- Pashtun Tales from the Pakistan-Afghan Frontier
The book under review is a collection of Pashtun tales collected from the city of Peshawar, the capital city of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Because of its geographical position on the crossroads linking Central Asia with India and beyond, Peshawar and its province had been one of the busiest land routes throughout the history. Since time immemorial caravans of fortunes, as well as simple mendicants (faqirs), had traversed the city on their way from Central Asia to the rich and famous India and beyond, and on their way back. As such, it has been a meeting point of different cultures and traditions. The city of Peshawar boasts of its old part, known as the qissakhwāni bāzār, "the bazaar of storytellers" whose fame had reached throughout the northwestern India and beyond. It is from this historic city that most of the tales in this book come from. However, Aisha Ahmad writes that "despite Peshawar's reputation as a meeting place for storytellers, in 1977, when I asked a friend to find me a professional reciter of tales, he was unable to find one anywhere in the city or in the neighbouring villages. Even after months of searching, he had only found people who knew one or two stories" (11). This shows the impact of electronic media on the local culture and the domination of radio and television in the daily life of the people. The book constitutes a welcome and valuable addition to the recording of this region's folktales and a good contribution to the comparative analysis of this genre. With an excellent folkloristic analysis at the end, authors have demonstrated how these tales, and their themes and motifs, participate in a wider sphere of tales common throughout the region and beyond.
The book contains a total of thirty-five tales divided under six subsections: Wit and Intelligence, Virtues and Vices, Miracles and Magic, Courtship and Infidelity, Epic and Romance, and Comedy and Farce. Authors have accomplished a very difficult, but extremely useful task in categorizing the tales according to their contents and in placing them in particular sections. Nevertheless, it can be seen that they have not been successful in all cases as it is a very tricky job to decide which tale goes into which category either because of the complexity of tales or because of the multiplicity of motifs in a tale. However, the attempt here is praiseworthy. [End Page 312]
I find the book very interesting and useful as I see a great number of tales included here also in the tradition of other ethno-linguistic groups in the region including my own recordings from Balochistan. It is fascinating to see, once again, how these tales have travelled freely from one culture to another. However, besides other things about the book, there are a few technical observations to which I would like to draw the attention of readers here. For example, one of the book's shortcomings is the lack of proper information about the informants. Aisha Ahmad mentions in the preface that most of the stories were related by Saeed Khan Baba (19), but does not say which ones and from whom the rest of the tales were collected. It seems that some tales were also collected from others as the author thanks "Feroz Shah, Master Sahib, and Fazle Hadi for helping me to collect the remainder of the tales" (20), but Ahmad does not say more about it. Here, Master Sahib seems to be a title and not a personal name as it would mean "Mr. Teacher" if we translate the name into English. The only information provided in the book is about Saeed Khan Baba, who "was a tall Mohmand Pashtun, whom the villagers nicknamed Qissa Khwan (Story Teller) or Qissa Mar (Story Maker)" (12) although the second title, which I believe is in Urdu, would also mean "storyteller" as the verb...