsider,” she said.

Onaiza believes that the book becomes an engaging read when proper attention is given to details, the production quality is not compromised, and ease of access is made available.

“When I was growing up, I would see a lot of Urdu books compared to Kashmiri books. They were produced, with bad paper quality and poor editing. It’s still the case. This was the reason why they didn’t appeal to me much,” she said.

She added, in her latest collection, she has added bright illustrations, relatable characters that are beautifully done, and high-quality paper.

“You can see the difference in response from the children, who get very excited just by looking at these books,” she said.

The young author’s book is not only confined to the urban population but can be equally accessed by the rural populace.

“As much as I can, I try to put my stuff online without any paywalls. They have open access. A large chunk of Kashmiri population is online and they can easily read it there,” she said.

Asked what are the five things that the author can suggest to the young parents amid the pandemic, she replied: “Focus on teaching the Kashmiri language your children. If they cannot speak entirely in proper Kashmiri still they can be bilingual,”

She said the parents should read stories or plays online from Kashmiri storytellers to their children; tell a story from history or their childhood.

“The stories from grandparents are always welcome. Or engaging children in a project like How they view Kashmir. It could be though an artwork, a small poem or write up,” she said.

She concluded by saying good Kashmiri music can also be explored by parents. “Play it in the background so that the only thing they hear is not Western or Indian music,” she concluded.