When Rakesh Singh casually tossed the idea of performing dastaans at the Magh Mela at Sangam in October 2009 to us we were fascinated by it. I’ll be very honest. I’ve never been to a Mela at Sangam. Though we’ve all grown up with Kumbh Mela deeply engrained in our cultural consciousness (for the longest time the protagonist brothers of our Hindi films would separate from each other at a Kumbh Mela) but I still couldn’t be at one ever.
However, once we agreed to the proposal we started mulling over our content for the Mela performance. Mahmood wished that we perform a version of Ganga Avataran Katha, a dastanized version, and what better place to debut it than Sangam itself. We even procured a Sanskrit and a Braj version of the katha from Kamal Swaroop. However, our respective commitments didn’t spare us enough time to prepare one. Finally, we’ve had to inform Srijan that we’d be repeating one of our staple acts.
Closer to the date we realized that Mahmood and Anusha won’t be able to make it to Magh Mela because of their Sundance commitment. And thus we had to draw upon our reserve strength. Rana and Usman immediately agreed to it. This would be their second gig after a brilliant debut at the Bandra Literature Festival in Mumbai in November 2009. And thus amidst a fog engulfing almost the whole of North India, our train screeched halted at
Allahabad station around 5.30 in the morning on January 18, 2010, and we stepped out on to the platform inhaling the nippy air, ready to give a first of its kind Dastangoi performance. Allahabad
I am sure when Mir Ahmed Ali was spinning Hoshruba with his disciples in the 19th century
Lucknow some of these tales must have percolated to the banks of Ganga but whose there to verify this now. In our modern times this would definitely be a first.
Utpala Shukla was a perfect hostess. She, her mother, her husband Anshu (a poet), and her sister Supriya Shukla opened their house and their kitchen for us and were perfect hosts. We spent the morning at
in Civil Lines with Mr. Zafar Bakht, his staff, and the 8th standard students of his school. We talked about Dastaans, our experiences as actors, and made the kids do some theatre exercises. The enthused kids made our throats go hoarse from shouting over the din that they created with their excitement. It was an afternoon well spent. Bal Bharti School
Our performance was scheduled post 6 in the evening at the Prashaasan Pandal at the Magh Mela. It was an extremely cold and a foggy day in
. In fact Allahabad Allahabad had the lowest temp in the whole of north that day. But this didn’t dampen the spirit at the Mela in anyway. It was teeming with spirit. Blaring loudspeakers, colourful tents, unusual lighting patterns, nervously patrolling police, announcements made with perfunctory diligence, smokes from tea stalls and makeshift restaurants greeted us. We were immediately subsumed in the wispy, graying ambience. India
The Sahota Bros from
Punjab were performing before us. They’re famous for singing Paash’s poetry. And when they broke into the tune of perhaps Paash’s most famous poem “Sabse Khatarnaak,” the response from the crowd was rapturous. There were some 200 odd people in the tent. They varied from vagabond sadhus, to poor pilgrims from whichever place you wish to imagine, to middleclass Allahabadis and small town devotees, to stray onlookers.
While the stage was being set up I read Paash’s poem that Sahotas had performed, and Habib Saheb’s poem “Daanishtaan mar jaane mein bhi zulm ka pehloo shaamil hai” from his play Dekh Rahe Hain Nain. Later I introduced the tradition of Dastan but the highpoint of that introduction was when a gentleman shouted at me from the audience “Please don’t bore us! Send the Dastan guys fast!” I thought this was the triumph of our art form. It’s acceptance does not rest on personalities. People are interested in the stories and not the tellers of those stories. Anyway, this interjection led to great amusement among the organizers. But I thought it was only wise to vacate the stage immediately and hand it over to Rana and Usman.
And what ensued after my exit was pure experience. Rana and Usman enthralled the audience with such aplomb that a lady accused me for bringing such a short performance to the Mela. You guys hardly performed for ten minutes. I looked at my watch and it was over 40 minutes since we've been on the stage. J
Thanks and be there for our upcoming performances.