Fairy tales from Kumrat

Listening to the enchanting folk tale of Saif ul Malook by a local dastan-go in Gavari language

Fairy tales from Kumrat

"Do visit Kumbrat (Kumrat)valley! It is there for nature lovers" remarked my young friend Imran Hamid, who a month earlier had been posted as Deputy Commissioner, Upper Dir and had made a short trip to Kumrat to solve a pressing administrative problem.

Late at night, with a dull weekend looming ahead, my travelling companion Shahzad Hasan and I suddenly decided to take a risk with Kumrat valley about which we knew very little except that a change of weather or geography may elevate our moods. Next afternoon, as soon as the office closed, we left Peshawar in my twin-cab, drove over the Malakand Pass, and descended into the Swat valley.  Crossing the Chakdara Bridge we passed under the looming shadows of the famous Churchill’s Picket dominating the river crossing from the edge of a protruding rock and finally reached the ‘Fishing Hut’, an ideally located Government rest-house on the banks of the river.

The sun started disappearing into the crimson abyss and a cool breeze greeted us as we settled on wooden colonial chairs remembering a young subaltern named Winston Churchill. Churchill was at this post in 1897 during the siege of Malakand and had the first taste of action against the besieging forces of Saidullah, a Pashtun fakir.

The British Empire was at its zenith and it would not have occurred to him then that one day he would preside over the decolonisation of His Majesty’s empire which he wanted to defend gallantly in his younger days on the banks of River Swat.

We too fought gallantly that night; but only with a few thirsty mosquitoes that kept buzzing in his ears. Except for this minor nocturnal affair, the first part of our trip was peacefully over.

Next day at lunch time we reached the DC House in Upper Dir where Hamid’s hospitality spoiled our taste buds with delicious culinary delights.

The language spoken here is called ‘Gavari’. It has no written script and its usage is currently limited only to three upper villages of this valley.

The next part of our journey was a crude test of the strength of our vertebral columns and the muscles holding them together. It lasted for four tormenting hours during which we moved at a snail’s pace, sometime descended but mostly ascended on a coiling road. We were told that the road had broken into a single path and was under varying degree of repair for the last three years.

The pace of work was as slow as the pace of our vehicle. By dusk we stopped at a village called Thal, the last human settlement in the valley beyond which the alpine forest stretches right up to the snowline. The driver checked the way to the Forest Hut which was about half a kilometer beyond the village surrounded by pine trees.

The worst part of our journey was over.

The Forest Inspection Hut at Kumrat has the trademark layout plan which is replicated in almost all such forest department huts in Pakistan. It consists of two small but cozy bedrooms, a dinning cum drawing room, kitchenette, simple wooden furniture and tiny verandah overlooking the forest. It was built in 1994, so says the marble stone with the name of the then minister inscribed on it.

As our backpacks were dumped in the bedrooms, Shahzad and I decided to take a little walk along the roaring stream and among the trees which looked like black giants at night. The cool clean air refreshed our aching bodies and helped smooth out our crammed muscles.

Back at the hut, chairs were arranged in the lawn in a semicircle and a quick introduction with our local hosts followed. The night gossip ranged from the political issues to the dwindling forests and the vanishing wildlife, but I was more interested in the heritage of this isolated valley.

The language spoken here is called ‘Gavari’, which is not remotely connected with any of the neighbouring languages like Shina (in Kohistan and GB), Kohar (in Chitral) or Pushto. It has no written script and its usage is currently limited only to three upper villages of this valley and three other villages in neighbouring Kalam valley of Swat.

These two valleys are connected with each other through a pass which is snow bound in winters. Hazarat Umer, the ex-UC Nazim told me that in early 1980’s a ‘white foreigner’ had spent ten days in this valley trying to document "our language" but "our people" forced him to flee fearing that he might be a spy.

I found Gavari language rich in poetry and folk stories which also had nuggets of oral history embedded in them. On my request Muhammad Din narrated a few tales in Gavari which were translated into Urdu by Shah Faisal, a young lad fresh out of  college. I decided to preserve it for posterity.

"During his usual rambling in the forests one day Saif ul Malook came to a lake where he found some beautiful maidens swimming in it. These maidens were in fact Kha-paris (fairies in local Gavari language) and among them was Chine Guliyadin, the fairest of them all.

Saif ul Malook sneaked closer without being noticed and sat on the clothes of Guliyadin. Alarmed by this mischievous intrusion all the fairies fled except Guliyadin who pleaded Saif ul malook: "Give me back my clothes". Since you are Adam-Zaad’ (human) therefore there can be no match between you and me. Our (fairies) life is long and yours (humans) is short, so don’t think about it."

However the prince was already smitten by love and after much pleading returned the clothes only when Guliyadin promised to marry him. However to win her hand he now had to travel to Koh-kaf (Caucasus Mountains) where all the fairies live. But there is a twist in the tale. She asked Saif ul malook that before their wedding could take place she had to be liberated from the captivity of the Butth-Deo (white giant in Gavri), so new adventures lay ahead.

No sooner did Prince Saif ul malook depart, all the Kha-paris (fairies) reappeared. One of them was wearing a mala (necklace) with a bone dangling from it. She told Guliyadin that she had married a human who died early and this necklace is a grim reminder of her love affair with an alien genre. She stressed that longevity of fairies makes the match with humans incompatible and soon Guliyadin would also adorn a similar necklace. Flying back to Koh-kaf, her thoughts were filled by sinister foreboding.

The forlorn lover Saif ul Malook headed straight to his valiant cousin Prince Bahram and sought his help to win over the fairest fairy. Without wasting time both left for Koh-kaf and entered the dense forest where they saw a rabbit.

Prince Bahram chased the rabbit which disappeared in to a cave. On entering the cave he met a white bearded old man kneeling besides a painting of a beautiful maiden. The old man commanded Bahram not to kill his pet rabbit and inquired the reason of his intrusion. The prince told him that he and his cousin were going to Koh-kaf in search of a beautiful fairy.

The old man narrated his lifelong misadventures to seek the lovely Guliyadin which had driven him to this miserable life in this remoteness. He was living his last wretched days and the only consolation now was the painting he had of the elusive Guliyadin. However the old man agreed to help Bahram find the way on a promise that if he succeeded in his daring mission then on the way back he must be allowed one glimpse of Guliyadin before life abandoned him.

The gallant Bahram left behind Saif ul malook with the old cave man and as per his directions headed for the ‘lost city’.

Bahram reached the city but found it completely deserted as described by the old man. Tired by the journey he slept under a large tree. He woke to find a massive serpent slithering up the tree trunk to eat the fledglings of a giant bird called Aman-Peshin in Gavari language.

Now the description of this man-eater bird is similar to that of Rukh in Sindbad’s voyages. Bahram attacked and killed the serpent with his sword. Sometime later Aman-Peshin appeared in the sky like a cloud and was all poised to attack the slumbering prince when the cries of its fledglings drew its attention towards the dead serpent. It at once understood the situation, thanked the terrified prince and asked if it could be of any help to him.

Bahram narrated the entire story which explained the reason for his journey to Koh-Kaf. The Bird revealed that his destination was on the other side of the world but the White Deo uses a shorter route through the tunnel across the centre of the earth and that people had abandoned the city after the Deo had raided and eaten a large number of its inhabitants.

The bird agreed to carry Bahram to the palace of White Deo on the condition that he must arrange for its food and water for this long journey. Bahram hunted wild animals for meat and used their hide to make mashk to carry water.

After necessary preparations, Bahram piggy-backed the big bird which flew for three days and three nights. All through the journey the bird would turn its beak on the right side for meat and left for water and was fed accordingly by Bahram. During this flight the bird also told him secrets of the two sticks which the White Deo had kept hidden in its chamber. The Deo strikes one stick on Guliyadin’s feet in the morning before going out for hunting and she goes to sleep under a magical spell and on return he would hit her on the head which would arouse her from slumber.

As soon as Bahram was dropped in the palace by the bird, he took out the magic sticks from the Deo’s chamber and a struck Guliyadin on her head which brought her to senses. Surprised to see the young prince, she giggled and then cried. When Bahram inquired about this erratic change in her mood her reply was simple; her embarrassed laugh was her fondness for a handsome human and her tears were for his immediate fate.

The villainous White Deo will return and make a good meal of him, she told him. Immediately the earth trembled and on returning the Deo found an easy prey in its own chamber. Saliva dripped from his ugly mouth. Bahram calmly reminded the Deo that his mother had not trained him to become easy food at the Dasterkhawn (table cloth) of some mad monster.

And so ensued a titanic duel after which the Deo, mortally wounded, laid on the ground and begged Bahram to relieve him of the pain by chopping his head off with his sword. But Guliyadin stopped Bahram as this was a ploy through which the Deo would regain strength.

The Deo died a painful death and the victorious Bahram, accompanied by the liberated Guliyadin, piggy-backed on the ‘big bird’ and returned to the deserted city. After thanking the Aman-Pishin for its help, they reached the cave where they found that the old man had already died. Prince Saif ul malook was almost starving to death and that many years had gone by since Bahram had left the cave.

Guliyadin resuscitated Saif ul malook back to health with wild honey and jungle berries and the three rode back to Indus Kohistan via Kumrat valley where they lived happily ever after."

A different version of the story of Prince Bahram and Guliyadin was narrated to me by my friend Rahimshah in Chilas which was mostly based on Ferdowsi’s Shah-Nama with a local flavor to it. However this fairy tale was totally indigenous and reminded me of the stories that we use to read in our favourite childhood magazine Bachon-Ki-Duniya.

As I retired to bed, my thoughts drifted to the gloomy scenario that Shahzad and I may be the last persons to hear the enchanting folk stories narrated by a Dastan-go in Gavari. No anthropological research had been done on the Gavari language which is slowly dying as the newer generation feels shy to converse in it and had adopted Pushto for convenience.

Next morning we had to trek up the valley, above the snowline, to a place called Kazan-Kot where Dodol Badhshah had buried his treasure -- well that’s another story.

(To be continued)

Fairy tales from Kumrat