Who doesn’t love folktales?
They are simple, easy, quick to tell us so much about our worlds and how people used to be versus how we are now, how much we have progressed or deteriorated.
Last year, in the Zubaan Books online sale, I got my hands on First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils compiled by Marija Sres. I have little or no knowledge about the tribal diversity of India and this book therefore caught my eye.
Dungri Garasiya Bhils as the book informed me are part of the larger Bhil tribe. They live in “north Gujarat and southern Rajasthan. In Gujarat, they largely live in Sabarkantha district.”
And it is there that Marija Sres, a Slovenian women, settled after having learnt Gujarati Literature from Ahmedabad University way back in the 1970s’.
She worked for about thirty years with the Dungri Garasiya Bhils and was involved in various projects that were implemented for their welfare. She also took to writing and has been lauded for her achievements to Gujarati Literature.
The book, First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils begins with a long autobiographical essay, The Story Behind My Stories, in which she traces her journey to Gujarat, India. So now, I won’t bore you further with these details. I think you will find those details there and online pretty easily.
First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils presents a good collection of folktales. It begins with a typical creation myth. It is a type of creation myth in which the supreme beings create the world. The story talks of how Kudrat created Earth from darkness and how he created the first woman. From there comes also the title of the book! Title fetishes strikes finally in 2019! 😛
The others are on varying subjects such as how a King was cursed with no children, or how a betrothed was wrongly killed and took her own sweet revenge, or how a serpent’s gift saves a girl’s life among many others. There are also many pour quoi tales (tales that explain how a phenomenon came into being) such as why the shesh nag‘s tail is found in Shamlaji or how the Dungri Garasiya Bhils learnt the lesson of complete love or why the oleander plant is found in many of their houses.
There is also a prominent element of subversion in many of the folktales in the book as many of them feature common people who challenge the authorities that try to crush them. This subversive element also portrays how the tribals have often been consigned to the margins within mainstream India and been subdued since the past. Folktales provide a good platform to channelize their wishes and desires to be treated equally as well.
More than that, the folk tales also give a glimpse into their culture as well which is one of the functions of folk stories around the world. The reader gets to know about the trees that abound there, the food that is cooked, that values they cherish and the attitudes associated with women.
The only drawback of First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils is that perhaps there could have been some illustrations and a concise glossary of the Gujarati words along with a map as audiences around the world may have no idea about where these lesser known areas are in India. Of course, many words and phrases are explained and are easy to guess as well (especially if you are exposed to some Gujarati, Hindi and some other Indian languages) but detailed explanations would enhance the reading experience and foster more understanding about the their world and culture.
Apart from that, First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils is a complete delight of simple, straightforward stories that you can immerse in and complete in one sitting!
Buy the book here!