By Aparmita Das

In not-so-distant past, we were growing up in a world where folklore and stories played central role in our lives. These tales, handed down through generations, were like legends that filled our days with wonder and wisdom. As years rolled on, these stories gradually faded into the past… almost forgotten, lost to annals of time.

Now, with The Forgotten Folklore Project (TFFP), the echoes of these tales are being resurrected and celebrated once more. Six children’s books have been released as part of this initiative, each a precious window into the rich folklore of Meghalaya, a land teeming with its own unique stories. Ambi’s Little Things, When a Huro Sings, Ilari’sJaiñsem, The Tunes of Kongthong, Scatter The Rice Clouds, and The Magic in Pottery are all treasures that carry the enchanting tales of the past into the hearts of a new generation.

Siju village, team with one of the interviewed potters

“I love stories!” said Lanuangla Tsudir, the passionate leader behind TFFP. This extraordinary initiative – aimed at preserving and sharing the rich indigenous folklore of Meghalaya’s Khasi, Garo, and Jaiñtia communities – has become a beacon of cultural awareness and education for children and adults alike.

As a lifelong lover of stories, Lanu emphasised the transformative power of narratives. “Stories are powerful! They open windows for readers to experience a range of things: from love to laughter, to grief, to betrayal, you name it!” Her voracious reading habit as a child nurtured her imagination, which ultimately fuelled her commitment to TFFP.

Speaking about the diverse team of authors and illustrators she assembled for the project, she explained, “Most of the authors and illustrators we’re collaborating with are through recommendations/word-of-mouth.”

She further highlighted the joy of witnessing these creative talents adapt to the unique process of crafting children’s books, with a focus on the cultural nuances of Meghalaya.

Dewal M Sangma from Rombagre, the owner of Training Centre opened for the Youth of the Garo Community

The meticulous process of discovering and selecting narratives involved extensive research and fieldwork. The team, comprising research assistants from the respective communities, interviewed storytellers, documented their tales in local dialects, and later transcribed them into English. These raw stories were then crafted into engaging narratives that preserved the essence of the culture.

One unforgettable field visit with a storyteller, Dezilbirth R Marak, stands out as evidence of the project’s serendipitous encounters. Their impromptu interaction led to Ambi’s Little Things, a story based on Marak’s narration, despite its gory and unsettling content.

Ambi’s Little Things (Illustrated by Phaoniu Shio)

“As years go by, we’ve seen traces of our heritage fade – languages once spoken daily now barely whispered, traditions slowly sidelined, and songs that once echoed are now silenced,” said Eleanor Sangma, author of Ambi’s Little Things. Eleanor and Phaoniu Shio (illustrator) played vital roles in TFFP, contributing their distinctive talents and perspectives to preserve and share untold stories from Garo Hills.

Phaoniu, an artist deeply attuned to life’s essence, views Ambi’s Little Things as an opportunity to capture life’s fragility and courage needed to confront death. “To see every part of life as fragments of inspiration for my art is to welcome this fleeting life as one,” she expressed.

“The idea of being forgotten by the rest of the world is what drives me to tell our stories,” said Eleanor, who sensitively introduces the concept of death in Ambi’s Little Things, drawing from tribal customs and emphasising the importance of safeguarding their traditions from obscurity.

The duo aimed to reflect Garo community’s deep bond with nature, evident in the evolving colour palette, which mirrors the narrative’s shift from melancholy to hope. The illustrations authentically represent Garo Hills, immersing readers in its cultural ambience, from attire to cultural details.

Nandan Joshi and Imlijongshi Lemtur envisioned a story that takes children on a journey through the world of Garo Hills. Illustrating When a Huro Sings was a delightful creative journey for Imlijongshi. He noted, “It’s intriguing how nature operates in such a remarkably beautiful yet occasionally inconvenient way for humans.”

When a Huro Sings (Illustrated by Imlijongshi Lemtur)

He particularly enjoyed illustrating the scene where a Huro’s waste gives birth to a stunning scarlet red techri flower. This scene allowed him to engage young readers playfully and imaginatively while illustrating the natural processes of Huros and their interaction with environment.

With a background in creative direction and strategy, Nandan shaped his approach to writing When a Huro Sings. His professional experience emphasised the importance of research and finding unique insights to create stories that connect with audiences. He explained, “Our desired hope is that children care for and protect them, critical for survival of Garo Hills.”

“My art and heart have always revolved around moments like learning how to wear a jaiñsem from grandmother or capturing everyday scenes by a hearth on a winter day,” said Samanda Pyngrope, who was drawn to TFFP because of her childhood love for illustrated books.

Ilari’s Jainsem (Khasi) by Samanda Pyngrope

Her talent shone through in Ilari’s Jaiñsem, inspired by recognisability of Khasi jaiñsems compared to other traditional garments. Samanda explained, “I had encountered articles reporting an incident where a Khasi woman was asked to leave a Delhi-based establishment due to her (jaiñsem) attire.” The illustrations effectively dispel misconceptions and offer detailed insights into the garment, while Scatter The Rice Clouds draws inspiration from Khasi sayings, including the saying Phriang Jarutka Miawphriangjarut refers to ‘scattering rice’ and kamiaw signifies a cat. “We refer to these as Ki Ktien-Tymmen (Words of the Elders),” she added.

Scatter The Rice Clouds by Samanda Pyngrope

The story envisions events that might have led to creation of rice clouds, drawing playful comparison between a cat playfully scattering lumps of rice and the formation of Altocumulus clouds in the sky.

Through TFFP, she aspires for her stories to instil respect for other communities, preserve and celebrate the cultural heritage of Khasi community, enrich lives of young readers and foster deeper understanding of their cultural roots.

For Auswyn Winter Japang, this project represents a gesture of giving back to his community and future generations. “I believe that cultural preservation is not just about preserving stories; it’s about preserving a way of life. Our stories are the threads that connect us to our past, and through them, we gain a deeper understanding of who we are.”

The Tunes of Kongthong (Illustrated by Pascal Mario Kmenlang Pathaw)

In The Tunes of Kongthong, Auswyn wanted to shed light on the unique cultural practice of JingrwaiIawbei in the Khadarshnong area of Meghalaya, commonly known as the “Whistling Village.” Through his storytelling, he sought to make this tradition more accessible to those unfamiliar with it, emphasising the need for cultural preservation.

As a teacher and folklorist, he sees children’s literature as the need of the hour. “I believe that as educators and storytellers, we have the power to shape the identity of the upcoming generation. Children’s literature, rooted in our traditions, is the bridge that connects the past with the future.”

Wahkhen Village, Komik Khongjerem, founder of Sengriti Institute

The Tunes of Kongthong came alive through the art of Pascal Mario Kmenlang Pathaw. As an architect and graphic designer/illustrator, his passion for the Khasi-Jaintia culture and art traditions naturally aligned with the mission of TFFP. “I was always drawn to the indigenous knowledge and practices of the Khasi-Jaintia tribe of Meghalaya.”

Mario’s specialisation in communication design and graphic design, with a focus on Khasi-Jaintia indigenous art, played a crucial role in his approach to illustrating the book. He revealed, “By applying my knowledge about design principles and amalgamating it with my acquired knowledge about our Khasi identity formed the skeletal framework of the whole storybook.”

Mario’s appreciation and understanding of Khasi-Jaintia art traditions shine through in his illustrations for The Tunes of Kongthong. “In my journey of understanding Khasi-Jaiñtia art traditions, I’m constantly learning and discovering new elements. In this book, I strove to authentically represent the Khasi culture. The characters wear Kaspong (Khasi turbans), Tap mohkhlieh (tartan shawls), and jaiñkyrshah (traditional aprons). We have included khoh (traditional baskets) and home settings with corn hanging from ceiling beams. Our character designs incorporate Khasi facial features, skin tones, and hairstyles. These were key considerations in the illustration process.”

Casper Syiem, a plein air painter with a keen eye for detailing, brought his unique perspective to The Magic in Pottery along with writer Nida Hynniewta. He describes his artistic journey as deeply influenced by his fascination with light and the role it plays in setting the mood in his illustrations.

The Magic in Pottery (Illustrated by Casper Syiem)

As a mural painter, Casper’s background in visual elements enhances his ability to convey the narrative. “This blend of creativity and experience has allowed me to produce illustrations captured in The Magic in Pottery.”

One pivotal scene in the book that holds a special place in Casper’s artistic journey is when Aski discovers her grandmother’s talent for crafting pottery, a tradition passed down through generations. He found it crucial to illustrate this moment, capturing the essence of tradition and the continuity of life’s stories through art. “This symbolises the preservation of family legacies through art.”

TFFP was conceived under the visionary guidance of Nagakarthik MP, founder of Sauramandala Foundation, who recognised a critical gap in contextual content for children. This project, comprising 45 carefully curated storybooks, blossomed from their collective determination to bridge this void.

These books are not only about preserving stories but also about reviving old traditions and cultural heritage of a bygone era. In doing so, they remind us of timeless magic contained within pages of our grandparents’ cherished tales.