Weaving magic through words


Nadeem Shah Suhrawardy and Shankar Musafir sat on the masnad, covered with a white bedsheet, two white bolsters on either side, in exquisite white Lucknawisalwar kurta, accessorised with striking blue Turkish caps. And right there, on 29 December 2015, at the Stein Auditorium of India Habitat Centre, the two young men appeared as if from some other world and wove a magical realm of storytelling as the audience sat there mesmerised listening to their Kahani Pandit Ki.

The storytellers were guest artists invited by the Sursagar Society of Delhi Gharana of music, which had got together a two-day event to celebrate the year as it rolled to an end, and welcome the new year. “The thrust was to take my own skill and experience to a different level in terms of ‘dastanic’ writing and performance, and the story just fitted the bill,” says Nadeem who has adapted a Rajasthani folktale into Hindustani oral storytelling, popularly called Dastangoi or Qissagoi in the northern part of the sub-continent. ‘Dastan’ or ‘qissa’ is a story and ‘goi’ is the Persian and Urdu term for ‘telling.’

‘Kahani Pandit ki’ is a quirky tale about the many, more than often contradictory, shades of human nature. With a tenor that is humorous, the tale raises several pertinent questions about the standing of a woman in society, greed and the pursuit of selfish interests. Through its central characters and the nuances of their devotion to the ‘Kuldevi’ – the village deity who protects, the tale moves into the domain of fantasies as it negotiates the contours of varied human emotions.

Talking of the performance that day, Nadeem says, ‘Kahani Pandit Ki’ has been inspired by one of the folktales by Vijaydan Detha. I have woven the dastan, or the story, around the same characters but have adopted a different course and climax, bringing it to highlight some pertinent questions about women’s plight and position in society.’

Nadeem Shah Suhrawardy has performed over a hundred dastans in many locations across India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2010. But this is his debut production, which has been quite well received. He has also recently scripted a performative text on Faiz’s life and poetry, which he performed with his fellow storyteller Manu Sikander Dhingra at the South Asian University, New Delhi. Manu and Nadeem have been a formidable storyteller pair in the last five years, who have performed over a hundred shows in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

‘For me storytelling has to be a curious mix of narration and performativity, where both complement each other, and the nuances of the language used have to be demonstrative in both text and performance,’ elaborates Nadeem. He further says, “I listen to Zia Muhiuddin Sahab and Naseeruddin Shah Sahaba lot and am trying to bring into my delivery their finesse and voice control, as well as their command over pauses. Their art of storytelling seems so effortless. I totally admire the way they tell stories!”

Nadeem’s interest in Hindustani oral storytelling also stems from the fact that he teaches medieval Indian history to students in Delhi University. His fellow storyteller Shankar Musafir is an educationist with UNESCO who has penned a book on pedagogy for school education. He has been practicing this art form since 2014.Both made for an arresting pair on stage, exchanging energies and emotive and narrative prowess.

Juanita Kakoty

Juanita Kakoty

JUANITA KAKOTY loves to document life in all its complexities and textures. She has regularly contributed feature stories and documentation of socio-political issues in publications like The Deccan Herald, The Thumb Print and The Book Review. Her short stories (fiction) have appeared in Himal Southasian, Earthen Lamp Journal, Eastlit, New Asian Writing and Writers Asylum. She also has about a decade of experience in the field of development communication, where she has worked with both national and international organisations, state and central governments. Her academic articles on gender and identity have appeared in two books, published by Routledge and Anwesha; and she has contributed learning units in Sociology for the University Grants Commission (UGC) e-Pathshala programme and KK Handique Open State University, Assam. She quite enjoyed teaching Sociology to BA and MA programme students at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi and Gauhati University, Assam for a while. Juanita is from Assam, a northeastern state of India, and works with Apne Aap Women Worldwide as a communication and documentation specialist.