“Reth aur Reghistan” puts Pakistani folklore in a contemporary setting through poetry and sculpture. We look at folk stories, folk objects, and folk music from Karachi and its outskirts. We hope to provide readers a space where the imagination of past meets present.
Folklore comes in many forms. The Seven Queens from Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s verses, like Noori Jam Tamachi. Supernatural figures, such as the churail or the jinn. The dances everyone knows at weddings. Games like Kho-Kho that go back to pre-historic India. The way we sing “Dama dam mast qalandar.” We’re interested in how folklore is passed down, who tells stories, and how they evolve. What thread connects folklore from generation to generation? How do stories flow alongside each other? How does religion and culture shape and influence our folklore?
Karachi’s history as a trading hub, a political and historical centre, and a key city for refugees after the partition, makes it a city that intersects wide ranges of people and groups. Our experiences growing up, and our intimate connection with the stories that the city holds led us to choose Karachi as the primary place of research.
We grew up hearing about the jinns who roamed streets at night. These stories were why we came home at maghrib and never walked under or touched trees at night. Why we didn’t cut our nails after dark.
Folklore influences human behaviour for generations, and are the reason why people do what they do. These behaviours are so natural to us, yet can seem strange to someone who sees an action without the context of the story. Through our project, we want to give young Pakistanis in the country and abroad, the context that can help bridge the knowledge gap between us and our ancestry. As grandparents and grandchildren move further apart, as the poetic nuances of these stories becomes blurred in the English language, as our identities become multiple and overlapping.
We gather material through interviews, observation, and texts. We re-imagine narrative through poetry, and visualize folklore through sculpture. Inspired by the style and evocative worlds created in Shaun Tan’s volume, The Singing Bones, our end goal is to produce a book of the poetry alongside photographs of the sculptures.
We are currently researching folklore (folk stories, folk dance, and folk music) by interviewing local artisans, cultural workers, musicians, and performers. We are researching through museums and archives in Karachi.
Take a dive into folklore and our inspirations for this literary-visual project on our blog.
We began creating miniature worlds using found materials, that interpret popular stories, such as The Shire and Hagrid’s Hut (Backyard Worlds). Reth aur Reghistan grew out of our interest in researching, writing, and transmitting folklore from where we grew up, Karachi. Through this project, we want to capture the cultural nuances that make up the vibrant city of Karachi.
Manahil is an Ottawa-based writer, editor, and visual artist. She is the author of two chapbooks, Paper Doll (2019) and Pipe Rose (2018). She is on the editorial team of Canthius, a feminist literary magazine. She is the 2019 winner of Room magazine’s Emerging Writer Award, the 2019 winner of the Lilian I. Found prize, and won 2nd place in the George Johnston Poetry prize.
Nimra is a visual artist and community facilitator based in Mississauga. Her art has appeared in publications across Canada, including The Living Hyphen, Nuance, Existere, and untethered. She works with children on the autism spectrum, and has facilitated creative workshops with youth and adults with disabilities.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.