Female Trailblazer of Dastangoi: Fouzia the storyteller
She embraced the art of Dastangoi when it was almost dying in the country. Sheer passion and Fouzia Dastango’s love for the Urdu language were the only things that kept her going. And today Fouzia from old Delhi has become the first female Dastango in India.
Born in a lower-middle class family, Fouzia’s resources were limited. “We were always short of money and barely had our ends meet. My parents were not well educated, but one thing that they did is to ensure that both of their children do not leave education and continue to do their Masters programme,” reminisces Fouzia about her earlier days.
One day her friend took her to watch noted Dastango, Mahmood Farooqui’s show. This was the first time Fouzia got acquainted with the art form which is said to have originated in the 16th century, where stories of bravery and valour of an Arab hero are recreated orally. She found it very interesting and her curiosity led her to join Farooqui within a year of him starting to revive this art in the country in 2005.
Success means facing challenges, but not saying NO to what you love
“When I heard about Dastangoi and witnessed the show myself, I immediately realized that this is something which relates to me – because of language and because of my interest in the field of performing arts. I immediately approached Mahmood and, thus, began my association with the Dastangoi,” she opined.
Fouzia admits that she was never too good in the English language, but she realised she could express herself best with Urdu . Originally from Old Delhi, Fouzia had always adored her mother tongue for its “beauty and sweetness.”“We all feel that if you want to succeed in life, you must know English. You will see that we have actually forgetting our own languages and now mostly interact in English only.”
“I was good in Urdu, and thought that I should do something in this language. I was also very active in cultural programmes in my school and college – so my friends as well as teachers used to tell me that I should do something in the field of performing arts, where English language is not a barrier.”
Before partaking in Dastango, she was working as a full-time Lecturer at the State Council of Educational Research & Training (SCERT). But once she became involved with Dastangoi, it started becoming her obsession. With an aim to begin shows on “Tilasm-e- Hoshruba”she did extensive preparations, started practice sessions for language and dialogues as well as unending Riyaaz.
“I faced lots of difficulties, felt down many time and lost hope as well. However, since I loved the art as well as the language, I did not leave it in between, and continued to do practice sessions in the evening and late nights – after my whole day of work at NCERT, nine to five job, five days in a week.”
Success wasn’t easy to find, and Fouzia knew that though Dastango was her love, it would be some time before it became her livelihood full-fledgedly. It took nine long years, but her quest was relentless, and now she proudly says that has achieved a portion of what she always wanted- she finally became the first female Dastangoi of India.
She recently quit her full-time job of a Lecturer and concentrates only on Dastango now.
Fouzia’s diligence shows every time she gets on the stage to perform. Dastangoi is all about a person’s voice and the ability to modulate it according to the story’s flow. “You must remember the entire story, each and every word, by heart. One needs to create a picture in front of the audience, and they should be able to relate with and see that picture in front of their eyes.” She points out that Eye contact, voice and perfection over language are the critical things that one uses in Dastangoi to have a feel and control over the audience.
“It’s a matter of immense pride for me to be firstly the only female Dastango from Old Delhi, where this art was lastly present and practiced, till 1928.”
About her success, she says, “Success is to be able to do what you love and excel in that area. Success means facing challenges, but not saying NO to what you love. Continue to pursue what your hearts desires, and one will succeed eventually.”
This year she embarked on another adventure and started her own group called Dastango The Storytellers. “I now have realized that another challenge of being an independent dastango is that I do not have a renowned name or famous school or college name associated with me which sometimes creates difficulties. I have to make extra efforts to approach people or in creating a name for myself in this field. It’s a harsh reality that we people get attracted to renowned names.”
By her own admission, Dastangoi is a heavily male-dominated art. It was sheer persistence and smartness that led her to carve her niche in it. She chose stories that dig deep on the issues related to women and also have an old Delhi feel to them.
“I think Dastangoi is an excellent medium to highlight feminist issues and sensitize general population – without offending or hurting anybody’s sentiments. I feel it is a medium, which may be much more effective than just shouting about women’s issue. We can easily and effectively highlight women’s issues to general public, through this effective and interesting medium of Dastangoi.”
“Ghummi Kababi – written by Ashraf Subuhi Dehlvi”; “Nanhi Ki Naani – by Ismat Chughtai” and “Akeela Khala by Intizar Hussain” are some of them.
If there was ever an example of what sheer passion and determination can do, this is it.