Grace Paljor was a child when her grandmother taught her how to identify Sheene-Pippen (the Striped Laughing Thrush), a bird found in Kashmir and considered the harbinger of rain. This sparked his interest in nature and bird watching, which has now resulted in a three-series children’s book on the local flora and fauna of Kashmir, as well as fables and rhymes related to nature and to local culture.
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Each book of the Sheene-Pippen series – Chinese trees, Shikara and Samavar, which is aimed at children aged 3 to 6, includes 20 nursery rhymes, two stories and 15 Kashmiri and English names of birds, animals, trees and insects native to the region. Among these, some are original works by Paljor. For example, you have a story about Sheene-Pippen and his brother, another about a folk character Shalkak (which translates to uncle jackal, similar to the blue jackal in Aesop’s fables) and Kawakoor – the raven’s daughter – among others. There’s even a poem about the samovar, the traditional kettle of the samovar, which is especially popular with students, says Paljor, who runs St. Paul’s International Academy, a K-10 school in Srinagar.
By showcasing the natural habitat they live in, Paljor believes it will help children appreciate and understand what they are learning. One of his biggest disappointments was not finding reference to biodiversity or local culture in textbooks or teaching materials.
“Our country is so rich in biodiversity, but this is not reflected in the books. I couldn’t find specific regional stories describing our condition. For a Kashmiri child, the habitat depicted in these texts would seem foreign. The textbooks mentioned the Peepul tree or plantains, which a Kashmiri child never saw. I thought someone should write a children’s book based on our ecology for kids here, ”she says.
Finally, the covid-19 pandemic prompted Paljor to give shape to her dream as she had a lot of time to spare staying home. Over time, Paljor began to write rhymes on Chinese trees, the whiskered bulbul, pines, etc. “At one point my husband started teasing me that all he had to do was push a button and I was producing a poem,” says Paljor.
The Sheene-Pippen series with nursery rhymes and stories for young children.
It was also a way for her to preserve the rich tradition of storytelling in the region. “Kashmir had a traditionally rich storytelling culture, which is almost lost now. Many characters in the stories are part of Kashmiri folklore like Shalkak, ”says Paljor, who self-published the books.
For nomenclatures and local tales, Paljor brought in a retired ranger, an IAS agent, and a few wildlife experts. The process was very rewarding, says Paljor, as she learned the local names as well. “Not just children, even adults enjoy the book because many don’t know the name of a bird, insect or tree that is frequently seen in their native language. We only know the English names, ”says Paljor, originally from Ladakh.
The most exciting and difficult part for Paljor was portraying Kashmiri culture through illustrations and rhymes. “I also wanted to emphasize and be proud of our culture and oral storytelling, beyond the political turmoil and turmoil the state was in,” she adds.
Grace Paljor runs St. Paul’s International Academy, a K-10 school in Srinagar.
The book also has sentimental value for Paljor, as the logo of the books is a simple line drawing of the Sheene-Pippen bird, which her father taught her as a child. “I wanted to share it with the children, because they pay attention to every detail. It will also encourage them to draw it. It’s also a way of preserving my father’s memory, ”she says.
The books, Paljor hopes, will be adopted by more schools in the area – so far four schools have included it in their curriculum. Published by the Srinagar-based Kashmir Book Depot, the illustrations are by Ahmedabad artist Riya Pai. The books are available on their website, at local bookstores and at a cost of ??195 each.
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