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Muqbil Ahmar

Muqbil Ahmar writes on culture and poetry. He is a writer and theater activist, who wants to bring about harmony and amicability in the present day society. Music, poetry and good food are his passions.

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Dastan e Fauzia- Meet India's First Woman Dastangoi Artiste

I can address women’s issues through my art, says India’s first woman storyteller Fouzia Dastango

On the occasion of this International Women’s Day, let’s spare a thought for millions of toiling women who are making a difference to the world—women who have fought all odds to chase their dreams. She is an inspiration for the scores of women trying to get their foot through the door and stands out for her perseverance and achievements. Meet India’s first woman ‘dastango’ Fouzia—the Delhi artiste who made a mark in a typical male-dominated sphere. The maverick performer is usually spotted working on her art for hours in the narrow lanes of Delhi’s Jamia Nagar.

Dastangoi originated in the sixteenth century—a source of amusement for in the Mughal courts. It is said Akbar, The Great, was himself a dastango; he played a key role in making the art form popular in India. This oral school of Urdu storytelling relies on medieval Persian tales of ferocious battles, mesmerizing elves, tempestuous emperors, fascinating genies, gullible deceit and black magic.

How did she manage to foray into such a male-dominated field?

Fouzia admits her journey was tough and interesting both.
“As we know, traditionally, Dastangoi has always been a male-dominated art form. In order to survive and then excel in this field has been a wonderful learning experience for me. I was brought up in Old Delhi and had a humble background. But I always had a great fighting spirit. Despite lack of economic resources, I had my education and started working. I worked as a lecturer to support myself. There were lots of difficulties. There were times, when I would lose hope.”

How then did she pursue her passion and art?

“Initially, it was difficult. Despite working for a 9–5 job, 5 days a week at NCERT, I used to go for practice. Despite the circumstances, I persevered even though since it was not my livelihood. However, my passion egged me on. Today, after over 9 years, I can say with pride that I have achieved something in this field,” says a satisfied Fouzia.

She then delves into her love affair with Dastangoi. “One day a friend took me with her to watch a performance by noted Dastango, Mahmood Farooqui. That was the first time I became acquainted with this oral tradition, in which tales of bravery and valor are recreated. I was completely hooked.”

The rest is history. Fouzia joined Farooqui within a year. She specializes in stories from Urdu story writers like Sadat Hassan Manto, Ismat Chughtai, and Intizar Hussain apart from the usual tales from medieval Persian literature. For example, ‘Dastan-E-Alf-Laila’ and ‘Dastan-E-Amir-Hamza’ lend beautifully to the medium. Any Dastangos would go to great lengths to bring the magical stories to life. It is an enchanted experience when the elements come together and leaves one fascinated and intrigued.

Looking at her long and arduous journey, I ask the inevitable question:

What is it that keeps you going? What is the motivation?

“My love for Urdu language and interest in Dastangoi motivates me. I want to help and continue the revival of this beautiful language and the art form of oral storytelling. Moreover, I am able to address social and women’s issues through my performances—that in itself is great satisfaction,” she says.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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