One cannot sojourn for long in the East without hearing strange stories, all of which are vouched for by the natives. Most would make one's blood run cold, but they are irresistibly fascinating. Filled with pathos but almost always showing that every cloud has its silver lining, these tales carry the reader into the mythical past that was India. The majority of these tales have the raw transparency of folk art, whilst others are fashioned with uncommon sophistication.
Many of the stories have been passed down by word of mouth. Long before the radio and television ever existed, people spent hours around fires telling stories for entertainment.
First published in 1906, Simla Village Tales captivates and preserves some of the old folk tales of a long gone era. This new version of these same stories will show that little of their underlying meaning and significance has changed.
In introducing "Simla Village Tales" to my readers, I wish to acknowledge gratefully the valuable assistance given me by my sister Mabel Baldwin. When I was obliged to leave India suddenly owing to a nervous breakdown after the terrible earthquake which visited the Punjab in April 1905, she kindly undertook to complete, from the same sources, my collection of folktales. Twenty excellent stories contributed by her include "Tabaristan," "The Barber and the Thief," "The Fourth Wife is the Wisest," and "Abul Hussain."
Of the down-country tales, my husband kindly contributed "Anar Pari," "The Dog Temple," "The Beautiful Milkmaid," and "The Enchanted Bird, Music and Stream." Both my sister and my husband can speak the language fluently and as the former has resided many years in the Punjab, I am confident that her translations are as literal as my own. All the tales were taken down in pencil, just as they were told, and as nearly as possible in the words of the narrators, who were village women belonging to the agricultural class to Hindu in the Simla district.
I must add a word of thanks, to Mr. Hallam Murray for his invaluable assistance with the illustrations.
In one or two instances I was asked if I would allow a Paharee man, well versed in local folklore to relate a few stories to me. For obvious reasons, I was obliged to decline the offer, for many Simla Village tales related to me by women and not included in this book, were grotesquely unfit for publication
The typical Paharee women is, as a rule, extremely good-looking and a born flirt; she has a pleasant, gay manner and can always see a joke; people who wish to chaff her discover an adept at repartee.
The "Simla Village Woman," whose photograph is reproduced, is a very good type. I found her most gentle and lovable. Her little boy, and last surviving child, has died since the photograph was taken last year, yet the young mother bears her grief with a fortitude, which is really remarkable.
Himalayan folklore with its beauty, wit and mysticism is a most fascinating study and makes one grieve to think that the day is fast approaching when the honest rugged hill-folk of Northern India will lose their fireside tales under the influence of modern civilization.
The hurry and rush of official life in India's Summer Capital leaves no time for the song of birds or scent of flowers; these, like the ancient and exquisite fireside tales of its people, have been hustled away into distant valleys and remote villages, where, on cold winter nights, Paharees, young and old, gather together to hear these oft-repeated tales.
From their cradle under the shade of ancient deodars, beside the rocks, forest and streams of the mighty Himalayan mountains, have I sought these tales to place them upon the great Bookshelf of the World.
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