Tuesday’s class saw us in a lecture by Dr. Shabbir Mian titled “Rupkotha: Folk and Fairy tales from Bangladesh.” One of the first points he addressed was that these tales don’t actually have any fairies in them. Instead, there are commonly talking animals and demons featuring in these tales. I found this interesting, especially the fact that birds are often the animal of choice, as this was also seen in some of the western tales we have read, including “The Juniper Tree” and “The Robber Bridegroom.” He explained to us that the Bengali environment (its tropical forest, many rivers, and ocean shore) is reflected in the tales via motifs of water and treetop antagonists (apparently demons like to hang out in the canopy). This is also seen in western tales, though perhaps to us it is not as obvious since we do not approach our environment from a foreign perspective. That is, our attention is much more easily drawn to a lush South Asian landscape than to a village on the edge of a forest or medieval castles, since the latter is already so ingrained in our cultural heritage.
Also, we got to watch this epic movie. I am at a loss for words for this one.
Beyond the physical descriptions and characters, the moral nature of Bengali Rupkotha was also addressed. This is where such tales are truly divergent from European tales. For example, in many European tales, Christian themes of redemption and forgiveness have been worked in over the centuries. In Rupkotha, however, such ideas are absent: virtue is rewarded while evil is summarily punished. I found that this went against my previous assumptions about the culture, by which I thought that it was very non-retaliatory much in the style of Buddhists. Obviously I don’t pretend to have any true grasp of the people of this are of the world, and I suppose that an unforgiving nature does not mean that they do not value peace- they simply use a different method of attaining it.
To end on a note of similarity, Rupkothas are traditionally told to children to teach them some life lesson, which is what the evolution of the European fairytale has trended towards. Beyond this, they are meant to be entertaining with their use of the out-of-the-ordinary, including magic, talking animals, and transformations, which can be compared to the historic role of European tales to entertain the lower class to bring fun to a dull life (before they were adapted by the aristocracy).
That’s all for this time. On an unrelated note: I was seriously awed by Dr. Mian’s description of the population density in Bangladesh! It is impressive that they manage to live so closely with their fellow man, though obviously it is not helping their living standards terribly much. Well, until next time all!