WORK by FOUZIA DASTANGO
Fouzia is renowned as the first woman artist of the sixteenth century oral storytelling art, Dastangoi, that has been dominated by male performers. She developed a deep interest in the art growing up in Old Delhi, which is home to many poets and writers of the tradition.
Fouzia specialises in telling stories from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Radha-Krishna in Urdu to keep alive the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (way of life) embedded in communal harmony. In this sense, her productions have gone well beyond traditional Urdu retellings associated with Dastangoi.
Originally meant to entertain, the political undertones in contemporary Dastangoi adds to their continuing relevance. Fouzia has made a conscious effort to render materials as diverse as the ‘Dastaan-e-Mahabharat’ with Firoze Khan and Mohandas Karamachand Gandhi’s political struggle, in collaboration with the writer, Danish Iqbal. ‘Dastaan-e-Gandhi’ brings out the transformation of the freedom fighter - from Mohandas to Mahatma.‘
Most recently, she performed with Firoze Khan to inaugurate ‘The Sufi Route Concert for Peace’. One of its kind, it was headlined by music maestro, A. R. Rahman, and included Javed Akhtar, the eminent poet, lyricist and screenwriter.
As the old quarter of Delhi was showing a decline in the Dastangoi tradition, Fouzia took an interest in preserving and reviving dialects of Old Delhi (Purani Dilli). Dialects reflecting the ordinary lives of women and children in the zenana or interior household are now archaic. In ‘Dilli ki Begmati Zubaan’, Fouzia uses the dialect to unravel the tension within the household through a series of vocal theatrical acts playing with sound, echoes and repetitious emotive words specific to the subcultures of spoken language(s) of the walled city. Begmati Zubaan is flavoured with tana (tone of speech), proverbs and idioms that represent the knowledge of women in the zenana.
Fouzia started being a Dastango from 2006, but it was only after ten years of practice and as an older woman that she got her due recognition from the public. Despite socio-cultural obstacles, she could rise above gender stereotypes, while performing as a man impersonating a woman’s language in her rendition of poetic performance.
Hidden histories of sights and sounds in the streets of Delhi brings Fouzia to engage with many older women who possess culinary skills. ‘Forgotten Food’ draws on oral histories and archival sources along with Dastangoi for a new recipe collection. BRUITE (@bruitemagazine)
Dialects reflecting the ordinary lives of workshop workers - as in ‘Dilli ki Karkhandari Zubaan’ and of washermen in ‘Dilli ke Dhobiyon ki Zubaan’ - are disappearing rapidly due to the varied influences of urbanisation. In ‘Dilli ki Karkhandari Zubaan’, Fouzia restores the social dialects of the karkhandar or workshop workers that includes craftsmen, traders, artisans and labourers, numbering around 50,000 who live in the walled quarters.
Hear Fouzia on her artistic journey, along with two select Dastangoi pieces from ‘Begmaati Zubaan’ and ‘Dilli ki Karkhandari Zubaan’.