I can’t agree with Margaret Halsey when she portrays folklore as a collection of ridiculous notions not held by her; I rather believe grandma who would say that folklore forms the base to the superstructure of our culture. Yet, when I look back at all the folktales I have been told, I wish some of them, like the tale of Raantus, the way it had been told to me, should never reach our coming generations especially for its patriarchal overtones.
Since folklore forms the base of all the discourse on which the consciousness of a child is framed, the ancient male-dominated cultures introduced gender construction in folktales. These tales firstly created a demarcation between male and female sexes, portraying them biologically, psychologically and socially different, and then allowed the former to dominate the latter on the basis of these differences.
Raantus, perhaps, was the first word that evoked fear in me. She snatched half the freedom of my childhood. Every time, in my childhood days, I insisted on having a certain delight, or wanted to accompany Abbu outside, or refused to eat food or wouldn’t sleep, Ammi would mention her:
“Walai Raantsay Ninne”
No sooner was her name mentioned than I would turn dumb and hide myself behind the curtains or creep inside grandma’s pheran. If I still continued to be steadfast in my weeping, my sister would knock the window stealthily and produce some female sound announcing my name. How I disliked this Raantus for being my enemy, how I even sometimes wanted to kill her!
Late came I know what this creature had actually been, when the same prank was being tried on my younger brother. Raantus has been a mythical creature in Kashmiri folklore, supposed to reside in heavily forested areas, who makes frequent visits to nearby villages during winters. In folklore it is considered as a sexual predator of men, a robber of children, and a wild misogynist trying to murder and disfigure women.
The first story I can recollect, associated with Raantus, was about her victim Sataar: in a rice field, Sataar, gathering the day’s harvest into small heaps, works late one evening. Unexpectedly, his wife appears to help him. Sataar, at first, feels glad for having company but soon he is horrified at the way her wife works: she gathers the harvest spread over large plots at once into her arms for a single heap formation. A wise man, Sataar gets the clue and manages, at last, to hide inside this heap. Maddened to see him lost, the woman metamorphoses into Raantus, crying:
“Satan Watnien Gonni Karimae, Kotu Gookh Sataaro”
She then destroys the entire heap and takes Sataar along with her.
Seven years later, Sataar one day coaxes the small children of this very Raantus to teach him how to move aside the stone blocking the entry of the cave in which he is now living. He escapes and makes his entry back into his village, where the people initially mistake him for a yahoo (Wanne Mohnew); but he is ultimately recognized.
People like Sataar, Daadi would tease me, had described the appearance of Raantus. This creature was like a human, save certain amendments: her feet, marked by sharp claw-like fingers, were turned backwards like her hands; with a heavily haired body, her hair extended down to her feet. She was purely a nocturnal being. If a human being saw her in the light of a fire, all her hair caught fire. Some even say that a special hair, when recognized and taken out of her body, gives one control over her super-human power. Raantus, through some magic believed to be in her possession, had the ability to disguise herself as any human being.
Another story is that of Mokhtah, a young Kashmiri woman, who burns Raantus alive. Mokhtah’s husband being a handsome man is often sought by Raantus, who appears sometimes in the guise of a policeman and sometimes of a forester, but each time Mokhtah recognizes her. Haunted by her visits, Mokhtah visits a religious person who informs her about the way she can get rid of this creature. In the darkness of a wintry mid-night, finally, disguised as her sister-in-law who comes seeking help from her brother after being turned out by her in-laws, when Raantus visits Mokhtah’s house crying, Mokhtah, from the first floor, drops a burning Kangri over her, and Raantus disappears forever.
Analysing this tale from a feministic perspective, one wonders why Raantus is a female. Perhaps, the tale wants a child to consider all females as another version of this mythical creature, especially the way similarities between the two have been established through sex, shape, etc. Therefore, once the sexual element is introduced, the child is taught to fear and look down upon the feminine sex. Further, the tale wants to create hatred and competition among women to safeguard their husbands. Even today, a woman, if she proves unpleasant in any way, is shockingly called a Raantus.
In such ways patriarchy has used folklore. Now the question is, should we altogether keep our child unaware of our ancestral folklore? The answer is “no”. We must, rather, try to scrutinise it and avoid only the portion based on sexual prejudices, for the major of our folklore is very rare, precious and instructive.
The writer is a student of BA (Hons) English, IUST. [email protected]