Srinagar: The art of storytelling has been an essential element of Kashmir’s folklore and a great source of inspiration for researchers and explorers.
Sir Marc Aurel Stein, the Hungarian born British archaeologist and explorer spent six summers in the Himalayan meadow called Mohand Marg in Valley’s Ganderbal district to translate Kalhana’s epic chronicle, the ‘Rajatarangini’ (River of Kings) from Sanskrit to English.
During his stay in the Valley, Stein came to know of a great storyteller called Hatim Teli (Hatim oil-seller) who lived in the present Panzin village of Ganderbal which Stein called ‘Panzil’.
The village is situated at the confluence of the Sindh stream and the waters from the Harmukh glacier.
Harmukh peak is believed to be the abode of Hindu Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvati.
Local Pandits believe that the divine couple went to the Amarnath Cave from their Harmukh abode to give ‘Darshan’ to the devotees.
With the help of a local scholar, Pandit Govind Kaul, Stein managed to translate Hatim’s stories and songs into English which he published in England in the early 20th century.
Hatim used to be in great demand during public gatherings and weddings. His list of hosts ran long, especially, during the winter months when his visits would be long awaited.
Families would gather around Hatim during long winter nights and under the light of an oil lamp, the lanky storyteller would start his narration of ‘Mahmud of Ghazni and the fisherman’, or the romantic story of ‘Prophet Yusuf and Zulaikha’ or the adventure of ‘Forsyth Sahib to conquer Yarkand’.
The master storyteller, Hatim was the narrator of Kashmir’s folklore and storytelling tradition that existed centuries before him and continued for many years after his death.
With the advent of cinema, television and mobile phones, the art of storytelling has suffered immensely in Kashmir as the present generation is more interested in science fiction films, crime and family TV serials, adventure and disaster movies etc.
The tradition of storytelling has been and is a very important part of Kashmir’s history and culture.
Many Kashmiris, mostly in their 60s and above, still vividly recall the magic of the local storyteller.
They still believe that despite the popularity and reach of cinema and television, the attraction and thrill of the storyteller remains unmatched.
Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, 86, is a retired school headmaster. He lives in a village in Ganderbal district. His face gets back the long lost glow when he is reminded of the days and nights he spent as a child and youth listening to the storyteller.
“Winters used to be tough. There was no electricity and the roads were hardly motorable.
“Snow would begin in the afternoon and keep falling till morning.
“Everything would be covered with a white blanket in the morning as we looked forward to a hot cup of salt tea gathered around the hearth managed by mother.
“Days would mostly be spent indoors as parents cautioned us of frostbite and chilblains if we played in snow.
“Once every fortnight, our home would become the centre of attraction for the entire village as the storyteller was coming home that evening.
“Dinner would be served early and a large steaming ‘Samovar’ with ‘Kehwa’ would be placed close to the storyteller.
“He would begin his narrative with masterly craft matched by the widening of his eyes, raising and lowering of his eyebrows and hands as the prince in the story fought the ‘Jinn’ to retrieve his beloved.
“There was advice and wisdom in every story he told. The triumph of good over evil, crime never pays and despite all our cunning and craft, a straight line is still the shortest distance between two points, etc.
“It was a marvellous entertaining system of education the likes of which is not seen today despite audio-visual gadgets at our schools and colleges.
“I wish the art never dies and our department of culture does something to revive the tradition.
“It is like the dying street theatre. We owe it to posterity to preserve these historical assets”, the retired headmaster said.
The good news is that he is still able to narrate many of the tales he heard from the storyteller.
But, the bad news is that this gentleman could be among the last of such Kashmiris who saw a storyteller come home when the long, dark shadows of winter nights extended over towns and villages in Kashmir. (IANS)