Life is an unfolding story, and each of us is a storyteller, as we create and craft our own story. Parents now hardly find the time to enthrall their kids with bed-time stories. The art of story telling is fast disappearing. A beautiful tradition is being lost.
In north India, especially in Awadh and Delhi, there existed a tradition of storytelling called Kissa-goi and Daastan-goi. Long intricate tales were told with a strong sense of drama, imagination and held listeners in rapt attention. These were stories of legendary heroes or kings recited for soldiers weary of their travels, sometimes around campfires, other times around nukkads and sometimes even at palaces and darbars.
Daastangoi, on the other hand, is the tradition of Urdu/Hindustani storytelling which had died down by the early 20th century. The last known daastango (storyteller) was Mir Baqar Ali, who passed away in 1928. In fact, in India, Akbar was a big aficionado of daastangoi. He was a daastango himself. For centuries, there was no written text, and then in 1881, Daastan-e-Amir Hamza was penned considered to be one of the longest fictional narratives in the world.
Today, there is a group of people who are working to revive the art. The Daastangoi troupe travels to different parts of India and perform this art form. To encourage youth to take this culture forward, the Daastangoi troupe also conducts workshops.
People like Mahmood Farooqui are making efforts to take the rich art of storytelling to people. Ankit Chadha, one of the youngest daastangos in the city, believes that people yearn for good stories. Despite the clutter, there is enough space for anyone who's telling a good story.
In a post-modern approach of pursuing his art form, Ankit believes in integrating tradition with contemporary ideas. While daastangoi will always have its roots in the unparalleled gems of literature in Tilism-e-Hoshruba, Ankit’s pursuit is to simply learn from this past and make way for the future.
As kids, we loved to listen to stories of kings and queens, of fairies and ghosts, of jungles, superheroes and monsters, in fact, anything that could feed our imagination. Then we grew up to watch bigger stories on celluloid and read about real life heroes in our school history books or other sources. Stories have remained a part of every person’s life.
Young storyteller and voice-over artist, Rishabh Mittal shares the journey of a bird “Swar” who can’t fly. A tale about realising dreams and coming to terms with the forces that are against it.
Rishabh says, “Your audience reads the story for you while you enact. They relate to the stories. When I tell stories people are so engrossed in listening to them that after a moment it is not just mine but their stories. Storytelling is an unspoken bond between the listener and the storyteller.”
Kabuliwala Kamal Pruthi believes that adults often enjoy more than children as they refresh their nostalgia of childhood by engaging and at times performing while he performs. The question and answer session come as a surprise to them as they see participating actively and answering questions that we do not discuss at home.
Irony is that adults feel it is not for them, when it actually is. Kabuliwala is the storyteller and picks out stories from his jhola. He/she gathers and performs stories that reflect their life with a moral always hidden in it. This style of performance includes theatrical elements of all genre in the performances.
“Storytelling has a bright future but one needs to gain respect and set a benchmark. In earlier times kings called theatre artists and storytellers to their durbar so as to teach their children. These days there are no kings but elite people do spend on this art form and consider it the best way to entertain and teach their children,” explains Pruthi.
How do I begin? Will folks laugh at me? How do I book my first gig? How will I get paid? These are questions most professional storytellers may have asked themselves There are people working as professionals in different companies, while at the same time following their passion of storytelling. It is tough for them to turn their passion into a profession the monetary returns are not too encouraging.
“In a country like India, where artists don’t get much respect and money, it’s difficult to choose storytelling as a profession. According to me if you want to survive you can’t just depend on storytelling you have to do some other work also to generate income,” laments contemporary storyteller Aakash Hingorani.
Stories narrated by elders emerge from dark recesses of the mind; you create your own legacy for your children who, you hope, will narrate to their children and grandchildren. “It was lost in the middle-ages. There were times when grandparents told stories and today they watch television. Revival is possible only when they sit with their children and share stories. I doubt if this is even happening,” says Geeta Ramanujam, storyteller, educator and Founder of Kathalaya Trust.
Geeta firmly believes that the bonding of the storyteller and listener can only revive this art form. Sharing more and more stories and teaching the technique of this art is the need of the hour.
In cities, where children also have access to other forms of entertainment like the internet, mobile phones and other gadgets, storytelling has become even more challenging. The biggest challenge is that people think storytelling is just for kids. But the truth is there is something for everyone in each story. It is not taken seriously. There needs to be an acceptance of artists who aspire to tell stories to the world.