Monday, July 11, 2011

Stories from Kashmir

Asha Hanley’s The Enchanted Saarang, released at the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival earlier this year, is inspired by real people and true events. For us at Tulika, this makes the experience of reading the book even more exciting and we are happy to share it with you, our readers. 

What is unmissable about the book is how the landscape and its people are evoked with warmth and a deep sense of awe. On the one hand, these stories feature ordinary people; shepherds, their families and children going about their little lives. Then, there is a sudden touch of magic; wishing bowls, caves filled with treasure and wondrous saarangs. 

From The Enchanted Saarang
In The Enchanted Saarang, the title story, one pluck of the saarang’s string gives the young shepherd Sona the ability to change shape! What is as exciting as the fast-paced action and Sona’s transformations is what one learns about Kashmir’s creatures – the real and the mythical: gunas, the legendary poisonous snake; jogi badshah, a rare poisonous plant found on Kashmir’s slopes; the flock of sheep who know when it is time to go home. The story, Asha shares, is set at Dudal, above Praslun in the region. 

From Drin
Drin features a Kashmiri marmot curious to explore the mountainside and valley on his own. Drin does not want to work like the other marmots and so he sets off, unaware of the dangers before him. . . The story was imagined at Tuliyan lake, inspired by the shy creatures, which, Asha says, are interestingly not found on all alpine meadows. 

The story Horse Thieves takes place on the way to Sekwas, before the climb up the narrow ridge known as Yamher – the Ladder of Death. The cold streams, the icy mountain slope and the river curving along it, the possibility of an avalanche – all heighten the desperation of the boy Karim as he tries to rescue his horse Lallo from the horse thieves. Something as everyday as the lighting of a fire is evoked with atmosphere.

Gulaal, the horse who bravely attacks a leopard threatening to kill her child, was based on a true incident. When Asha rode Gulaal eight years later, she says, the scars from the battle remained! Others in the collection like The Power of the Snake are inspired by stories she heard from different sources. 

From The Secret of Traamkhazaan
What makes this story collection unusual is that it sensitively portrays the culture, beliefs and daily lives of people, equally celebrating its diverse flora and fauna, while drawing attention to its vulnerability; as a place where men, women and children who are proud guardians of their natural heritage also often live on the edge. Yoking myth and folklore with real stories, Asha Hanley recreates a world little known to many. 

To view a presentation with Proiti Roy’s gorgeous visuals and excerpts from the stories, look here.

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