In the lines that follow, I will delve down the nostalgia lane to renew my acquaintance with these fellow creatures who coloured my childhood.
Who doesn’t hate homework as a child? My brother and I were no exception. When we were adamant on ‘all play and no work’ policy, we were scared away by the classic Waye Woff threats.
The scary creature visited on pitch dark nights and rapped on doors.
Waye Woff was a wild cat, who could also take the shape of a human being if anyone responded to her unwanted calls.
Upon hearing this grotesque description, the pencil nibs screeched over our four-liner notebooks. All work and no play became our new motto and we happily accepted ourselves as new dull Jacks.
Myth, they say, has a life of its own that surpasses even the truth at times. Since the inception of time, man has let imagination run riot and created myths and mythical creatures to populate them.
These characters acquire a life of their own, acquiring and shedding traits over the course of time as suits the tastes and whims of the age.
Moreover, children are particularly acquainted with these creatures, as suspension of disbelief comes easily to them. Besides, they serve as handy deterrents to correct truant children, and warn them to fall in line else they will suffer the wrath of these mythical creatures.
Come snowy days, and we would romp indoors. We repeatedly climbed up and down the stairs creating a ruckus in the household.
To stop this din (Wan te Moen walyin in local parlance), another mythical creature was called to haunt us. This was a tall and sturdy giant “Wane Mohnue” (literally forest man) who paid a visit to the plains from mountains in heavy snowfall.
The sight of his gigantic footprints crunching away in freshly fallen snow made our tender hearts sweat in fear. For us, he was a pied piper of Hamelin who could drag us to mountain caves along with him.
It was decided to play a game of cards quietly rather than picnic with a towering figure in the frosty caves.
On some days, home became a boring place to play. So a neighbourhood park or field was preferred. When we had tanned ourselves by playing out in the summer sun till twilight, a bogey-man called “Brem Brem Chokh” awaited us.
This misleader held a candle and was damn good at showing a wrong road and pathway to the travellers of the dark, until they lost the way in the maze of narrow alleys and dark passages.
Who would have risked this candlelit adventure? Even the Famous Five by Enid Bylton would have refused. We made solemn promises never to venture out again.
But, promises are meant to be broken. Healthy diet means chips and chocolates for children. So was the case with us.
We made faces at the sight of rice during meal times and refused to eat it. So a burqa-clad woman with heavy anklets was summoned. She was the iconic “Ronne Meach”, who was believed to carry children in a gunny bag.
Before we could hear the clinking and clanking of her anklets, we opened our mouths wide open for the morsel of gravy filled rice.
Our Koshur version of Monjolikha was scarier, and we could not afford to squeeze in her claustrophobic gunny bags that smelt of coal.
Rantas was introduced to us by grandma. We huddled around her to hear the tales of bravado in which our grandfather was the protagonist. We gasped in awe when we heard the parts of this tale.
It was a wintery day in distant Kishtwar, where he was posted as a policeman. He had just started a crackling bonfire to warm himself when a Rantas stopped by.
She was a woman with crooked feet, overgrown nails and unkempt hair.
But the Rantas was not alone. She was accompanied by her brood who swarmed around her. My grandfather discerned her motherly instincts and how she wanted some warmth for her children. He sat still without getting alarmed. After sometime, the Rantas stood up and went away. She did not harm my grandfather.
Was Rantas actually a wicked Rantas? She too had a heart and did not harm anyone unnecessarily.
Till date, I am figuring out if it was a made-up tale or true. Grandma swears it happened. If it has happened, then I am not afraid of our loveable Rantas anymore.
(This Essay appeared in the January 2021 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)
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Hirra Azmat is a Srinagar-based journalist covering Health and Environment. Her works have appeared in many local and national publications.