Saturday, February 26, 2011

Best Short Stories Of India - Phyllis Atkinson, RE Enthoven, Krishnaswami Aiyangar

This was a book I picked up in Select Bookstore.

The book might be of academic interest to certain people. But to me, it was an unending repetition of very ordinary stories. They are grouped under categories Southern India, Bengal, Manipur, Salsette, Central Provinces, Santali, Hindustani, Telugus, Telugu Vaishnavas, Dakshina Desa. The stories of Southern India were the best of them all.

Parts from the introduction by Rao Bahadur Dr. S Krishnaswami Aiyangar is what I will mention here. For it describes the difficult involved in tracing the origin of folk lore and tradition to a particular race, country or civilization. Interested deeply as I am in history, I wish to record this.

“This collection helps you form an idea of the character of these stories.
A general reading of these would give the impression of a community of thought and feeling common to the whole of India, notwithstanding the multitudinous character of language, religion and all that goes to constitute what is called in a general comprehensive term ‘culture’ or ‘civilization’.
The stories from different regions are alike with characteristic differences.
The similarities and differences have each, a tale to tell.

The collection serves as a common framework of Indian tales.
It would serve a larger purpose when studied in comparison with folktales of other people all the world over.
One important line of research that this opens, the late Sir Richard Temple has drawn attention to in his foreword to the Katha Sarit Sagara. Speaking of the tales incorporated in the Sagara, he has the following. “The Aryans came across at least one race, the Dravidians, equal to themselves in mental capacity, and across many others whose minds they could more or less easily dominate. Neither the Dravidians nor the others were of their form of civilisation and tradition, but they all mingled with them in some degree or other, at any rate to the extent of social contact, generally as master and servant.”

Speaking of the evolution of fairy tales so far as they are comprised in the Katha Sarit Sagara, the same learned observer describes them as “fundamentally Aryan, with accretions from every race with which the Aryans had come in close contact for, say 3000 years by Somadeva’s time. These races were Dravidians, “Kolarians” or “aborigines”, and people across the Northern and Eastern frontiers – all very different in origin from the Aryans.
They all carried their religions, folk tales and folklore with term, and cannot but have infected the indigenous corresponding nations of the Aryans of India with alien ideas and folk-tales.”

Sir Richard points out that this opens a new line for research. ‘Whence did the various non Aryan tales and ideas come? It is not an easy line to follow, as the period is so late and the whole matter by that time already had become so complicated. Suppose a custom or tale is non-Aryan Indian – i.e. Dravidian or Kolarian – or father Indian (Mon, Shan, Tibeto Burman) by origin: by Somadeva’s date it had plenty of time to be assimilated and take on an Aryan form.” This points to one difficulty in any research undertaken along this line. But what follows indicates in clear terms the danger to which this research is liable unless it is pursued with very great care and circumspection. Referring to a custom or an idea, he has the following, which deserves to be noted very carefully. “suppose, it to date back before the Aryan irruption into India – its existence in principle now or at some ancient date in Western Asia or Europe would not prove that it arose either in India or in Europe or Western Asia. Suppose research to show a tale or idea to be of general occurrence in India, Asia, Europe, Africa, and even in America and the pacific islands; recent works show so much and so ancient communication all the world over as to make one very careful in asserting origin. Suppose we find a story in Siam, in Indonesia, in Persia, in Europe, in South Africa, as well as in India; it might well have gone thence out of India or gone through or even round India in either direction. To show how this kind of thing can happen I printed in 1901 a tale told in the Nicobars in Nicobarese form to a European officer who was a Dane by nationality, Mr. A. de Roepstorff, which turned out to be a Norse tale he had himself told the people some years before. Wherever then, a civilization or a people travels, there go also folklore and custom…
The whole question is very difficult. Even if we trace a tale or an idea to the Jatakas, to the earliest part of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, to the oldest Puranas, to the Brahmanas, to the very Vedas themselves – that does not make it Indian or Aryan in origin.

What then is the use of research in a subject like this, which is so illusive? In cases where a common origin could be proved satisfactorily, it would indicate the direction that early migration took. If independent origins have to be conceded they would still throw light upon the growth of the human mind in the earlier stages of civilisation. Whether the material collected be put to use for purposes of research or no, there is the inherent interest in the stories themselves and the pleasure that one derives from reading these popular tales as light literature.”

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