Rediscover old tales in a forgotten language at Dastangoi Festival in Delhi

By Garima Dutt | Last Updated: Dec 18, 2015, 15:58 PM IST

Dastango Aamir & Dastango Affan performing 'Dastan-e-Amir Hamza' at Dastangoi Festival

Winters in Delhi are quite eventful. With Christmas and New Year celebrations around, expect every nook and corner to be buzzing. But if you are tired of the usual razzmatazz and want to spend your weekend evenings unravelling old tales of the times gone by in a pure, minimalistic yet beautiful and entertaining way, head to the India Habitat Centre (IHC) for the “Dastangoi Festival”.

For the uninitiated, ‘Dastangoi’ is the 16th century art form, the oral tradition of storytelling in Urdu. The word ‘Dastangoi’, as its official blog says, is a compound of two Persian words – ‘Dastan’ meaning story and ‘goi’ means to tell a story. The storyteller or the performer (only a handful in the country) is called ‘Dastango’.

Ten years ago, the form which is mainly oral in nature – and included stories of medieval romances, adventure, magic, warfare which were read and recited aloud – was nowhere to be heard or seen on the art and culture scene of the country. This was until it was revived by poet Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, redesigned and conceived by his nephew, famous historian Mahmood Farooqui and Farooqui’s wife (director of movie Peepli Live) Anusha Rizvi who is the producer of Dastangoi.

The capital, over the next two days, would see the festival celebrating ‘ten years of Dastangoi’ and bring to life some old, some new and contemporary ‘dastans’.

Today, on December 18, from 7 pm onwards, catch ‘Dastan-e-Sedition’ performed by Rajesh Kumar and Rana Pratap Sengar. The story is an allegorical take on contemporary India framed around a sedition case that was conducted against Dr Binayak Sen, the award winning doctor and public health activist of Raipur. It questions our notions of development and progresses through the character of Amar, a renowned trickster.

Dastangoi Festival in Delhi

(Dastango Rajesh Kumar & Dastango Rana Sengar performing 'Dastan-e-Amir Hamza' at Dastangoi Festival)

This will be followed by ‘Dastan-e-Partition’, performed by journalist Darain Shahidi and Ankit Chadha, a tale on the partition of India, a blend of compilation of folk tales and literature including known works by Rahi Maasoom Reza, Manto, Intezar Husain and Sahir Ludhianvi, improvised by Mahmood Farooqui and feminist scholar Urvashi Butalia.

Sunday, December 20, is reserved for children as Ankit Chadha and Poonam Girdhani perform ‘Dastan Alice Ki’ based on Lewis Carroll's world famous classics 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland', and 'Through the Looking Glass'. The story starts with Alice entering the fantasy land and discovering the world through the looking glass. After her size changes multiple times, Alice begins her journey on the chessboard to become a queen.

Tickets for all performances are available at the IHC programme desk.

The festival began yesterday with ‘The Hamza Night’ to a packed audience. The opening performance of ‘Dastan-e-Amir Hamza’ by young Dastango(s) Aamir and Affan blew my mind away. They were simply riveting. Rana Sengar and Rajesh Kumar next presented ‘Dastan-e-Amir Hamza’, stories from ‘Tilism-e-Hoshruba’ and had the audience in splits with their humour and expressions.

The beauty of this art form lies in the no frills, no fuss dramatics which extract a lot out of the storyteller–performer in terms of memorising long stories, narrating them for over an hour in unadulterated Urdu while emoting with facial expressions – all at the same time.

The magic the performers weave with words and expressions would not only take you back in time but also help you create images in your head absorbing all your senses. You will also find yourself marvelling at the beauty of a language which is heard now and then only in Bollywood song lyrics. You may initially find it difficult yet, to your surprise, you will understand the story well and rediscover the joy of learning new words and forgotten tales.

Now, if this has got you intrigued enough then the taste of the performance lies in actually seeing it.

The storytellers await you. The tales are ready to be told. Go, Watch and Cherish. You will always want to get back for more.