Honoring Nature With Punjabi Folktales
“Today, there is a big need to ground our children in the basics: love for the environment and for all the creatures of the creation.”
So says Gurmeet Kaur, an engineer turned children’s author, in an interview with GC.
“Trees, flowers, animals, birds, clouds, sun, moon, and stars have left the scene. How do we bring inner peace and joy to our children if we don’t connect them to the elements of nature? How do we teach them to experience stillness, breathe and learn from the harmonies of nature, if we don’t provide ways and means to do so?”
“Trees, flowers, animals, birds, clouds, sun, moon, and stars have left the scene. How do we bring inner peace and joy to our children if we don’t connect them to the elements of nature?”
Kaur is the author of a series of children’s books called Fascinating Folktales of Punjab, each of which is narrated in three scripts: English, the Romanized Punjabi script, and the native Punjabi script of Gurmukhi. The stories– like “The Snake’s Hiss” from Tales of the Mouse & Snake, which features Mother Nature herself– all contemplate nature in some way, meditating on the complex, substantial relationships between its inhabitants.
“I believe that early childhood reading and storytelling stays with children in their consciousness for good, thus making it important to create materials rich in nature themes, grounded in good values for them to read,” Kaur explains.
In addition to providing a meaningful way for children to connect with and learn from nature, Kaur sees her work as filling a void in Punjabi-American literature. Punjab is located at the heart of the Indus Valley civilization (comprised of parts of India and Pakistan), and Punjabi is the 10th most spoken language in the world, with a diaspora of millions settled in the US, UK, and Canada.
“I am a mother of two children with roots in the Punjab region of South Asia. My quest for children’s folk literature about my land began many years ago when my first one was born. I searched for many years but did not find illustrated folktales for young ones from my part of the world,” Kaur reveals. “It bothered me. Especially since the folktales of Punjab are many thousands of years old. They carry the wisdom of a people that have lived in a land that constitutes one of the oldest civilizations known to man. These stories have the language of our ancestors, the life lessons that they learnt while laughing and playing, and the ones they passed along to their next generations via a rich oral tradition. These tales are a mirror into our past.”
“These tales are a mirror into our past.”
Because the tales are so integrated with nature, they have a timelessness, one that makes them all the more relevant today. “We explore complex subjects like freedom, justice, greed, patience, persistence, bullying, and harmonious coexistence…[through] the lives of a dove, an ant, the king and the farmer, the parrots and the bees,” Kaur describes. “Most of my tales feature or even center around native trees of Punjab…where life revolves around the Suth (a community platform surrounding the largest tree).”
The success of the tales has been “beyond belief,” Kaur says. “I had no idea, stepping foot into an unknown territory, of how the books would be received. I have an engineering and technology background. Who knew that I would end up disowning my two-and-a half decade long career to create more literature full time?”
That success is, of course, a testament to the work: the bright illustrations, poetic language, and charming narratives attract a wide and enthusiastic audience. “These books were made to appeal to children of all ages, their parents, and grandparents who trace their roots to the Punjab, whether they speak or read in Punjabi or not,” Kaur says. “But since they are bilingual, these stories speak to anyone who enjoys good fables with good old values. The witty characters, the clever endings, and the humorous interaction between humans, flora and fauna make these tales unique and a joy for everyone.”