“Nisar mein teri galiyon pe aiye watan,
Ke jahan, chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chale,
Jo koi chahne wala tawaf ko nikle,
Nazar chura ke chale, jism-o-jaan bacha kar chale”
The resounding applause and the deluge of praises that followed on the social media, following their performance “Dastan-e-Sedition” on 19 February 2016, at JNU, testifies to the appeal of the traditional oral art form in contemporary times. An appeal which, owes no less to its fabulous meandering tales of magic, wizards, giants, heroes and tyrants as to its subversive folk tradition. What is equally fascinating is the manner in which Dastangoi, led by Mahmood Farooqui, has been able to adapt historical events like the Partition or recent incidents like the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen and even the ‘anti-nationalism’ row at JNU into the performance, and as they offer comments and critiques, they also present to the audience a means of engaging with the larger issues lying beneath these incidents.
The moment the duo, Ankit Chadha and Himanshu Bajpai began their performance we were taken in by their wit, play, humour, vivacity and the ability to keep the audience enthralled for the entire hour. The Informer caught up with dastango Ankit Chadha, to know more about this unique form of storytelling, his journey as a dastango, his inspiration and finally his views on the ‘seditious’ activities in JNU. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
- Your ustaad, Mahmood Farooqi, is credited with having brought back the dying tradition of Dastangoi. How did you stumble upon this art form and what has your journey been like?
After completing my Honours in History from Hindu, I was working in a digital marketing startup. Two years in this job, in June 2010, I stumbled upon an event page on Facebook. This was the first Dastangoi workshop ever conducted in Delhi by Mahmood Farooqui. I was the youngest participant at this workshop. While mere acquaintance to the form in those three days motivated me enough to give it a shot, what followed was a journey very personal at different levels.
Dastangoi, as one can imagine in the society we live in, was never a career option for me. However, its “convenience” – the way it allowed me to practice what I enjoyed with my job, was probably the reason for a smooth initiation. Like street theatre which I intensively practised in college, here was an art form as minimal. The fact that it can become the medium to express a variety of content that moves me, is why I continue to practise this form. It has been my medium of education around understanding of the other world through Sufi thought as well as my way to explore issues like socio-economic divide in this world. Together, these range of experiences have strengthened my belief in the power of oral tradition – the foundation of the art that I practise.
My ustaad – Mahmood Farooqui, has showed immense faith in me, and I hope my practice will do justice to his work.
- Through your work, who and what is it that you address?
My personal connect with Dastangoi is the act of listening – something every one of us needs to work on to make things better around us. This could be parents listening to their kids, those in power listening to the oppressed, or listening to ourselves.
- A cultural evening, ‘The Country Without a Post-office’ held on 9th February led to news channels branding the university ‘anti-national’. What do you think of the events that have unfolded since?
I will simply quote Bapu, “If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence… I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a Government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system.”
- Prior to JNU, you performed at Jashn-e-Rekhta. Was there a difference in the reaction you received from the audience?
Definitely. Jashn-e-Rekhta was huge in its own way. With almost 3000 people listening to us live, at a festival celebrating Urdu, reaffirms our faith in our work and in the audiences. JNU was different – the audience was different, the story we told was different, but most importantly the atmosphere and the purpose to perform was different. I have received so many messages from JNU students, expressing the sheer joy and sense of solidarity they felt during the performance. This means a lot to our team.
- Your work focuses on contemporary issues. How influential do you think art can be in a political context?
Both art and politics influence people in their own ways. An artist’s choice of expression in a certain political context can bring the spotlight on what needs to heard.
- You write your own dastan (stories). Where do you find inspiration?
The work of my ustaad Mahmood Farooqui continues to inspire me at every step in my journey. I have always seen Dastan-e-Sedition as his most powerful teaching on adaptation of Tilism-e-Hoshruba. My mother and her natural connect with oral culture has been a strong influence. Kabir and Khusrau continue to be my muses. And of late, nature – other living beings, and how we coexist with them, has been inspiring me to understand the stories of human history.
- Where can an aspiring dastango find help with training and subsequently, a platform to showcase her skills?
I suggest all aspirants come to listen to all shows we perform (like us here: facebook.com/dastangoi for updates on schedule) – that’s the best way to learn. Also, get hold of the book “Dastangoi” by Mahmood Farooqui, and leave us a message on our Facebook page. We will be happy to train anyone who is committed to practising this art form.
Revati Kulkarni is an MA student at CFFS and works as a photographer for The Informer.
Mansi Singh is an MA student at CPS and works for the Arts & Culture Pool of The Informer.
Categories: Arts and culture