Nibbling the leaves and thorns, reaching for its yellow flowers, suddenly, Jhui-Mui the little goat made a novel request to the Khejri tree, “please tell me a story.”
Jhui-Mui’s mum and other goats chuckled a bit, then continued surfing the shrubs spread around the Khejri tree for shade, water and love.
The tree which gave, for centuries, both food and medicine to all, with its ground bark to make a flour during the very many parched famine days, and its deep-deep roots that held the soil and directed the researchers to the cool water table, the desert’s old friend, Khejri, knew a pocketful of folktales too.
The Khejri tree told Jhui-Mui the little goat about a four-hundred-year-old tree, one who belongs to its own family, but lives in a far-off desert, alone on a barren hill, with roots fifty meters deep and long groovy, harmonious branches that welcomes every traveller and every story.
“What is its name?”, asked the beady eyed, happy Jhui-Mui. “The Tree of Life”, replied the Khejri tree and hummed an old tune that filled the arid air with cool magic.
Gatherings under the giant Mahogany tree in the evenings, the jubilant stream meandering modestly and maybe also a talkative Koel’s parleys encouraged the wanderer… and the love stories, happy and incomplete ones, beaded in a melody and sung by folks for generations… it touched his soul.
Time failed to bind him as he travelled back and forth in the past and present to collect these melodies for posterity.
Nicknamed as Ghumakkad (wanderer) and Darvesh (saintly), Devendra Satyarthi (1908-2003) was a folklorist, poet, essayist, novelist and translator who wrote in Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and English; he is famously known for his pioneering work, Giddha, an anthology of folk songs.
Travelling during the British Raj in an undivided India he met farmers, traders, tribals, mendicants and learnt from them their stories, listened to their songs and sang along.
Accumulating a treasure of around three thousand folk songs in fifty different languages, a beautiful feat in itself, he gifted it to the public for free; when All India Radio decided to pay him royalties for the folk songs, he refused it saying that the copyrights were vested in the motherland.
Rabindranath Tagore, who shared Devendra Satyarthi’s passion for folklores and folk songs, urged him to explore the world of folk literature throughout the country and also suggested him to write predominantly in his mother tongue i.e. Punjabi. Satyarthi obeyed him like a true disciple.
Folklores – the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth – certainly are a repository of knowledge that has an answer for the one who is astounded by life and its candour.
No doubt Devendra Satyarthi lived like a gipsy, he had to astound the norms so as to grasp our folklore heritage in a single lifetime.
‘मेरी प्रेयसी हीर नहीं है
न ही मैं रांझा
मैं पथिक पैर में चक्कर
मेरी प्रेयसी पथ की अभ्यस्त
चल पड़ती है उधर
जिधर मैं हो लेता हूं
न हंसकर, रोकर
नयनों में प्रिय नयन पिरोकर.’
(Translation – Neither is my beloved Heer*/ Nor am I Ranjha*/ I am a traveller/ And my beloved is habitual of the travelling life/ She walks along with me/ Wherever I leave for/ without a smile or tear/ with just love in her eyes.)
Living a life of a roamer, on the mercy of the others, travelling on almost no budget, this became impossible for Devendra Satyarthi’s wife after they had their first child.
Taking the responsibility of running the house, his wife started sewing work; for a while he too stayed back, working as an editor of a Hindi newspaper, but not for long.
His free-spirited folklorist’s soul made him embark on his next journey to different cities and villages.
“I confess that it was the sewing machine which saved the family, I just scribbled on paper,” Satyarthi said so as an old man. His poems, novels, short stories, essays, folk song anthologies, his contemporaries and the readers speak differently though; he continues to be a wanderer sage for them.
Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, the famous Hindi novelist, historian, critic and scholar, wrote a poem praising Devandra Satyarthi in which he compared Satyarthi’s loner lifestyle with that of the sun and the moon in the sky, as he too walked alone, spreading brightness through his words.
Devindra Satyarthi fought for independence with songs of freedom, love, devotion, brotherhood and unity.
He gathered this harmonious spirit and shared it with the countrymen; leaders like Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru appreciated his work and so did the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
“Many were foresighted in those times of the Raj and talked about the importance of recording the country’s cultural diversity, but few had the courage to step out of the cushioned life and do it. It required a lifetime, and Satyarthi dedicated his.”
Awarded with accolades like the Padma Shri, the fourth highest Indian civilian award, Devindra Satyarthi continued working in his late eighties and passed away at ninety four.
In his rigorous journey, it was his passion for folk songs and folk tales and the unflinching support of his wife that made him a jovial philosopher-poet.
A khadi kurta-pyjama, long white beard and hair, thick spectacles, a rough jhola-bag and a few notebooks clenched close to the chest, one might have called Devindra Satyarthi a strange, poor old man, unaware about his legacy and treasures.
[Footnote* – Heer Ranjha is a tragic romantic folk story from Punjab.]
The sun was fiery, it was a blazing fire. And the path was fiery. The moon was serene, it was peaceful. And the path was peaceful. The trees canopied the earth, it knew all the secrets. And the path knew the secrets. The rivulet played music, it amplified the magic. And the path was magical. The soil was alive, it was the love of the plants. And the path felt the love too.
The traveller was walking on this path, barefooted. His feet could feel the path. The wind was also telling him something. The music he heard was intoxicating. Trees above him silently told him to stay, relish the hidden secret, because what is hidden could be found. He agreed and changed his path. A rough fresh path took him deep in the forest. He settled in the lap of a gigantic tree.
Lush greenery tickled him, relaxed him, and made him quiet. Time was moving but he had no knowledge of it. With eyes closed he was slowly seeping into the life around him. He could now feel their pulse. Some creepers were crawling on him. He was ignorant of it and soon was at bliss. The nature took over him. He became one with the nature – green, thriving, beautiful and tranquil.
A day came when he was overwhelmed to such an extent that his third eye opened. It spread a ray that was fiery, serene, quiet, magical, alive and full of love. That day his body became dust and we know nothing else as words, language and intellect falls short when magnificence takes birth.
Arched perfectly in peaceful white/
Talking rarely via windows and hanging lights/
With those who look up.
A storyteller, following the ancient tradition of cave chroniclers, standing in vrikshasana (the tree pose) on a hill top (it is sunny, but windy), breathing in and out stories (relishing it all, but at times overwhelmed), declares animatedly that she will continue to – tell stories, share rare story gems, and connect with the pacy universe while also keeping the website ad-free.
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