The question? What prompted a journalist/ curator/ documentary filmmaker/ television producer/ author/ yoga teacher/ one time prof of literature in English turn to Dastangoi? In Urdu? Seemingly whimsical choice, that...

Many reasons:

The first: a passion for languages, specifically Urdu. This was the surround sound of my growing up years in what seems now like another time, another country . In a home where syncretism was not political shibboleth, slogan, emblem but a reflex. One grew up in a home where language was a doorway to beauty, to another world, another way of living and being and conducting yourself. NOT a value.

It was never " dekhiye hamara Baccha kitni aachi angrezi bolta hai" . Instead one was always told " Jo bhi Zubaan bolo, saaf bolo".

One grew up in a surround sound of delicious Urdu, lilting idiomatic Hindi with the charming UP inflection that came courtesy my Lucknow Dad, some robust earthy Multani courtesy my Punjabi mom and ofcourse Hindi and English which was my spoken language through eleven years of Jesuit school.

I was rich: reveling early in the Zauq, Mir, Ghalib , Faiz, whose couplets my father's friends conversations were peppered with, responding intuitively to the lyric appeal of Bulle Shah, Waris Hussain, Sahir Ludhianvi, Amrita Pritams poetry that my mother reveled in; delighting in the music and majesty of Shakspeare , the whimsy of Wodehouse courtesy my superlative teachers in school who introduced me early to the romance of the English language

Looking back today it feels like I was raised in mythical Krypton. We live today in an environment where one searches for answers to explain the illogic that " others" people, languages, cultures. Where a cow is Hindu, a goat is Muslim; where Urdu is Muslim, Hindi is Hindu; where to fall in line with the prevailing doctrine is " national, to express doubt/ disagree, is to be " Maoist" , anti national"; where people can riot/ rape/ loot/ pillage/ vandalize / murder at will because someone's " sentiments are hurt" .

Dadri,Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, just a few days ago the burning of a whole Muslim village in Gujrat over a skirmish between two children of different communities; the recent and ongoing convulsions at JNU and Ramjas; the embrace of mythology as history; the Ghar wapsi's; the love jihads; a newly minted CM who endorses " revenge" necrophilia , sex with the corpses of Muslim women....

Jingoism, chauvinism, aggresive advocacy of medievalist patriarchal mindsets intent on subjugating women/ minorities, conscious and deliberately engineered " othering" of communities ;whether social/ religious/ political or sexual, blinkered religious nationalism seems to be the order of the day.

Apocalyptic times where one is given to despair. Where are we heading? This has NEVER happened before we kept saying to each other in disbelief. Some of us poured out our anguish in oped columns; others raged in the echo chambers of social media, public/ civil discourse with great help from paid trolls plumbed new depths.

Media sounded and continues to sound like a HMV LP. Asked to bend in 1975: they crawled. Fast forward to 2014: barring honorable " anti national" exceptions, the rest lay on their backs kicking their paws up in the air for their new political masters.

Venting my rage on social media as was my wont yielded no answers. Only more frustration.

Reading a book on Dastangoi by Mehmood Farooqui, a performer I respect, whose talent I hugely revere, whose intellect I admire, offered direction: he'd brilliantly used the the format as a tool to inform, question, challenge, rebel. Dastangoi was powerful political tool in his hands: using historical narrative, anecdote, memoir he crafted masterful subversive contemporary Dastan's that challenged every prevailing orthodoxy.

Dastan e Sedition, Dastan e Taqsim e Hind speak with lacerating directness of the deviousness, the manipulation, the betrayal of the people by the State. He put me in the mind of the Shakspearean joker who even as he entertained and regaled his audience, called out falsehood, cant , duplicity, spoke truth to power

As a student of literature it's clear to me that the cataclysm we're experiencing today is mere repeat. : such upheavals have always been a part of the cycles of history. How have we dealt with those upheavals? What are the lessons we could learn? They too are right there between the pages of books: chronicles of our times, repositories of our collective wisdom even as we foolishly blunder ahead, uncaring, unmindful, oblivious. The answers are all there in our stories : we just stopped listening/ looking/ reading.

The Dastango today is not unlike the Shakespearean clown: speaking truth to power in the Age of Post Truth. For me, it's a wonderful format to deliver powerful, often incendiary, very often uncomfortable, socio political messages that will , hopefully, resonate even as I tickle and entertain my audience

A Brechtian character says, and I paraphrase:

But in the dark times will there be singing and dancing?


There will be singing and dancin

About the dark times....