There is no place like Lucknow, the city famous for its distinct Adab [Literature], Aadaab [Etiquette] and Tehzeeb [Culture] , to tell the tale of Asrarul Haque Majaz, the highly romanticized poet, who like romantic poets including Keats, Shelly, Lord Byron and Sylvia Plath weaved colorful dreams in the eyes of his female fans and lovers but died young. Despite being heavily blanketed by melancholy he had strong sense of humour. Yet Majaz lived a bit longer than most of the English poets whose art and life came to an end around 30. Majaz drowned his inner grief in goblet of wine and died at 44. Poet Wali Aasi once said “तुमको सुना रहा है लतीफे जो रात दिन/ वह आदमी तुम से भी ज़यादा उदास है”[the man who is making you laugh through his jokes/ is indeed sadder than you].
Lucknow was also once famous for Shaam-e-Avadh [evening in Lucknow] when Nawabs and noblemen, bathed in the soothing light of earthen lamps of Attar [perfume] walked along the banks of Gomti listening to music. Very close to the same banks two youthful Dastango [story-tellers]Ankit Chadda and Himanshu Bajpai 27 in snow-white Lucknavi Chikan kurta and caps walked in the auditorium of Sangeet Natak Academy and then moved to the stage. The auditorium was packed with the people of all ages humming in low voice “ए गमे दिल क्या करूँ/ ए वहशत ए दिल क्या करूँ’”.
Silence fell as the light went off. Then suddenly the Dastangos were bathed in the soft light creating the Black-n-White divide—listeners sitting in pitched darkness and story-tellers zeroed in by the light.
The moment the story-tellers began the tale of Majaz listeners were transported to a strange world full of romance, tragedy and progressive literary thoughts. Now there was direct connect between the Dastango or Story-tellers and listeners as there was no use of imagery, simile or metaphors. Dastangoi or storytelling never creates any kind imaginary barrier between the speaker and the listeners as in theatre or cinema.
To get the listeners hooked Himanshu Bajpai began with Majaz’s joke about Progressive writers’ contradictions “तरक्कीपसंद महलों में रहतें हैं मगर झोपड़ों की सोचते हैं” [the Progressive writes live in palaces but think of huts]. There was burst of laughter.
The session was organised by Bewajeh [without reason] group and it was titled Aawaaraa…The Life, Time and Poetry of Majaz Lucknavi on the eve of Majaz’s 103rd birth anniversary. The Dastan spanned from the poet’s birth amid joy to his tragic death in the freezing night of December 05 1955 on an open roof of a tavern in the heart of Lucknow. He was left alone by his friends.
अब इसके बाद सुब्ह है सुब्ह ए नौ मजाज़/ हम पर ख़त्म शाम-ए-गरीबां ए लखनऊ
The Dastan as told by Himanshu Bajpai, the journalist-turned-researcher-
On the other hand Mahmood Farooqui who revived the art of Dastangoi in 2005 not only encouraged Himanshu Bajpai but also helped him perfect the art, where to pause and how to control voice with action. Farooqui also did a sort of psycho-analysis of Majaz’s activities to help him understand Majaz’s ecstasy and agony..
The tale softly touched upon Majaz’s views on women and goes deep into his heart and mind. After all Majaz apart from chasing or being chased by beauty had a revolutionary touch to his approach towards them. To understand this one has to go deep into his poems like:
Teri neechi nazar khud teri ismat ki muhafiz hai
Tu is nashtar ki tezi aazma leti to achha thaa
Teri maathe pe ye aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Tu is aanchal se ik parcham bana leti to achha tha”
[Your lowered gaze is itself a protector of your purity/If you now raise your eyes and test the sharpness of it, it would be good. /the cloth covering your head is no doubt a good thing/But if you make a flag out of it, it would be good].
The art of storytelling is as ancient as human civilization. In medieval and modern ages it manifested through many forms. Since time immemorial epic tales like puppet shows that tell a story in an earthy and Ram Lila communicates with masses and mesmerizing them while conveying a story or a message. But Dastangoi is a different. It goes back to medieval Iran where the narrators inspired by Shahnama [the story of King in poetry form and composed by famous Firdausi] recited tales around camps, social gathering or qahwa-khana [coffee house]. The Dastan-e-Amir Hamza in 46 volumes is narration of the life of uncle of Prophet Mohammad. [Mahmood Farooqui once said it is like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings]. It’s fascinating full of magic.
Literary history says Dastangoi is a 16th-century Urdu oral storytelling art form. This art form reached its zenith in the Indian sub-continent in the 19th century. It has strong Lucknow connection too. Between 1882 and 1920 it was preserved by Nawal Kishore Press in written form. The last of great Dastango or story-teller was Sheikh Tassaduq Hussain who died in 1918. In Delhi Mir Baqar Ali passed away in 1928. With the passing away of these two the art also slipped into history.
However poet and critic Shamsur Rahman Farooqui and his nephew, writer and director Mahmood Farooqui, have played significant roles in its revival. In 2005 Mahmood Farooqui revived it. Apart from him well known names is that Danish Hussain and others like Ankit. ButHimanshi Bajpai is the one and at present the only in Lucknow whose performance with Ankit left everyone gasping. Many among the audience compared the impact of Dastan and the performance of Tragedy King Dilip Kumar in Devdas.