The art of Dastangoi, or precisely ‘The telling of an epic’, is a form of story telling that was introduced in Persia, traversed to India and cherished an Urdu counterpart, before fading away in the early 20th century. Creating a text for Dastangoi is poles apart from creating a play or simple story telling in the sense that no props, no music and no florid costumes are used! A Dastangoi narrative is meant to be presented and acquires its unity from the presentation, not from what is on the text book. In presentation, alteration in tone, of character, actions, situations, everything remains under the control of the teller. There is drama for sure and many people refer to it as a play too but in no way it is a form of theater! It is the most minimalistic way to present a beautiful story.
Story telling is an eternal human custom. Antecedent to the written word, people would memorize intricate stories full of morals that shaped cultures for generations. Today, kids can barely sit through class, but spend hours devouring Harry Potter books. Speaking about the turf of story telling, this beautiful art has withstood many changes. There have been many aficionado who have developed a fervor for this form of artistry. One of them is Dr. Shweta Singh, who through her initiative BookNook has used her passion of story telling to educate the young kids. She uses innovative and unique ideas such as story boxes to reach out to the younger children. The concept of BookNook is quite unique and is disparate from the art of Dastangoi, in a way it is brought out. Dr. shweta uses an intercalative modules involving boxes and florid costumes to make the story telling all the more interesting and appealing to the young audience while the latter art is more privy to folk stories, involving no props, music or costumes.
With the old world making way for the new, the connoisseur of Dastangoi vanished and so did the dastango, to be precise Dastangoi is believed to have come to an end in 1928 with the demise of its last exponent, Mir Baqar Ali. The stories worked out by the dastangos of the past epitomize an attitude to life which is now quondam to us. Obscenity, comedy, contingency, adventure, social layer, gender division, music, nature, attitude to sex and spirituality have all undergone remarkable change in the last century. The dastans have become the archive of our past and when performed to today’s audiences these fantasies create an anecdote that is independent of modernistic view and yet funny and chimery-like to interest people.