On 31 st December, 2017, some met in Fort Shaniwarwada in Pune to commemorate a historic event from January 1st 1818, a battle in which the Peshwas (Brahmins) were defeated by the British forces though the loss was huge on both sides. This had been a part of the third Anglo Maratha wars which led to British domination in Maharashtra ultimately.
The programme had speeches and cultural performances and police presence. The British victory nearly two hundred years ago was seen as a Dalit victory over Peshwas as Dalits had manned the British army against the Brahmin Peshwas. On January 1 st 2018, one Dalit was killed in the violence that ensued over the meet among different groups who clashed over differences of opinion.
Number of activists, some of them allegedly communists as Maoist involvement was suspected, were arrested over the event. What bordered on the ludicrous was that one activist was arrested for possessing incriminating documents like Tolstoy’s War andPeace. The judge is reported to have said: “War and Peace is about war in another country. Why were you keeping these books at your house?”
“Chikki called in the morning,” Amma begins, seated at the dining table.
Dinner conversations at home have always been severely orchestrated, progressing into a chaotic crescendo. It always begins with the most neutral subject, me. And usually Achan sits silent, regarding his food with empirical interest. He is on standby for his cue.
“She’s had fever for two days now,” Amma continues.
“Has she been taking medicines? Ask her not to self- medicate.”
“Why would she self-medicate?”
“Alla, isn’t that what everyone in your family does?” Achan asks.
“I’ll be grateful if Chikki doesn’t inherit your arrogance.”
“You should be grateful if she turns out like me,” Achan responds grimly. “God forbid she becomes like you.”
Richard Rose is a British writer, university professor and researcher who has been working regularly with teachers and children in India for the past nineteen years. His work has appeared in academic journals, magazines and books in several countries. His play, written with James Vollmar, Letters to Lucia, which celebrates the life of James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia Anna Joyce, received its first performance by Triskellion Irish Theatre in 2018.
Mahmood Farooqui in conversation with Gargi Vachaknavi
Dastangoi is the art of Urdu storytelling that was popular all across India and could regale commoners and elites alike. That was in times of Mughal splendour. The performers were artists and writers rolled into one who left behind over 46,000 pages of published fantasies. The Dastans were the stories told by these storytellers, the gois. Unfortunately this art form completely vanished, leaving behind few memories.
Inspired by the scholarship of one of Urdu’s greatest living writer S. R. Faruqi, Mahmood Farooqui began its revival in 2005 and has since then trained dozens of other storytellers or Dastangos, staged over a thousand shows all around the world and has composed over a dozen modern Dastans for the genre. With all the innovations that he and his team have spearheaded, a virtually new genre of performance and a new kind of writing for the stage has emerged in our times.
Farooquiis an award winning writer and performer. He was awarded the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar by the Sangeet Natak Akademi of the Union Government for his efforts in reviving Dastangoi. His book on the 1857 uprising Besieged: Voices from Delhi, 1857, was awarded the Ram Nath Goenka Award for the best non-fiction book of the year by the Indian Express Group. He has been a visiting fellow at the Universities of Michigan, US and Berkeley, California and was a Rhodes scholar at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. His latest book is A Requiem for Pakistan: The World of Intizar Husain. He has written over 15 modern Dastans for the stage and has trained nearly 50 people besides performing close to 500 shows himself. His wife, film maker Anusha Rizvi, is not only the producer of the Dastangois but also the award winning writer-Director of Peepli Live, a 2010 satirical comedy with the involvement of greats like Aamir Khan and Raghuvir Yadav.
Mahmood Farooqui and his troupe will be performing in Singapore on the 14thof September. In this exclusive, he talks to Gargi Vachaknavi of his work, of how a Dastangoi performance varies from normal theatre and what he is going to perform in Singapore.
Gargi: Why did you think of reviving Dastangoi, an art of 13 th century storytelling in Urdu? What is the potential you see that makes you feel it is necessary to contextualise it for the present day?
Farooqui: I was a student of history and had been active in theatre for many years when I came across the great S. R. Faruqi’s study of the world of Dastans. I had been reading Urdu literature all my life but had never really heard of this incredibly enchanting world. When I dug deeper, I was totally bowled over by the genius of the writers and the of the performers. Here was theatre in its purest form, one or two narrators, sitting still and holding an audience captive, just like our ancient rishis (sages) narrated epics and Shastras to rapt listeners. I felt that this was the most essential art form of the Indian subcontinent. From the word go, it was an instant success perhaps because in India everything, including religion is a story.
The innovation I made was to have not one but two narrators and our designer, Anusha Rizvi, kept the basics very simple so we brought it into the ambit of modern theatre by using techniques of lighting, stage decorum and presentation.
Like the Sword of Damocles, his domestic troubles hung over his head. There was nothing much he could do about it. It had gone on too long, too deep. He just had to live with it and move around it. He could not give up everything. There was a nagging heaviness in his temples. He knew things were going to take a nasty turn and it might get worse. He had created some arbitrary goals to improve his life, but this one had crashed it all. But still, life had to continue. As they say in showbiz, the show must go on.
He knew it was a bad idea. With all these problems plaguing him, he thought it was inappropriate for him to participate in this event. But then, it was also a lifetime achievement — a success hailed by his kinsmen as the epitome of his checkered life. Akin to a water lily, growing wild amongst the filth of marsh, stench and reptiles infested wetland to glorify the lotus feet of Buddha, it was an achievement enviable to some but yearned by all and privileged to only a few!
The problem, as he understood, was not something that developed overnight. Like a crystal, the lattice had developed over the years slowly but surely to its full wrathful glory. How could he be so dumb? Or was it beyond his control and was decided by the constellations and the genetic predisposition?
31 st August,2019, is the birth centenary of avant-garde writer and poet, Amrita Pritam. Not only were her life and works a rebellion in time and place but some of them flowed with love flavoured by her unusual personality.
One such poem by Amrita Pritam, ‘I will meet you yet again’, has been translated by Dr Uma Trilok, an authority on the avant-garde centenarian and herself a powerful writer and poet. The poem has been recited by no less a person than the legendary Gulzar in original Punjabi . Born Sampooran Singh Kalra, Gulzar is one of the foremost personalities to dominate Bollywood , an Academy Award winning Indian film director, lyricist and poet. In 2007, the maestro brought out an album, Amrita Pritam, recited by Gulzar.
Recitation of ‘Main Tenu Fir Milaan Gi’ by Gulzar in Punjabi
I will meet you, yet again
(by Amrita Pritam, translated by Dr Uma Trilok)
I will meet you
I do not know
Title: Upcountry Tales – Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India
Author: Mark Tully
Publisher: Speaking Tiger; 2017
Mark Tully, like the organization he worked for, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), where he was bureau chief, is almost a household name in India. He straddles two worlds in one, as evident in the present collection of seven short stories, Upcountry Tales – Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India. He is in a sense the outsider looking in. He is also the insider looking out. He’s British, and he represented the BBC for thirty long years, a media organisation both respected and disliked by the Indian establishment for its insightful and, therefore, often embarrassing, reportage. But India is also his chosen land, where he was born and spent his early childhood, and where he continues to live after his bitter parting with the BBC in 1994. He is, to borrow and twist a little from writer-critic UR Ananthamurthy’s definition of arguably a far great person, a ‘critical outsider’ (Mahatma Gandhi is referred to by Ananthamurthy as a ‘critical insider’).
Tully’s early books are documentary tracts. No Full Stops in India (1988), his third work, however, comprises a collection of journalistic essays that mark his interest in the changing contours of an India in the remaking. Upcountry Tales is historically located in exactly that period — the 1980s. His other collection of short stories, The Heart of India, was published way back in 1995. He continued with his interest in getting under the skin of the India experience with titles like India in Slow Motion (2002), written in collaboration with Gillian Wright, his partner. Tully later wrote India’s Unending Journey (2008) and Non-Stop India (2011). These books together gather around them an agglomeration of engaging themes — about an India being churned from within and without, and an outsider/insider trying to decode and disseminate that churning.
Eric Khoo, the acclaimed filmmaker from Singapore, has another feather in his cap. His films have been acknowledged for contributing to ‘international solidarity’ with the Bishwaratna Dr Bhupen Hazarika award this year.
Said Eric Khoo, the fourth recipient of this biannual award: “I believe that every person has intrinsic value beyond his or her race, religion, nationality or social class. This belief I understand was also shared by the late Bhupen Hazarika in whose honour the Award for International Solidarity was named. In this spirit, my films seek to bring people together, despite their apparent differences and thus, I am truly privileged to receive this award and to be associated with the late Bhupen Hazarika and his philosophy of International Solidarity.”
The Bhupen Hazarika award was instituted in 2011 by the Assam Sahitya Sabha ( Assam Literary Society). Given to artistes who exhibit international solidarity through their works, the awards represent the best in bridging borders drawn by mankind as did the lyrics and writings of artiste after who the award is named.