The Hindu heritage of Urdu is getting lost as is the Muslim heritage of Hindi, says director-playwright Danish Iqbal, who has begun the task of restoring India's long-held syncretic traditions with his latest Dastangoi production "Dastan-e-Mahabharat".
The centuries old art of Urdu storytelling is used to tell the 'dastan', story, of the multi-layered Hindu epic, which also includes the Bhagwad Gita.
The 'dastan' of the Kauravas and Pandavas unfolds through dialogues in Urdu, borrowed prose and poetry from greats of literature in an art form that can be traced back to Akbar's court and the bylanes of old Delhi.
And so it begins. The two performers, Fouzia and Firoz Khan, enter the stage and sit on their knees in a sparsely-lit minimalist stage, quite unlike a usual play with elaborate sets and costumes.
"Kurukshetra ki dharmbhumi par jab, mile Pandavo se mere laal sab, ladai ka dil me jamaye khyal, to Sanjay bata unka sab haal chaal," recite the duo in tandem.
With these words, Dhristrashtra, the King of Kuru and the proud father of 100 sons collectively known as Kauravas, asks his advisor Sanjay to narrate the great battle of the Mahabharata.
"Dastan-e-Mahabharat" tells the story over 50 minutes through animated gestures and rhythmic flow.
"I had a friend who had 50 different versions of Gita in Urdu. I have collected some five-seven of them so far. Through such attempts I want people to know, Hindus and Muslims, how much Hindu literature is available in Urdu.
"The Hindu heritage of Urdu is getting lost and the same goes for Muslim heritage of Hindi. I am attempting to make one or two such productions every year to create that space where Muslims and Hindus are equally pleasantly surprised," Iqbal told PTI after a recent performance here.
His script features both Urdu and Hindi poetry, including parts from Ramdhari Singh Dinkar's poem "Rashmirathi". It tells the audience of sage Ved Vyasa bartering a deal with Hindu god Ganesha to write the text, Krishna's sermon to Arjuna, brief scenes of the battle, and the reception of the Pandavas once the battle is over.
According to Iqbal, the Mahabharata remains "unparalleled when it comes to the ironies, the drama, and the complexities of characters".
"If you take Ramayana compared to this, it's a very simple story. Nothing matches the intensity of the Mahabharata. It has a lot of craft and nuance. Every character is connected to the other. More than that, our focus is creating a cultural amalgamation, to offer a cultural experience," the director said.
According to Fouzia, famous for her Dastangoi performances, the show has been going well because Firoz and she actually believe what they say on stage.
According to Fouzia, her "sajha virasat" (shared heritage) ensures she has more conviction in saying "Jai Shri Ram" than some of her Hindu friends.
"Growing up in old Delhi I have seen pandits dancing to 'naat', and we danced to 'bhajans'. Our everything was shared, Holi, Diwali and Eid. People are shocked to see me saying Jai Shri Ram or Jai Shri Krishna, that exactly is our challenge, to show people and make them believe that this is possible," she said.
Na'at is a form of poetry sung in the praise of prophet Muhammad.
Up next for the team is "Dastan Radha Krishna Ki" and "Dastan Apne Ram Ji Ki".
There are also plans to present "Dastan Hamare Ram Ki" as a full-on stage production next year.
"We will have a full fledged play with actors, kathakali, musicians and singing," Iqbal said, adding that it is a huge challenge because there are more than 70 books on Ramayana.
"We have to archive those, curate them and then create the 'dastan'," he informed.
All of this, he said, was to inform the people about communal harmony and send a message through a "counter-narrative against those who ask us to chant Jai Shri Ram".
"If somebody holds us and asks us to shout 'Jai Shri Ram', I want to tell them to come to this auditorium, and watch us chanting that every day during our show," he said with a smile.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)