SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

The Punjabi folk or wonder tale

Neelam Hussain (SSAI, SOAS)

Date: 23 September 2020Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 23 September 2020Time: 4:30 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Webinar

Festival of Ideas Satellite Event 

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The Punjabi Folk or Wonder Tale


This discussion will focus on three aspects of the Punjabi folk or wonder tale: the folk tale as a genre, (ii) the politics of documenting oral narratives at particular moments in history that arrest the flow of the living stream and shape it in accordance with the social and political imperatives of the time and (iii) why, given the overarching frame of patriarchy within which folktales are shaped and located, there are no Cinderellas in the Punjabi folktale. This will entail some examination of the role of female protagonists – the good and bad women and the mediation of sexuality and sexual identity as well as of the politics of documentation.

This discussion will draw mainly on the tales compiled by British folklorists Flora Annie Steele, the Reverend Charles Swynnerton and R.C. Temple (all of whom, though assisted by ‘munshis’ had a working knowledge of the vernacular). For the most part, written and published in the latter end of the 19th century, these compilations were part of the colonial initiative that saw ‘a knowledge of local folklore (as) useful both to ruler and ruled as the practices and beliefs included under the general head of Folk-lore make up the daily life of the natives of our great dependency, control their feelings, and underlie many of their actions. We foreigners cannot hope to understand them rightly unless we deeply study them, and it must be remembered that close acquaintance and a right understanding begets sympathy, and sympathy begets good government.(1914). The importance of social and political contexts and the dynamics of the narrative voice will be used to show the continuing fluidity of the folktale as highlighted    by stories from the same genre but narrated by A.R. Khatoon, whose thinking was shaped by the inner courtyard culture of middle-class Delhi, but much of whose literary work took place in post-Independence, post-colonial Lahore. Reference will also be made to stories told by Nurjehan of District Talagang and Baba Inayat from a village in District Kasur, as part of Punjab’s living storytelling tradition that provided unexpected insights into the politics of storytelling in a class based society divided in terms of education, lifestyles and language including the gender factor.


Prof. Neelam Hussain read BA Hons in English Literature from Kinnaird College Lahore and for the MA degree at Government College Lahore followed by an MA from Leeds UK and post-graduate research at Sussex. Neelam then joined Kinnaird College as a lecturer in 1974 and, apart from the break for further study in the UK, was there as English faculty till 1995. Neelam left Kinnaird to work at Simorgh Women’s Resource and Publication Centre in 1995 and have been there since then. Simorgh is a secular, feminist not for profit organisation and apart from overall oversight as Executive Coordinator, my work entails direct involvement in both academic and field research including the editing and publication of a sporadically produced socio-legal journal ‘Bayan’ and other publications;. Neelam's other work has included the production and publication of an annotated selection of Punjabi folktales documented by British folklorists during the Raj and translation from Urdu to English of two novels: ‘Inner Courtyard’ by Khadija Mastur and ‘All Passion Spent’ by Zaheda Hina.

Click here to register for the event. The link to the webinar will be emailed to the registered attendee closer to the event date. 

Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute

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