One of the most fascinating stories in Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s new book is that of Gondrani and Aasi Gaur. It shows how a young girl from the village of Shehr-e-Roghan used her wits to defeat a fiery demon, when everyone else around her had failed – and this bravery has nothing to do with age, but with the kindness and kindness of a person. Five of these tales are part of Farooqi South Asian Monster Tales, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books and illustrated by Michelle Farooqi. “Stories of heroes and monsters date back to the beginning of human life and are often found in folklore, the oldest literature of mankind. Like other inhabited places in the world, the geographic regions of South Asia, too, possess a great number of such stories – a testament to their people and their imaginations, ”writes Farooqi in the introduction.
Three of these tales, Gondrani and the fire demon Aasi Gaur from Balochistan, Meo Khai Soni, the fairy prince Shamsher and the cannibal giant Sri Badat by Gilgit, and Morriro and the Sindh sea monster, are published for the first time for children. “The story of Prince Saif, fairy Badri Jamala and Toraban Dev is mainly known in oral form in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, although it is told in many permutations in many cultures. The story of Raja Rasalu and the Ogres is taken from Adventures of Raja Rasalu, one of the great legends of the Punjab, which unfortunately is not so well known to our children today, ”he writes. In an interview with Salon, he develops the Storykit program for kids and makes stories from the past relevant to kids.
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Your new book has a nice premise: monsters could have a human side, while there could be monstrous traits in humans as well. If you could talk about picking up on that theme?
I wanted to do a book on monsters and naturally, as we think of monsters, we think of their compulsions, if the monster is an animal, as in the case of the sea monster that Morriro fought; and premeditation if they look like humans, as in the case of Shri Badat, the carnivorous king of Gilgit. Then there are all-human monsters, which roam among us and premeditiously injure other humans under one guise or another. Either way, humans are the worst monsters, which is why their opposite, the human hero, whose compulsion is to help and protect people, must be celebrated because he redeems the human race.
How do the five stories you selected define the ideas of justice and higher cause mobilization for children?
Today we need more folk tales than superhero stories. Folk tales tell of events from the distant past when humans faced the double threat of exposure to nature and unstable human societies struggling for limited resources. Today we are again faced with the wrath of nature in the form of climate change, and the struggle for the limited resources needed to sustain modern human society has already begun. We are back in a dreary world and we will need many heroes who will have to write their own destiny by coming to the defense of those who are weaker and less fortunate than them. Therefore, it is important for children to read folk tales, where the heroes are not protected by imaginary superpowers but risk their lives for their beliefs.
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One can find many parallels with the stories of myths and legends around the world, especially that of Gondrani Devi. If you could talk about the universal appeal of such stories and find parallels in other literatures from different countries?
Christopher Booker in Seven basic plots (2004) mentions “Overcoming the Monster” as one of the basic themes of all storytelling traditions. From Beowulf at Jaws, the same story takes place in different contexts. These stories are popular because there is a clear line between good and evil, all reader’s sympathies go to the protagonist, and he or she cannot let go of the book until the monster is taken care of.
From ‘Meo Khai Soni, Fairy Prince Shamsher, and the Cannibal Giant Sri Badat’, a folk tale by Gilgit
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You’ve worked on creating an Urdu-language editing program specializing in children’s literature and classics. How are you making classical literature relevant to children through this initiative?
The goal of the Storykit program is to develop both familiarity and understanding of the classics from an early age. The program divides each classic into three book categories: picture books for elementary school children, chapter books for high school students, and fully annotated original editions of selected classics for the high school years. Once young readers have familiarized themselves with the story and the characters through picture books and board games customized for the story plot, interest is developed further through chapter books. , which reveal more detail and complexity in the story and the characters.
By the time the reader is a young adult, through repeated readings, discussions and games, the classic is set deep in the imagination and when the fully annotated text is provided the only challenge left is language. This, I believe, will not only bring the classics into the public consciousness, but also make them a part of our lives, as they were meant to be.
The pandemic has brought about the need for interactive and innovative storytelling. How do you combine technology with literature and education in Storykit, and how did you move that forward during the pandemic?
We started a program called Storytime by Storykit, where some of our storytellers recorded the stories for online viewing. At the start of the pandemic, we gamified basic health security education for covid-19 with play Corona Cruncher.
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