Like in all Central Asian countries, the days and nights in Kashmir engage in a game of maazrat not witnessed in the tropics. During the summers, the evenings set out an elaborate dastarkhaan for the sun, grab it by its arm and do not let go, as if telling it, “Muone marrun chu, aaz behiv toih yeth.” The sun cannot leave before making a promise that, “Ba khoda chem zaroori kaem, bu yim bae pagah subhai, koker baangi, wallah.” And it does. Consequently, the days bulge, with daylight spreading between before five in the morning and after eight in the evening. During the winters, the night puts on a Kosher burqa and goes door-to-door in the evenings and mornings, delivering titbits of warmth, intimacy and wisdom, so that people have no reason to step out of their homes with the frequency of summer. As a result, darkness starts to pull a blanket over 5 o’clock in the evening and does not pull it down before 7 o’clock arrives in the morning.
Under the canopy of winter’s enormous burqa, a million stories twinkle like stars, and we can see and meet beings which are invisible to us in the blinding light of the day. Today, we are going to reacquaint ourselves with some of these creatures.
If you are a Kaeshir girl, chances are you have been called a rantas more than once in your lifetime. In fact, one can judge how badass you are from how frequently you get referred to as a rantas. Generally speaking, the more often you are called a rantas, the more spirit of rebellion you will have in you. If you are a Koshur boy and have called the women in your life rantas more times than you can count, consider yourself lucky, you are surrounded by truly cool women—or, perhaps, you are just an ass who cannot deal with independent women!
Boy or girl, you will have noticed that most commonplace comparisons with a rantas are made in four situations. One, if a woman is being stubborn, which means she refuses to do the bidding of others, or rejects their logic. Two, if a woman is being rapacious, and eats or drinks like a glutton. Three, if a woman is messy, with unkempt hair and dirty clothes. Four, and the only negative one, if a woman is being evil, saying or doing things which might harm others.
But who—or what—is a rantas and why are firebrand women likened to her?
As you most probably know, a rantas (plural rantse) is a female humanoid creature whose natural habitat is the poat-van—deep forests—on the mountains and hills around Kashmir. Rantse are almost one-and-a-half times the size of an average human being. They are characterized by long, dishevelled hair, as wild as the rantse themselves; wings that fold around the front of their bodies, from the neck down to their knees, and are the only thing they cover their bodies with, made of an enchanted material which has the capacity to change its odour as per their wishes; and feet with heels at the front and toes at the back.
Once a rantas passes into adulthood, her mother gifts her a comb which she wears in her hair for the rest of her life. The comb is the seat of a rantas’s magical abilities and gives her many powers and great strength, but it also renders her vulnerable to another kind of sorcery—love. It is said that the comb makes a rantas emotional, and once it has been bequeathed to her, she begins to yearn for a companion. If she finds a worthy partner, she will offer him her comb, thus bestowing upon him the clout to curb her magical powers.
In their search for a companion, rantse travel across the length and breadth of Kashmir, particularly during the winter, when poat-van is very cold and bare. Not much is known about the male of the species. Some speculate that male rantse turn into yechh, but it seems very unlikely, given that yechh, in their natural state, are feline creatures, while rantse are flying beings. Others conjecture that rantse give birth to only female rantse. This might be closer to truth. After all, while human beings produce male and female children in an almost equal proportion, it is not the only ratio in which offspring are produced in the natural world. A queen bee, for example, produces a much larger number of female bees compared to male bees (drones). However, the most likely scenario is that rantse kill their male offspring. Conceivably, they even cannibalize them or feed them to their female offspring.
In any case, the truth of the matter is that rantse roam around human habitations in search of a companion. If they like someone, they stand outside his house at night and shout out his name. If he comes out of the house, they lift him up and fly away to their cave in the poat-van. There, they produce children with the companion. If they suspect he will run away, they block the entrance of their cave with a big boulder when they go out to hunt for food.
Food consists of the various herbs growing in forests of Kashmir as well as animals like deer, rabbits, markhor etc. If meat is hard to come by, rantse are known to raid villages and towns, stealing sheep and goats, even kidnapping women and children for food. They do not eat men.
Every few years, newspapers flutter in the breeze with the news of someone escaping from the captivity of a rantas. The story is archetypal. The man, usually in his early to mid-thirties, has been a rantas’s prisoner “for more than ten years”. Since he has not shaved, had a haircut or even taken a bath in that time, he looks like a forest creature himself.
The newspaper then goes on to narrate his ordeal, with a special focus on his lucky escape. Usually, it is a case of him winning the confidence of the rantas after which she is not as thorough with sealing the entrance of the cave as she used to be. Then he waits for a window of opportunity, quite literally, and makes the great escape. The story is always told with the slightest patina of humour, as if the reporter cannot believe the escapee did not enjoy his incarceration.
On the other hand, there are parochial stories about someone or the other in an area being loved and stalked by a rantas. The man becomes a sort of a legend in his own right. People admire him for being a rantas’s choice, but, at the same time, they keep warning him about the dire consequences were he to lower his guard and come out of his house during the dark hours. The love of a rantas is a special type of curse as well.
Koshur men will continue to secretly love and publicly fear rantse. Koshur women will continue to use such trivial excuses to call each other a rantas as to make one suspect that they enjoy mentioning and hearing the name. A new generation of Koshur girls and boys—you—will continue to unravel the meaning of a rantas’s existence. In the meantime, rantse will keep combing their long hair, smell all the fragrances of the world in their wings, and think about taming unloving men.
Rantas and the bald brat
Rantse not only possess super strength and supernatural powers, they also have a very sharp mind. Once they lay their eyes on it, they plan the entrapment of their prey meticulously. It is very rare for a human being to get the better of a rantas.
However, once upon a time, a rantas met her match in a cunning teenage boy who outfoxed her at every stage, thwarting all her plans, and thus was born the legend of the rantas and the bald brat.
It is said that a rantas was hunting for food near a village when she saw the bald brat wandering around in the woods behind the village. He is chubby and could feed her family for more than a week. So she swoops down and grabs hold of the oblivious brat. Thrusting him into her sack, she swings it over her shoulder and is on her merry way home. The brat suddenly realizes what has happened. He knows he has to think and act fast—and he does. He pisses on her shoulders. She feels the hot, warm liquid and angrily asks what he is doing. He apologizes and replies that he has to pee very badly. She is disgusted and lands at a secluded spot, puts him down, and orders him to pee while she gathers some herbs nearby. No sooner is she out of sight that he jumps out of the sack, and fills it up with hornwort from a nearby pond. When she returns and sees the bulge in the sack, she thinks that the brat is already inside. So she hauls the sack back to her cave. On the way, water from the hornwort keeps trickling down her back, but the rantas thinks that the brat is peeing again, and tells the sack, “Pee as much as you want, o bald brat, soon you will be juicing a soup for my children.” But when she opens the sack at her cave and finds that the brat is missing, she lets out a banshee wail which terrifies roosting birds out of the branches of neighbouring trees.
A few days later, she is foraging for food again when she spots the brat. She resolves to bring him home this time. Once more, she scoops him up in her sack and is on her way home when she detects a foul smell emanating from the sack. She tries to change the odour of her wings to a rosy fragrance but even that cannot cover the smell. Finally, she asks the brat about the source of the smell. He says he has diarrhoea. That piece of information is so revolting that all she can do is not fling the sack off her shoulder. Rather, she lands again and commands him to go about his business while she cleans herself up. While she is gone, the brat fills up the sack with mud. When the rantas returns, she sees that the brat is already in the sack. So she picks it up and is en route to home when she feels something gooey crawling down her back. She says, “Shit as much as you want, o bad bald brat, soon your fatty body will be my children’s evening meal.” Back at her cave, she sinks her hands into the mud and rubs it all over her face.
In a few more days, she is at it again; looking for food, her eyes find the brat once more. She nets him and puts him in her sack, determined not to let go come what may. He begins to pinch her and bite her, and does not stop till she starts to blubber. Ultimately, she is forced to land again to deal with the pesky brat. She gives him a hearty beating, pushes him back into the sack and goes looking for some herb to rub over the bites to relieve some of the pain. Presently, she returns and lifts the full sack and starts to fly homewards. The brat starts to pinch and bite her again but she says, “Bite as much as you want, o bold brat, soon my children will be sinking their teeth into your flesh.” She reaches her cave and empties the sack on the floor. It contains nothing but the twigs of a thorny bush. The rantas is so angry she could burn the twigs by just looking at them.
Once more she manages to locate the brat and capture him. Mid-air, he starts to tickle her. She almost drops the sack. Finally, she lands and gives him a proper spanking for his pranks. Then she spots a rabbit gambolling around in a nearby meadow. She packs the brat into her sack and flies after the rabbit. The rabbit disappears down a hole. She returns disappointed and picks up her sack. The sack begins to tickle her again, so she says, “Tickle me as much as you want, o funny brat, soon my children will be laughing over your succulent bones.” The rabbit managed to escape, but at least I have the brat, she consoles herself as she nears the cave. Inside. The sack is opened. What does it contain? Well, nothing but a bale of nettle. The bad bold bald brat has bested her again!