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Books

Story Teller:
Turning Punjabi Folk Tales into Nursery Rhymes

A Book Review by ARVINDER SINGH KANG

 

 

 

baat paava(n) batoli paava(n)
baat nu luggey moti
moti moti jhurr gaye
tey raat rahi khaloti.


(As I narrate, the tale unfurls;
A tale embroidered with infinite pearls.
One by one the pearls drop;
Yet the night … it stood its spot.)

 

The fondest memories I have from my childhood in Punjab are those of laying on a cot on our home terrace under a starry sky, while listening to the “baata(n)” - fables and folktales.

My learning of Gurmukhi grammar came much later from the qaaida and my recognition of Punjabi words came from the rhyming stories that my parents and grandparents, and sometimes my elder siblings, would recite to us younger ones.

The sparrow was always the hardworking one, the crow usually a cunning fellow - my early lessons of perseverance.

The wolf was ferocious and blind in pride, though ultimately outwitted by the timid but noble sheep - lessons of sober thought and patience over raw power.

The lion was ferocious, yet painstakingly noble in the decisions he made - giving me an early appreciation that the title of king (“Singh”) has it own weight of responsibilities one is doomed to carry on one’s shoulders.

With changing times, these folk tales -- handed down the millennia, having been perfected by successive generations of our forefathers who lived in the land of Raavi, Satluj, Beas, Chenab and Jhelum -- are being lost; and so is the treasure of moral values they taught.

For this reason, Gurmeet Kaur’s set of illustrated Gurmukhi books ,“Fascinating Folktales of Punjab,” are a joy to behold.

They are, collectively, an excellent attempt at introducing “baata(n)” or the folktales of Punjab, usually set in rhyme for our children and us alike. It is also a great introductory tool for introducing young ones to the land of the language - not slave to a set of rigid rules of grammar but as fluid as imagination. And, immersed in the bounty of Mother Nature.

A sense of morality learnt at this age becomes far more important and everlasting than the one that religion will later introduce in life.

Gurmeet is not a newcomer to the land of Sikh and Punjabi literature. A technologist by profession, she has a penchant for writing. She is a regular contributor on sikhchic.com and many other diaspora forums and news outlets. She has written extensively on diaspora issues.

In Gurmeet’s own words, she devised the idea of a set of illustrated folktale books while searching for one for her own daughter. She either found qaaidas -- primers --  or books for grown-ups.

She decided to bridge the gap by taking on the project herself. Recollecting the stories from her childhood and gathering them from Punjabi books collected over many years, she selected a set of folktales to turn into nursery rhymes. Later came the process of setting them in picture books peopled with charming characters, and breathing life into the colorful ambience thus created.

And then came the whole process of getting it to the world - a process that every first time publisher dreads.

The outcome is a set of three beautifully designed and typeset books – “The Sparrow and the Pippal”, “The Sparrow and the Crow” and “The Lamb and the Dhol”.

Printed as heavy, laminated board books, the three books are typeset in Gurmukhi. Romanized Punjabi (transliteration) and English translations are included on the final pages of each book, to assist first time Punjabi learners to get their pronunciations and meanings right.

Unlike many other writers in the genre who end up borrowing the vocabulary and enunciation of other languages that they are familiar with -- Hindi, for example, being the primary culprit --  Gurmeet takes a stand.

It is “pippal”, and not “peepal” - such is the joy of language used, that in its correct pronunciation, the tree conjures up the very image of the leaves, the shade, the cool breeze, that one would find on a hot June day beside a well in the fields of Punjab.

Like Aesop’s fables, each folktale carries a lesson of morality -- in a gentle, fun and Punjabi way.

The Sparrow and the Crow” conveys a message of honesty and hard work, and the perils of laziness.

The Sparrow and the Pippal” provides valuable insights into persistence and patience (and also a lesson in recursion for would-be computer buffs - but that is another story).

The Lamb and the Dhol” teaches that bravery and smarts will win in even the toughest of times.

Guru Granth tells us: The stories of one’s ancestors make the children into good children” [951].

Our folktales carry the wisdom of a people that have lived in a land which constitutes the oldest civilization known to Man. Though the Punjab of yore is fast slipping away into history, these stories have the gist of morality and the kernels of truth that will never change. Our experiences will change, our narrations will differ, but our lessons of right and wrong, the ones that feel “right” from within, will come from the ones that we learnt when we were a blank slate: from the mind of a child.

Our singers and actors, religious leaders and politicians alike, often stress on the idea of preserving our culture. To me, culture is nothing more than the way of life of a people of a place and time. And as time changes, as we move on to create new amalgams of culture, the wiser ones retain and preserve the best of the past and shed the worst, to replace with the new. A rich source of the “good” from our past, of our mother land, Punjab, resides in folktales passed on to our generations via the ones that came before us.

It is about time that we retold the good old tales in new ways, using new media. Gurmeet Kaur’s “Fascinating Folktales of Punjab” is a cherished first attempt for this very cause -- a must-have for every Punjab- and Punjabi-loving household,
playgroup or school.



[The author is a technologist, writer and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Mississippi. He is a long term contributor to the Punjabi Open Source Team and the founder of Vehdaa Magazine (Vehdaa.com) which is a collection of interviews with Punjabis in the diaspora. It is available both in Gurmukhi and English.]

For more information or to buy, please CLICK here.
For Book Video in Punjabi, please CLICK here.  
For Book Video in English, please CLICK here.

 

March 19, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Harliv Kaur (San Antonio, Texas, USA), March 19, 2013, 12:05 PM.

So excited about having more resources for kids. This set is available at www.panjabmall.com

2: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), March 21, 2013, 6:48 PM.

Books are now available in Canada at: Gurfateh Sewa Center | 7875 Tranmere Dr., Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5S 1T8 | 11 am to 6 pm. Closed Tuesdays | Email: gsc.canada@gmail.com | Phone: (905) 671-3131, (647) 801-6806

3: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), April 05, 2013, 9:31 AM.

Books are now available in Europe at: Mighty Khalsa Books | Free Shipping inside U.K. - Email: info@mightykhalsa.com

4: Prabhleen Ahuja (Australia), February 14, 2015, 7:24 PM.

Hi, how can I buy these books in Australia? [EDITOR: You can purchase the books from http://www.folktalesofpunjab.com/ -- They'll ship them to you in Australia, I'm sure.]

5: Raj Kaur (Birmingham, United Kingdom), January 20, 2016, 11:04 AM.

I started a Punjabi club last year. We are finding it difficult to get Punjabi books locally. I'm interested in getting Punjabi books for children in our club for ages 4 years and upwards. I would really appreciate any help and support we can get for our club. [EDITOR: www.kiklikids.com has published some excellent books. You may want to check them out]

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Turning Punjabi Folk Tales into Nursery Rhymes"









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