This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by The Quint. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Reviving The Bol Of Storytelling Through Dastangoi

More from The Quint

By Raghavendra Madhu

We are living in a time when the world is reeling under violence and unstable socio-political scenarios raising questions on humanity. Artists and storytellers need to take the stage with urgency and contribute in the powerful ways they can to spread love and art. As the famous writer Philip Pullman says, after nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.

Dastangoi is a traditional art of storytelling and is distinct from the theatre tradition. In Dastangoi, the main aspects are voice, expression, content and the connection with the audience. Voice-modulation should be perfect and one must remember the entire story, each and every word, by heart. One needs to create a remarkably detailed picture and scene for the audience. Unlike theatre, in Dastangoi there are no sets or props that assist the storyteller. So eye contact, voice and perfection over language become doubly critical in creating an experience.

The storytelling duo, Fouzia Dastago and Fazal Rashid, from Delhi are creating exceptional storytelling experiences for people. They have been performing across the country at renowned institutions, universities, colleges and literary festivals.

Fouzia Dastago and Fazal Rashid (Photo Courtesy: Raghavendra Madhu)
Fouzia Dastago and Fazal Rashid (Photo Courtesy: Raghavendra Madhu)

No artist is made overnight, especially in a niche space like storytelling. It takes time for one to realise that they will be taking up this concept of performance, and will not only have to deliver but simultaneously create a need for it in people’s fast moving lives. What better place to begin than the cultural vibrancy of Delhi, where Dastangoi has been practised for ages.

Fouzia hails from a modest family. She was born in Old Delhi and fondly remembers growing up on the streets of the walled city. Her father has been a motor-mechanic, who runs a small workshop and repairs two-wheelers to make our ends meet. She had a difficult childhood due to lack of finances in the family. She recalls the helpless times when the family was always short of money and barely could make ends meet. Although her parents were not well educated, they ensured that both their children complete their graduation. Fouzia did her schooling from an Urdu school. She realised her responsibilities soon and started taking tuitions for children since high school to earn money. She went on to pursue Bachelors in Sociology and Masters in Educational Planning and Administration – both from Jamia Millia Islamia University.

On the other hand, the fellow-storyteller, Fazal Rashid, has had a very contrasting life. He attended an English medium school. Although he occasionally speaks some Urdu at home, he considers English his primary language. Interestingly, he pursued his graduation in History and languages from Colby College, US. He moved to Delhi around four years ago to work with the Random House publishing company. Post that, he worked for an organisation that makes kitchen gardens and enables city folks to grow their own food. He started Dastangoi alongside these jobs.

Fouzia used her strengths of Urdu and propelled it into her passion of storytelling. (Photo Courtesy: Raghavendra Madhu)
Fouzia used her strengths of Urdu and propelled it into her passion for storytelling. (Photo Courtesy: Raghavendra Madhu)

Talking of how Fouzia got introduced to Dastangoi, it all started when her friend Prabhat told her about two known storytellers, Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Hussain, performing Dastangoi. She found it to be a very interesting concept as she always wanted to be associated with art and theatre, and couple it with her love for the Urdu language. Once she witnessed the show herself, she instantaneously felt that Dastangoi is the kind of art she has been looking for. She approached Mahmood with her interest and thus began her association with Dastangoi.

In 2016, Fouzia decided to work in this field independently and set up her own group, “Dastango The Storytellers”. She realised that the challenge of being an independent Dastango and not having a known cultural background made it difficult for her to get shows. This meant she had to make all the effort on her own to create an identity. But then in a year’s time, with all her grit and commitment towards to art, she bagged a space for herself in the art circuit. Dastangoi also turned out to be beautiful for her due to the grandeur of the Hindustani language, which makes one realise that knowing English is not everything and certainly not a mark of success. Fouzia used her strengths in Urdu and propelled it into her passion for storytelling.

Fazal recalls his influences for Dastangoi from many things, including his upbringing on a hill overlooking the big lake in Bhopal. He believes Bhopalis around him, in his family, friends, acquaintance circle loved telling beautiful, exaggerated stories. But he remembers his first encounter of Dastangoi on YouTube when someone had sent him a link. He loved the sound of the language, and especially the humour. It sounded very familiar despite him not understanding all of it. One of the difficult things for Fazal was finding the right partner. He tried working with a few people before but things didn’t work out. He felt he needed to find someone who would have similar taste in culture, literature and food, and with whom one can do a lot of aawaragardi, one of the key ingredients for good storytelling.

They both believe their style of Dastangoi is different because Fouzia belongs to Old Delhi, due to which, she can effortlessly lend the characters genuineness. They try to ensure that their stories are strong in terms of humour and content. They reflect upon literary texts of legends such as Ismat Chughtai, Ashraf Subuhi Dehelvi and Intizar Hussain. They have performed across the country, including places such as India Habitat Center, India International Centre, Patna Gandhi Museum, Dilli Haat, Red Fort, Ashoka University, Lucknow Literary Festivals, at many known cafes and schools.

As they keep performing at various events, reactions of people are also intriguing. Not many have attended Dastangoi sessions in urban spaces. Once, they were performing at a Lohri function in Noida, where no one really bothered to pay heed or follow the story. After the show, a man came up to them and suggested, “Bahaut acha tha magar aap apne iss system mein koi gajal [ghazal] nahin daal sakte hain?” As true artists they laugh it off as to put forth a good show is an artist’s responsibility. Rest lies with the audience. There are also happy anecdotes where they recall that at festivals or post performances, people click pictures with them or merchandise stalls don’t charge them, making them feel like celebrities in the making.

Currently, they are preparing a dastan on the Mahabharata. In times like these when the societal disruption and communal discriminations are on the rise, there is a need for artists who work beyond stereotypes, beyond religion, and above political barriers. They are also preparing content on Meena Kumari’s life and a few dastans with Sufi themes are in the pipeline.

Note: This article was first published in the Quint

(The writer is a poet, social activist, curator and founder of Poetry Couture. He can be reached @NotSoMadhu. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.

Would you like to contribute to our Independence Day campaign to celebrate the mother tongue? Here’s your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at bol@thequint.com or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)

Visit our Bol microsite here.

You must be to comment.

More from The Quint

Similar Posts

By Akanksha kapil

By Hrishikesh Sharma

By Abhishek Sharma

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below