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Time to revive Kashmir's traditional storytellers

Sunday February 24, 2013 11:35:48 AM, Sheikh Qayoom, IANS

Srinagar: As academicians strive to include moral education in the school curriculum to check crimes in society, most people are clueless as to how this was addressed among the older generations of Kashmiris. Sociologists here argue the now nearly extinct art of storytelling by parents and grandparents was, in fact, the daily moral classes children went through at home.

"The invasion of television, Internet and cinema has, in fact, killed the tradition of storytelling in Kashmir. Children picked up their sense of rectitude through the stories their parents or the professional storytellers told them at home.

"The moral subtext of these stories was always universal, that truth would triumph over the evil. Crime never paid and however mighty the tyrant might be, it would always be the hero with the right moral conduct who carried the day," Farah Qayoom, a teacher of sociology in Kashmir University, told IANS.

Till as late as the 1960s, the art of storytelling as a powerful means of social communication was alive in Kashmir.

Most villages had professional storytellers around whom children and even elders would gather, especially during the lengthy winter nights to listen to the tales about far off lands.

"The coming of the storyteller into the village was an event nobody would miss. We would wait eagerly for the evening when the storyteller would sit on a straw mat with an oil lamp on the pedestal to highlight the changing contours of his face as he transported you into the world of fairies, princes and demons," said Sheikh Abdul Rehman, 81, a resident of north Kashmir Ganderbal district.

Residents of another north Kashmir village remember the late Ghulam Muhammad Rather as a master storyteller of the area.

"He would bring all his story books along when invited to tell us a story. His stories about the prince with the wooden horse that flew over land and water to reach the demon's cave where his lady love had been caged are fresh in my memory," said Samad Sheikh, 72, a resident of Haripora village in the same district.

The art of storytelling is something the locals allowed to die out as more dazzling and pushbutton means for entertainment became available to them.

"I never heard a story in my entire childhood that did not have a moral message. I remember the story of the son who dragged his ailing father out of the home to the market place to get rid of him," Ali Muhammad Dar, 65, a resident of Gowharpora village in Badgam district, recalled to IANS.

"The father told the son to abandon him a few steps further down the lane.

"The son wondered why the dying man was insisting on being abandoned at a certain place. He asked the reason. The father told him that was the exact place where he had abandoned his own father in old age. The son understood the terrible mistake he was about to make and carried his father back home", Dar added.

As society battles with problems of old parents being abandoned by affluent children, crimes against women, drug abuse, cyber crimes and the like, shouldn't Kashmir recreate its moral police in the shape of the traditional storyteller?

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at




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