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.

IMG_7959
Mahmood Farooqui performing

Farooqui is 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.

Advertisements

By Chirantana Mathkari

 

Gandhawati stood stunned looking at the dead salmon in her kitchen sink. With its neck twisted at the edge of the sink and its eye staring at her, it had quite an appalling effect on the vegetarian!

She looked away and took a deep breath — but she just got a strong fishy odour in her nostrils. She rubbed her nose, and convinced herself by saying: “It’s someone’s food, it’s someone’s food and you need to respect that.” She brisked to the kitchen door and opened it. She inhaled the air in the garden. It was snowing.

Wondering where her husband was, she went upstairs to his study. The room smelt of masala chai (Indian tea with spices). She stood at the door, her arms crossed. Shantanu was too lost in his thoughts to notice her.

“Morning,” she said.

As if woken from a dream, Shantanu was startled. He looked at her and blinked his eyes rapidly.

“Are you okay?” she asked a bit awkwardly.

“Yes, of course,” he replied, taking his tea cup near his face, hoping the vapours would hide his tears. He took a deep breath slowly. The spicy fragrance of the tea still reminded him of Ganga. He looked away from his wife.

 

Amba, a novel from Indonesia, written by award winning writer Lakshmi Pamuntjak, was a modern take on the story of Amba and Bhisma from The Mahabharata, set against the backdrop of the violence of 1965 and the Buru penal colony set up during Suharto’s regime. Published in 2012, it became a national bestseller within Indonesia.

It was first translated to German in 2015 and sold 10,000 copies within three months of its launch. Later the English translation renamed it The Question of Red (2016). The novel did win some amount of international acclaim.

Why I am a Hindu

Pages 24-27

…. When Buddhism sought to reform Hinduism, Hinduism turned around and sought to absorb it too, by including the Buddha as a reincarnation of Vishnu and his agnostic teachings as merely a nastika form of the mother faith. As a result Buddhism has hardly any strength or presence in the land of its birth, having been absorbed and overtaken by the religion it sought to challenge. Hinduism could well have tried the same with Christianity and Islam, too, had it been allowed to do so; but these faiths were not interested in being embraced by Hinduism, since they saw themselves as the revealed Truth rather than as one among multiple versions of truth.

Hinduism is also unusual in seeing God, Man and the universe as co-related. As the philosopher Raimon Panikkar has explained, in Hindu thought, God without Man is nothing, literally ‘no-thing’; Man without God is just a ‘thing’, without meaning or larger purpose; and the universe without Man or God is ‘any-thing’, sheer unexisting chaos. In Panikkar’s explanation, nothing separates Man from God; ‘there is neither intermediary nor barrier between them’. So Hindu prayers mix the sacred with the profane: a Hindu can ask God for anything. Among the tens of thousands of sacred verses and hymns in the Hindu scriptures are a merchant’s prayer for wealth, a bankrupt’s plea to the divine to free him of debt, verses extolling the union of a man with a woman, and even the lament of a rueful (and luckless) gambler asking God to help him shake his addiction. Prayer and worship, for the Hindu, are thus not purely spiritual exercises: they enhance the quality of his life in the material world, in the here and now.

 GANESH, MY ISHTA-DEVTA

Hindus are often asked, during certain ritual prayers, to imagine their ishta-devta, their personal God, or rather that way of imagining the abstraction of the Absolute in an anthropomorphic form that most appeals to them. I pick Ganesh, or Ganapathi, as we prefer to call him in the South, myself, not because I believe God looks like Him, but because of the myriad aspects of the godhead, the ones He represents appeal most to me.

Om maha Ganapathe namaha,
sarva vignoba shantaye,
Om Ganeshaya namaha…

By Nilesh Mondal

sauptikMythology remains a vast source of interesting and sometimes intimidating stories that writers have constantly been trying to draw from. Whether it is the subtle parallels drawn from mythology, or the more direct approach of retelling or reimagining epics and adapting them into more contemporary narratives, both have been tried by many writers to varying degree of success. However, Amruta Patil’s second attempt to combine the tales of Mahabharata and the knowledge from Puranas, after the highly successful Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, is neither of the two. It is one which deals with Indian mythology head on; narrating the epic we’ve known and loved always with glorious precision and straight-forwardness.

This is why Sauptik: Blood and Flowers sets a precedent for a very different kind of mythological retelling, one that is both devastatingly thought-provoking and disarmingly honest, one which depends entirely on the epics themselves to impart readers with lessons on life and justice, and the art of war.

From the very beginning, we know this isn’t going to be the usual run-of-the-mill bit of story-telling, since Sauptik is first and foremost, a graphic novel. I’d leave the analytical scrutiny of Amruta Patil’s artwork to those more experienced in those fields. To me, the usual reader, the artwork serves both as a reminder of a bygone era of paintings done by artisans in a king’s court, done on fabric and papyrus and other media, and a sense of aesthetics that is a complete departure from the prevalent genres of digital manipulation of art. In her art, done as a mixture of techniques ranging from watercolour to acrylic paints to charcoal to collages, battles and scenarios come alive in their entire magnificence. She also drops the conventional rectangular structure used in most comic books, instead experimenting with various alternatives, sometimes splaying the art over the entirety of the pages, sometimes having multiple scenes unfold on the same page, etc. The use of motifs and symbols of importance as depicted in the epic and Puranas are layered and repetitive. All in all, it is a visually stimulating collection of artwork rich in colours and details, which keeps the reader riveted throughout the entire book.

Shashi_TharoorThe Hindustan Times has published a short interview with author and politician Shashi Tharoor on June 21.  Tharoor’s masterpiece, The Great Indian Novel, is on the paper’s list of greatest Indian novels.

“It was ambitiously conceived and written with all my heart and soul, but “greatness” is a quality for others to judge,” he says when asked if he always knew he was writing a great piece of work. “I am glad it is still in print a quarter of a century later, and after 42 reprints, Penguin is planning to bring out a Silver Jubilee hardback edition in October.”