I have with me a volume published from Delhi, titled Dastangoi, compiled by Mahmood Farooqui and Mohammad Kazim.
Farooqui is already a well-known dastango and just last month he, along with Danish Husain, had performed in Lahore to a warm reception.
Farooqui is obviously not content to be just a performer; this volume, also published in Nagari script, tells us that he is aspiring for something more. In fact, his unexpected success in this forgotten, rather neglected art form has inspired him tremendously. Who would have expected such an enthusiastic response for an art form which stood rejected from the onset of the end of the 19th century? In fact, the dastan as a form of expression of fiction had already been discarded in the aftermath of the debacle of 1857 when there was an overall revolt in our literary world against the old forms of expression. The dastan tradition suffered a great setback. After the rejection of the dastan, the performing art of dastangoi could not survive for long.
It was only after 1947 that a few scholars chose to research this tradition. But it was left for Shamsur Rahman Farooqui to concentrate on Dastan-i-Ameer Hamza in particular. He retrieved all the volumes of this long-drawn dastan and made an in-depth study of each. He also worked for the revival of dastangoi. As told in the introduction to this volume, Farooqui, with this aim in view, recruited his nephew Mahmood Farooqui for this purpose.
And this is how Mahmood entered this field. His very first show, which was arranged at the India International Centre, Delhi, won laurels. What is significant is the fact that the ovation came from an audience which was largely unfamiliar with Urdu. And the Urdu of the dastan is at times unfamiliar even for those who understand the language.
Gaining confidence from their first performance, Farooqui and Husain travelled to different countries and recited dastans in a revised yet traditional style. Pakistan, US, Sri Lanka and Dubai were some of the countries where they performed. They have to their credit more than 200 performances.
Now Mahmood has brought out this volume for his listeners, especially those not familiar with the Urdu language. In fact, this book will serve as a guide for all listeners, regardless of their familiarity with the language. The volume includes all the dastan pieces which have been presented by the two.
It also provides an introduction to all the characters and magical objects we come across in the dastan. The magical objects have been listed along with their attributes.
While engaged in reviving the tradition of dastangoi, Mahmood is acutely conscious of certain crucial questions that have risen. Firstly, he is confronted with the question of the dastan’s language in relation to the modern listener. The dastango of times past had the confidence that his listeners have a thorough understanding of the language as well as of the dastan. In contrast, today’s dastango is actually aware of the reverse, of the unfamiliarity of the listeners with the language and the dastan. Even listeners who know Urdu aren’t familiar with the subtleties of expression which enables one to appreciate a literary expression.
Therefore, should we, asks Mahmood, have a linguistically simplified version of the dastan for the benefit of modern listeners?
Rejecting this suggestion, Mahmood argues that dastangoi is no more an independent genre. In present times it has come to stay as a genre associated with theatre. Fortunately, the present dastangos carry with them the background of theatre. While reciting the dastan they employ all the methods they have learnt from theatre. Their modern listeners too are familiar with this genre and it is this familiarity which helps them understand and appreciate the dastan. This guarantees their success as dastangos.
And not only is Mahmood a visionary dreaming of the revival of dastangoi on modern lines, he also is trying to write dastans in a modern way.