Dāstān-goʼī – The Art of Urdu Storytelling

Jameel Ahmad, Ankit Chadha & Jennifer Dubrow

On Thursday, November 5, 2015, the South Asia Center hosted a vibrant demonstration and discussion on the history of thedāstān genre, its main components as a form, its patronage (past and present), the reclaiming of the genre, and the journey of Ankit Chadha to becoming a dāstān-go (story-teller). This was followed by an engaging hour of dāstān-goʼī (story-telling) by Chadha, where he electrified the audience with his evocative and humorous narration and the remarkable range he demonstrated in his rendering of both the classic dāstān as well as of his own original compositions on themes of contemporary relevance.

Both Chadha and Dr. Jameel Ahmad, Senior Urdu Lecturer in the UW Department of Asian Languages and Literature, observed that while the dāstāngenre was prevalent as an oral tradition in the Persianate world for likely a thousand years, its popularity soared under Mughal Emperor Akbar’s patronage. The magnum opus, of course, was the Hamzanama, which was preserved in hundreds of folios and has repeatedly captured the imagination of audiences and sparked the interest of scholars across a range of disciplines from art history to philology. Half-jokingly, Chadha likened one of the original patrons of dāstān, Akbar, to one of his contemporary patrons, the Ford Foundation, which recently funded Chadha to compose adāstān on the Digital Divide in India.

In the dāstān-goʼī hour, Chadha enchanted the audience with four short narrations, two in the classic tradition and a few that echoed contemporary concerns. Chadha is also an Urdu enthusiast outside of his career as a dāstān-go. On his love for Urdu poetry, Chadha remarked: “An Urdu couplet makes for the best tweet!”

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