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16th century storytelling form comes alive on stage in Dubai

Stimulating narration of stories in Urdu by eminent duo mesmerises audience

Image Credit: Supplied
Sunil Mehra and Askari Naqvi performing Daatangoi at The Junction, Al Serkal Avenue in Dubai
Gulf News

DUBAI: Urdu lovers in Dubai were in for an unforgettable treat on Wednesday evening as Danstangoi — a 16th century art of storytelling — came alive on stage at the Junction in Alserkal Avenue.

There was never a dull moment as the duo of Askari Naqvi and Sunil Mehra held the jam-packed audience in a vice-like grip and took them on a roller-coaster ride of emotions through their stimulating narration of two bold women-centric stories penned by eminent Indian writer, the late Ismat Chugtai who was known for her indomitable spirit and a fierce feminist ideology.

While the rip-roaringly funny story of Gharwali (Homemaker) revolved around a free-spirited woman called Lajjo who cocked a snook at all social and moral norms and lived by her own rules (and desires), the second story — Mughal Bachcha (The Veil) — was a witty, yet heart-rending portrayal of life in the decaying homes of the Mughal descendants.

Unlike theatre, in Dastangoi there are no sets or props to assist storytellers. All what they have is voice, expression and good content. Mehra and Naqvi used these traits to create such remarkably detailed scenes that the audience was instantly transported into another world. They laughed with Lajjo who uses her coquetry to charm a strait-laced bachelor, Mirza, in whose house she works as a maid. And they sulked for Gori Bi whose husband Kaley Mian — a descendant of the Mughals — still clings to patriarchal practices that nobody dares question and the male ego.

Event organiser Ambika Vohra and Pakistan’s Ayesha Imtiaz of Poetic Strokes said the event was part of Sounds of the Soil, a series of creative collaborations that will bring musical evenings, art talks, poetry recitals, book readings, dance and theatre to the UAE.

Lucknow-based Naqvi said the staging of Dastangoi marked a revival of the traditional art form which travelled to India from Persia. “We have had 30 performances of Dastangoi so far in different cities in India. But this was our first in Dubai,” he said.

What is Dastangoi

Dastangoi is a 16th century Urdu storytelling art form. At the centre of the Dastangoi is the Dastango or storyteller whose voice is the main artistic tool in verbally creating the dastan or the story. The art form was revived in 2005 and has been performed in India, Pakistan, the USA and many other parts of the world.