Know thy heritage, with Shruti Parmar
Two forms of folk theatre presentations held in the city last month shed light for the young audiences on the wealth and beauty of Indian traditions. The first was a talk by Dr. Devendra Sharma on Nautanki and Rasa at Sophia College for Women. The other was a performance by the Dastangoi group on the form of Urdu story-telling at St. Xavier’s College’s inter-collegiate fest’s event Conclave.
Hailing from a family that has had four generations of Nautanki performers, Dr. Devendra Sharma is himself a Nautanki performer as well as a professor of Communications at the University of Berkeley, California. Dr. Sharma began his session with a pertinent issue that was the elitist and secretive attitude of artists where sharing their knowledge is concerned. He gave us the example of Pandit Bhatkhande for instance, who hid and copied notations of the great singers of the time and thanks to whom Hindustani classical music today has a record of its songs and ragas, more easily accessible to students. “Being a good artist is not equivalent to being a good human being”, he said.
He then moved on to asking the audience what they thought Nautanki includes and as they gave their answers, Dr. Sharma made us realise why it is our duty to about Kudiattam, the Jatra, the Launda, the Yakshangana and hundreds of other varied cultural expressions of our country. This he said is crucial before we explore and accept western traditions blindly without for instance understanding the social nuances of the Beetles expression.
Nautanki contains mythological stories, rhythm, poetry, local nuances, melodrama, music, rustic language, colourful costumes and is male dominated as we mentioned, but it is primarily an operatic tradition that lasts for 8 hours, a combination of the Broadway and Opera. As Dr. Sharma showed us video clippings of the performances of his troupe, it was enchanting and heart rendering to understand and appreciate the great voice culture and poetry of the Nautanki, the spontaneity, subtlety and stamina of the performers and the relevance of the art as it comments on society.
Dastangoi presented to us by Mr. Rana and Mr. Rajesh from the Dastangoi theatre group, re-highlighted the relevance of our folk traditions. This art of Urdu story-telling is one of the most intricate and intelligent use of language that one can probably gauge.
It attracted us right in the beginning how Mr. Rana and Mr. Rajesh, in simple white kurtas came and sat in the middle if the stage. They then began telling us a story, one taking forward after the other; transporting us just with the beauty of their words and the play of their hands to a duniya of Kohis, Jadugars, Aman, a Hakim and the Kanoon. This Rasam, Basam, Tilisma and Aiyar were unknown concepts that built the story of social activist, Dr. Binayak Sen for us! It shed light on the hypocrisy of our society by giving us an outsider’s description of our way of life, our systems, our processes, our development and our justice.
Mr. Rana said, “There are 46000 pages of traditional stories/ dastaans that if we begin reciting today will take us 13 years to say. As being introduced to this art by Mr. Mahmood Farukhi, we now plan to undertake Theatre Tourism across our country, to expose all our countrymen to our heritage.”
The Indian Council for Cultural Relations must indeed take up more initiatives to expose urban and rural young audiences to our rich and diverse traditions in a contemporary manner.