Thoughts

The art of storytelling (a repost)

Stories are no less living than the ones who tell them. I say “tell” because in the days that I am writing about in this post, people mostly told stories. Writing was considered as killing the essence, the free spirit that defined the beauty of a tale. This spirit dictates how it panes out, how it varies with a new teller, even with the same person every time it gets narrated, the place, crowd and such circumstances in which it is reenacted.

I came across a reference to the lost art of Urdu storytelling called dastangoi. What piqued my interest is the fact that Urdu is famous for the inimitable poetry ever written or ever will be. Dastangoi is a Persian word, dastan meaning tale and with suffix goi it translates to “tell a tale”.

A dastan, like an epic has elements of adventure, bravery, beauty, romance, magic, treachery to name a few, but the plots are linear and usually predictable. The beauty of a tale is not in its outset, the events that follow or the conclusion, but in the imagery. For instance, illustrations of a war scene may involve how the hero makes entrance, the colour of the sky and the war-torn soil, the sounds of the running horses, clash of shining swords and the smell of spilt blood infusing a wave of bravado in the most disinterested soldier. No other language fits this requirement more than Urdu, which with its poetic inclinations allow the storyteller to embellish a trivial event, or say, to romanticize the look exchanged between the protagonists for hours. The language and astute usage of the rich words enables the teller to weave a mesmerizing maze that you won’t want to escape.

The history of dastangoi is as interesting as the art itself. Though many readers will question its authenticity, the great Urdu poets always looked at history with disdain. They wanted stories to continue evolving, with every new generation adding more illustrious sub plots, new ways of gilding the oft cited with mellifluous Urdu harf.
In a way, the great tales are no different from life itself, it’s a pity that we think it’s the same tale that is being narrated over ages whereas life is beyond our control and we just need to bear with it as it unfolds.

Further reading: dastangoi.blogspot.in

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