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“What makes Kabir the man of many words is the art where he never wrote his poetry but his poetry found way through oral traditions- person to person, word to word and generation to generation”, were the words of a Dastango -- Ankit Chadha.

Ankit Chadha is no longer with us.

He left us while he was in Pune for his dastangoi performance. Simple, very close to doing what he passionately did all his life- travel for storytelling. For him, dastangoi was never work but a defining way of life.

It is important to understand this story titled ‘Ankit Chadha’ through the passion that he professionally adorned with his sweat, wit and flair these three decades of his life. The profession which probably fell short of the days nature had charted out for the man but never a day too long for the people he would perform for. A profession that he dearly chose, that broke the monotony of a previously conventional settled career- too settled for a man of innate narratives. A profession that he made of a performer who knew his zabaan, characters, lives and stories. Not just of an artist who could write in any zabaan some characters, lives and stories. Ankit Chadha, a Dastango became the zabaan that told the dastan of not just Urdu and its lost form of Urdu storytelling: Dastangoi but the pages of history that deserved listeners.

It was in 2014, when the writer, Vidushi, had the chance of witnessing the first ever rendition of Alice in Wonderland Dastan by the man who shone bright in white, wearing the attire maybe straight out of a Mughal Darbar. With a commotion of a dozen people talking one after the other and the words bouncing like crystals in the air, there stood just one man talking in a dozen dialects, tonalities and characters to his set of audience for the evening at Connaught Place. With an audience of over 60 people, majorly kids, it was hard to believe Chadha could do what even the best of teachers cannot- hold the attention of children throughout who were strangely glued to the man’s playful narration as lady Alice. By the way, eight seconds is the modern day science record of the attention span for children. Chadha definitely could relay that with his mastered art, unparalleled speech and distinct craft of engagement with ease.

When asked as an astounded junior from college “How is that even possible, bhaiya?”, his reply reflected what drives him to do what he does so passionately. For him, when he tells a story he connects with the person he narrates the story to. The person could be one in 20 but for him it was, each one in 20. It was this person to person contact with someone that would mark the first step towards loving them and in turn, establish a spiritual passage which always made the story an experience- an exchange, a takeaway and sometimes, a nest nobody wished to leave even after the dastangoi got over.

Dastango Ankit Chadha imparted his wisdom on Kabir, Amir Khusrau, Dara Shikoh and many such living ‘literatures’ through his unique style of storytelling. While once in the scorching sun, under the Virgin tree of Hindu College, his alma mater, the other times a hall full of people enthralled by his unparalleled craft of danstangoi. From a fort to a river bank, a lecture room to the University dias- his ‘Kabir’ was formless and so was his stage, anywhere his story would take him.

Chadha took great pride in the theatre society of his college, Ibtida which he also presided over back in his college days and so he expressed his tryst with the artform in one of the interviews online. “Plays became an intrinsic part of my life during graduation and I continued to do it while working. But theatre comes with its complexities and paraphernalia and it didn’t work out for me because I was attracted to the minimalism of street plays. And that’s when I discovered Dastangoi. This unique form doesn’t need sound, lighting equipment, props, costumes or even a troupe to get a show running. All it needs are Dastangos and all we need are our stories”, told Chadha to The Alternative.

Chadha also recently innovated the form of ‘Musical Dastan’, bringing together stories and music, a unique marriage of words and rhythm. Having performed in Harvard, Yale, California while he continued to map the world with his feet around the world for the passion of storytelling that he nested, his most recent performance would have been today on May 12, 2018 in Pune.

The variety of characterisation and performances to Chadha’s credit include Dastan Dhai Aakhar Ki, Dastan-e-Khanabadosh, Dastan Khusrav-e-Shireen Sukhan Ki, Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, Dastan Tollbooth Ki, Dastan Dara Shikoh Ki, Dastan Khan-e-Khanan Ki, Dastan Urdu Mahathagni Ki, Dastan-e-Aawaargi, Dastan Digital India Ki, Dastan Roti Ki, Dastan Ek Chhoti Si Cheenti Ki, Dastan-e-Mobile.

Chadha had also worked on Dastangoi performances for children, adapting classics including Alice, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Little Prince. He had contributed He is the author of the award-winning books Amir Khusrau - The Man in Riddles and My Gandhi Story.

Chadha’s artistry enabled him to weave the tales of Gandhi, Gaurakshaks along with the other odd tales of mobiles, toll booths with the same virtuosity for all. It was not about whose story was it but the story, in itself. He had the supreme command to narrate in Urdu, Hindi, English and Hindustani wherever the characters will take him to. His works are appreciated not just within the geographic boundary of India but also beyond the borders of state, self and other.

(Amir Khusrau ke Rang: A Musical Narrative)

(Dastangoi on Kabir)

Chadha was fearless and unstoppable, with the best blend of creative and activism for a literature. Ankit together with Himanshu had also performed at Jawaharlal Nehru University during students’ protests after the arrest of their Union President. Through Dastan-e-Sedition, he took a part in the socio-politico churning of the society against the colonial act of sedition. Through a video, he urged the society to stop the ongoing violence in the name of ‘Gaurakshak’ and save our dear one’s lives with the positivity of Love.


Ankit Chadha would definitely scold us from the skies up above if we left his dastaan incomplete, without discussing the history of the art, dastangoi he dearly proparated as a way of life.

Dastangoi, the art of storytelling, reached India in 16th Century through Dastan-e-Amir Hamza when Akbar was ruling over the subcontinent. Soon, the art spread from royal courts to the masses in markets and became an essential part of popular culture. Dastangoi was particularly popular in Delhi, with dastangos coming to the steps of the Jama Masjid to recite dastans. Mirza Ghalib was exceedingly fond of Dastangoi and used to organize mehfils in his house. For centuries, Dastangoi prevailed as a form in and from the oral tradition. From 1881 to 1910, Munshi Naval Kishore of Lucknow published the most popular version, of Dastan-e-Amir Hamza in 46 volumes (of around a thousand pages each). The art form died with the demise of last known Dastango, Mir Baqar Ali, in 1928.

The noted Urdu litterateur, S R Faruqi and Mahmood Farooqui have taken the effort to revive the form with modern flavour. Chadha, who received his training from Mahmood Farooqui was one of the 12 dastangos who revived the forgotten tradition of storytelling- a compound of two Persian words ‘Dastan’ which means a story, and ‘goi’ which means to tell a story.

The other day, at his cremation in New Delhi someone said, “He left us”. Ankit Chadha, has not left us. In fact, he left the process of his life and revival of his dear artform to us. At the start of this narration we had written, this is a dastaan of this man and well, stories never die. They travel - in space, beyond time and for generations.

The picture is a memory from 2014 where we witnessed twelve characters in one artist, an audience smitten by Ankit’s charm charm and 'Alice' coming to life with a dastan only he could weave. With chirps of the children around us, it was an experience that will linger on, keeping your passion alive. It is going to be a strange world of reading Khusro, Kabir and Dara Shikoh when you do not narrate it to us and watch us from up there, Ankit Chadha.

A heavy heart for literature, the youngest dansatango gone too soon and a dastan of inexplicable loss to literature that was finding itself with you mapping the world, souls and hearts for it.

Always in memory,

In Zubaan,
In Dastaan,
Ankit Chadha.