The First Female Dastango
A WOMAN REDEFINING THE LOST ART
Fouzia Dastango, as her name suggests, is an artist of the 16th century oral storytelling art, Dastangoi. She developed a deep interest in the field of arts and theatre since her early school days. She continued learning and participating in her school plays, but couldn’t pursue the art full time. Later, she got trained as an educator and worked several years, developing educational curriculum and supporting herself and the family. However, it took one performance in 2006 when she visited Dayal Singh College to watch a Dastangoi performance and she fell in love with this art form. She has dedicated, since, to learning and practicing this art form and quit her permanent job as a Lecturer at the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) to pursue her passion of being a Dastango (story-teller) full time. In this process, she has also become India’s first female Dastango.
Fouzia has had deep interest in and love for the Urdu language, literature and Dastangoi art. She was born in and lived most of her life in Old Delhi’s Pahari Bhojla locality, which coincidentally had once been a home to Mir Baqar Ali, the last legendary Dastango. The word Dastangoi is derived from the Persian word Dastan which means ‘a story’ and goi which means ‘to tell’. The art form, which dates back to 16th century in the Indian subcontinent, passed into oblivion with Mir Baqar Ali’s death in 1928, until efforts were being made to revive this storytelling tradition a few years ago.
Fouzia has been performing professionally since 2006. Having performed over 100 shows all over India and in UAE, she has focused her efforts to touch upon and bring out women-centric issues through her performances, while also covering diverse range of other issues. Most recently, she performed to inaugurate The Sufi Route Concert for Peace, one of its kind and successful Sufi concert, which was headlined by music maestro A. R. Rahman, and Fouzia got the opportunity to present before and along with Javed Akhtar, eminent poet, lyricist and screenwriter. Her repertoire includes performances in various renowned festivals such as: Jaipur Literature Festival, Old World Theatre Festival, Kumaon Literary festival, Bookaru Children’s Literature Festival, Mahindra Sanatkada Festival, Lucknow Literary Festival, Jashn-e-Rekhta and among many others. The artist’s work has been showcased by various national TV channels and print media (newspapers and journal) such as: NDTV, The Hindustan Times, Times of India, BBC, Scroll.in, Chandigarh Tribune, The Quint, WION (World Is One News), The Indian Express, DailyO, BW Businessworld and in addition to various other local and regional media.
For her contribution in the field of preserving and promoting Dastangoi, Fouzia has most recently been recognized and facilitated as “India's First Woman Dastangoi Artiste” by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India. Fouzia is recognized among a select group of 112 exceptional women achievers, “FIRST LADIES”, those who are first to set a milestone in their respective fields. She has also been recently awarded “Tagore Veteran Artist Award” from Aseem Asha Foundation.
Fouzia specializes in telling stories from Urdu masters such as Ismat Chughtai, Sadat Hasan Manto and Intizar Hussain. However, her productions have gone well beyond the traditional Urdu retellings associated with Dastangoi. Originally meant to entertain, the political undertones in Dastangoi in its present form adds to its relevance. Hence, she has made a conscious effort to cover diverse range of topics and issues in her practice. She has produced renditions of materials as diverse as the Mahabharata and Gandhi’s political struggle, in collaboration with writer Danish Iqbal.
As one of her unique contribution to preserving Delhi’s cultural heritage, Fouzia has done specific work on preserving and reviving dialects of Old Delhi (Purani Dilli), which are on the verge of extinction, even within Old Delhi. Some of these dialects include: Dilli ki Karkhandari Zubaan, Dilli ki Begmati Zubaan, Dilli ke Dhobiyon ki Zubaan, Dilli ki Naiyon ki Boli etc. She is developing specific play/shows and also takes workshops on these dialects.
Apart from performing as an Artist, Fouzia is taking special interest in contributing to the art of storytelling and creating more artists in this field. Hence, she closely works with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTECH) and does workshops for them where children learn this art form and write scripts on monuments under her supervision. She has also done several workshops with various colleges e.g. her work with Lady Irvin Collage students from Development Communications and Extension, where she conducts Dastangoi workshops and helped students into addressing mental health issues. She is also currently teaching a paper on Dastangoi at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, a Central University in the country.