Date: 13 July 2019
Venue: Akshara Theatre, Delhi
Dastangoi – dastan as we know is a story – is the art of storytelling. Various story telling forms have been prevalent in the Indian sub-continent over the years. The oral tradition of Dastangoi was popularised in India in the Mughal era till it fell to disuse in the last century. We came to know about some of the background when we attended the Dastangoi Summer Festival 2019 organised by Dastangoi Collective at Akshara Theatre between 11 to 13 July, 2019.
Mahmood Farooqui, founder of Dastangoi Collective introduced the program on 12th July when he gave us the above background regarding Dastangoi. He told the full house about the initiatives in reviving the stories that were told by the Dastangois and documenting those in book formats. India has been abysmally lacking in documenting our oral histories. Hence it was heartening to know about such efforts in reviving our cultural traditions.
We attended two back to back Dastangoi sessions at the beautiful Akshara Theatre. The two stories were of very different flavour.
The first story was Dastan-e-Sedition performed by Rana Pratap Senger and Rajesh Kumar. It was about the contemporary issue of arrest of Dr. Binayak Sen. Dr. Sen, a pediatrician working in the tribal regions of Chhatisgarh was arrested on charges for sedition. He was awarded life imprisonment by the courts of Chhatisgarh. After various stages of appeal he was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court. Media reports said that the Chhatisgarh government could not produce any evidence of sedition against Dr. Sen. Senger and Kumar presented a political satire based on this incident that had also attracted international attention. They presented an enjoyable performance.
The next story, Dastan-e-Partition was presented Meera Rizvi and Syed Shadab Hussain. This was based on stories of partition of India. The script presented the horror side as well as the comical side of partition and it was a bit of emotional rollercoaster. We were later debating between ourselves whether stories of partition still had relevance. And we decided yes, it did. Today’s young adults are way removed from partition and this way they could be made aware about the largest political exodus known to human civilisation in which at least 2 million people died.
The Dastangoi sessions, on the whole was very engaging. The auditorium was full and audience also spilt to aisles and stairs. We did not realize how time flew. However, we have a couple of suggestions. Both the scripts were smart but given the heavy usage of Urdu, many among the audience looked askance as to what was happening. While Dastangoi is originally an Urdu art form, maybe a more Hindi based style can be parallely developed so that language does not come in the way. The other suggestion we have emanates from the fact that the story tellers during the performances, sometimes, forgot words and fumbled. If the dastans are developed with a flexible script, may be the speakers would not have to memorize such long texts and hence there would be fewer slips during performances.
Nonetheless, we would want to listen to more such dastans and kudos to Dastangoi Collective for reviving this forgotten art. We definitely need more and more good stories to remain positive in life. It would be even better if the stories are rendered in Dastangoi style.