Mountain Echoes: Reminiscences of Kumaoni Women
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‘The history of women is left to us in folklore and tradition, in faintly-remembered lullabies and the half-forgotten touch of a grandmother’s hand, in recipes, ancestral jewellery, and cautionary tales about the limits of a woman’s empowerment.

Mountain Echoes describes the Kumaoni way of life through the eyes of four highly-talented and individualistic women. Their recollections mirror a social universe that no longer exists, that has been dissolved in the mainstream of modernization and urbanization, of democracy, education and emancipation. Shivani, Tare Pande, Jiya, and Shakuntala Pande were all alive and well when this book was first published in 1998. In the midst of all the rapid and unrecognizable charge that surrounds us, their stories and their memories are distilled into an even more precious evocation of times past.’



Publié par
Date de parution 17 août 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9789351941804
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Namita Gokhale, née Pant, has deep Kumaoni roots. Born in Lucknow in 1956, she spent her early childhood in Nainital. As a writer, publisher and festival director, she is deeply involved with different aspects of literary life. Her first novel, Paro, Dreams of Passion, was published to great acclaim in 1984. The author of twelve books, her several works of fiction include Gods Graves and Grandmother, A Himalayan Love Story, The Book of Shadows, Shakuntala: the Play of Memory, Priya in Incredible Indyaa, and The Habit of Love. She has coedited the landmark In Search of Sita and edited an anthology of travel writing, Travelling In, Travelling Out.
Namita Gokhale is also co-director of the famous Jaipur Literature Festival and of Mountain Echoes, the Bhutan Literary Festival.
Meenakshi Joshi , née Pant (1940-2001) belonged to a distinguished Kumaoni family, known for its liberal and progressive attitude. She spent her childhood years in Ramgarh and the memory of that idyllic time spent in an orchard gave her a deep insight into Kumaoni life. To this was added later the sophisticated education gained at Bombay’s Sophia College and her experiences as a corporate wife. Her capacity to make intelligent conversation and coax memories out of shy or reluctant subjects led to her association with this book.


This digital edition published in 2015

First published in 1998 by The Lotus Collection An Imprint of Roli Books Pvt. Ltd M-75, Greater Kailash- II Market New Delhi 110 048 Phone: ++91 (011) 40682000 Email: Website:

Copyright © Namita Gokhale, 1998 © For individual introductions rests with Mrinal Pande, Aparna Pande, Ira Pande, Namita Gokhale and Ravi Dhavan

Cover Design: Mohita Kaul

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, print reproduction, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of Roli Books. Any unauthorized distribution of this e-book may be considered a direct infringement of copyright and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

eISBN: 978-93-5194-180-4

All rights reserved. This e-book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated, without the publisher’s prior consent, in any form or cover other than that in which it is published.

Tara Pande
Shakuntala Pande
About the Contributors
To Meenakshi Joshi, without whom this book would not have been possible.

In our mountains women are rarely afraid. They are strong, direct, loyal, and in most situations they are free to speak their minds. You see them roaming the forests for fodder, strong-footed as goats, fearless as lions. They are not afraid of the dark and they brave the cold, sure-footedly they ford the swift mountain streams and when they are surprised by an attacking tiger, they have been known to raise their scythes and give chase, to save a savaged sister.

Give us this blessing This good work we are about to begin We have placed the eternal sounding conch-shell on the right Below it the auspicious water jug filled with our hopes and desires On our shoulders the colourful scarf on which is the multi-hued multi-petalled lotus covering our bosom and womb the root seed and flower of which sustain, strengthen and please so that the life forces that spring forth bring generations of bright, beautiful and multitalented persons Like Ganesh, Ram, Laxman sustained by Sita, Urmila the quintessential woman, give us all things auspicious so that the name of the family lives for now and ever and ever.
Saguna Dehi …Ritual song of Kumaon

T his book is a tribute to four extraordinary women I have had the privilege to know, love and admire. The idea came up when I was invited by Roli Books, two decades ago, to contribute my thoughts for a special catalogue devoted to ‘Fifty years of Indian Independence’. This was to focus on works of ‘historical and contemporary relevance’ on hitherto neglected themes.
I am no historian. As a novelist, the past for me is a fluid constant, which flows on into the present, with time warps, inconsistencies and even the simultaneous coexistence of time-frames. And then, there was this uncomfortable word, ‘Independence’. We inhabit an increasingly inter-dependent world, and the brittle individuality of the modern urban experience is sometimes unconvincing. I am by birth a Kumaoni, from the central Himalayas. Mountain people all over the world are by circumstance and temperament perhaps different from the more rational races that live closer to the heart of the earth. I grew up in the Kumaon hills, bonded by love and admiration to a band of extraordinary women, aunts and grandmothers and friends of grandmothers, who symbolized for me the ultimate embodiment of dignity, integrity, and sheer indestructible grit. In my upbringing, in the subliminal code I imbibed from these women, femininity never stood for weakness, and my gender was never congruent with anything but its strength – physical, emotional, and moral.
The history of men is distinct from that of women. It is recorded in wars won and lost, in the reigns of kings, in edicts and inscriptions, in ruined fortresses and other such grand and exterior things. The history of women is left to us in folklore and tradition, in faintly-remembered lullabies and the half-forgotten touch of a grandmother’s hand; in recipes, ancestral jewellery, and cautionary tales about the limits of a woman’s empowerment.
The lives of most women from the last century were interior one, spent in humdrum tasks, following the rhythm of the seasons, often ending and passing without record. Lived close to the skin and the breath and the cries of new-born babies, they may at first view present a humdrum and unexceptional vantage point, but upon examination they yield an understanding of the history and material culture of the mountains.
The four women in this book were all a part of my childhood and adolescent years. My maternal grandmother, Shakuntala Pande, was the person I loved most in the world. The others were, as is the way in Kumaon, inter-related in a complex web of familial and marital bonds. My mother’s sister Rita was married to Tara Pande’s son, Mukul. Shivani’s daughter Ira was married to Jiya’s son Amitabha. Gaura Pant, ‘Shivani’ to her adoring readers, was my father’s cousin. Meenakshi Joshi shared ties of kinship and friendship with all of them. As I return to their memories I am struck by how, in just twenty years, the past has receded even further into remote history. The texture of life has changed utterly in Kumaon, in ‘the plains’, and indeed the whole world. This book seeks to document some moments and vignettes of this fleeting past.
The Kumaoni Brahmins – the Pants, the Pandes and the Joshis, were a diverse group of immigrant pandits who settled in the hills sometime in the middle of the last millennium. The Pants came from the Konkan coast, and brought with them memories of the sea in the coconuts and conch-shells that are still an essential of ritual apparatus so many centuries and generations later. The Pandes were pandas or pandits from Kannauj, and the Joshis were jyotishis or astrologers, supposedly from Rajasthan. This diaspora of proud, high-thinking Brahmins all migrated, for one reason or another, from bastions of privilege and prejudice to the Dev-Bhoomi – the Land of the Gods that was to become the modern Indian state of Uttarakhand. This holy land, beloved of pilgrims and sanyasis, had not then completely surrendered to the onslaught of rigid Hindu theocracy. It shared a border with Tibet and fell on the Silk Route from China. It fostered a rich diversity of religious traditions, of joyous, almost pagan animism coexistent with severe tantric ritual, of the Namboodiris who were the Adi Shankaracharya’s legacy, of the Buddhism that still thrived in nearby Nepal, just across the Kali river.
When my migrant forefathers arrived at these mountains, they were pre-equipped with the burdens of patriarchy and caste-bound Hinduism, with the ancient laws of Manu superimposed on a feudal society in turn re-adjusting to the orthodoxy of Islamist thought. In the Himalayas, in the kingdoms of the Chand Rajas, a surprising heterodoxy flourished in the rarefied mountain air. To some extent this was but natural in what was the most hallowed spot of pilgrimage for the Indian subcontinent.
But to my novelist’s mind, some part of this vitality and independence of thought belongs to the intrinsic nature of the people of the mountains, of the native Khasiyas, supposedly descended from Scythians and Kushans, of the Huns and Mongols from across the border, and their intense pride and fierce sense of freedom. My ancestors, those traditionalists, those fierce patriarchs, those sons and scions of Manu became courtiers, astrologers, royal advisers in the prosperous Himalayan kingdoms, and ignored all assaults upon their core-beliefs and ideology. They were barricaded by the inner mountains of the mind; smug and secure in the conditionalities of caste and varna. But their women, their wives, mothers and sisters, breathed the fresh mountain air, felt the soil, knew the earth, in the way women do.
The goddesses of Kumaon are not the docile consorts of the northern plains, but fiercely individualistic ‘Ugra’ manifestations of pure energy. Fairs and festivals are very important in Kumaon, and many of these Shaktis and goddesses have fairs held specifically in their honour. The Shakta tradition that flourished in the hills, the veneration of the feminine principle, strengthened our Pahari women and invisibly empowered them.
In these mountains, women are rarely afraid. They are strong, direct, loyal, and in mos

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