Dastangoi of an Indo-Canadian: Migrant’s tales in multiple Indian languages

Jawaid Danish, an Indian origin Canadian artist gives a twist to Dastangoi, narrates stories of migration in Urdu and other Indian languages

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Kolkata: If you thought that dastangoi (dastan: tale; goi: narrating/telling) was all about fairies, demons, jinns, magic and Urdu then you are highly mistaken. For this Indian-origin author and theatre-artiste, is giving a beautiful spin to the existing format of the long forgotten art of telling tales. The dastans of Jawaid Danish revolve around the tales of immigrants, five characters to be precise. And instead of having two or three dastangos,  Jawaid gives solo performances and narrates the tales in impeccable Urdu, which  swiftly changes to Bengali, Gujarati or even the UP and Mumbaiya boli, which he terms as boli-tholi. Jawaid, is the first dastango of the west and currently is in India as part of his four month world tour of his dastangoi. Following are excerpts:

eN: Tell us something about yourself?

Jawaid: I was born and brought up in a Kolkata-based family. I did my schooling from St Anthony High School and then my Bachelors in English from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

eN: But you are a convent educated and you write in Urdu?

Jawaid: (Laughs) Urdu is my mother language. And like Rabindranath Tagore said, a person who doesn’t know his mother tongue knows nothing. On a lighter note, I guess it’s the AMU connect which made me write in Urdu. To be honest, I never thought that I would be writing books or doing theatre or indulging a bit in dastangoi.

I took my first plunge into writing with my first Urdu Travelogue – Awargi, it was way back in the eighties. This travelogue covered Europe and America. It did well. But I had more important things to do in life – take care of my family’s finances as my father had passed away. So, there I put the author and traveler in me on hold and immigrated to Canada kept doing one or more odd jobs to keep things moving and in between somehow Mazeed Awargi (Travelogue on Japan) and Ek Aur Awargi happened. Post that there has been no looking back for me. I have written almost 12 books in Urdu, most of which are about travel, immigrants and their problems. At present I am writing a novel which is about immigrants again, but it also touches upon Autism.

eN: What makes you write about immigrants?

Jawaid: Migration is close to my heart. And it’s obvious why? I myself have migrated from Kolkata to Canada, where I have met so many expats, who too have travelled all the way from their nation in search of a better livelihood. Being an immigrant let me tell you, it’s not an easy task to settle down in another country. Some might be lucky, but for many it is a combination of many trials and tribulations.

I know so many tales, some I have experienced myself, some I have witnessed my friends undergoing, and nothing could be better than sharing these tales with my readers. To answer your question, I write about migration as I am an immigrant.

eN: Unlike other Urdu writers, you write homosexuality, AIDS or Autism?

Jawaid: Well, I write books for a global market. I write stories that need to be told. I don’t write with a myopic ideology. Sadly, enough Urdu authors back in India, are not ready to experiment or write on burning issues. They are stick stuck in the time warp, where Urdu means poems and romance. Well, there is definitely more to the language. The fact that I am multi-lingual and have read literary works in other languages that give me the strength to experiment. Hence my plays or books addresses issues like rape, mercy killing, homosexuality, the third gender and more.

eN: From writing to dastangoi, how did this transition happen?

Jawaid: Before dastangoi, I was a playwright. I am the founder of Rangmanch Canada and have performed plays in Hindi, Gujarati and even Sanskrit not just in Canada but across the globe. Once I got an invitation, seeking a performance from our group. But they had some restrictions on the number of participants. They could arrange the travel and accommodation of only three participants. It was then that we decided to do a dastangoi. And boy! It was a hit. People have enjoyed my “Dastangoi of Hijrat or Tales of Travel.

eN: And now, a twist to dastangoi, why?

Jawaid: (Laughs) There can be no play, novel or dastan for me minus travel. I love travelling, I am an immigrant, so my tales will have to be about travel or migration. Believe me my audience loves these tales more than those of jinns and fairies.

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