Monday, November 25, 2013

The other side of the city: Parsi Cemetery in Rawalpindi

“I am working here for more than 20 years and during this time none of the elders or even a kid spoke harshly to me” – the 70 year old man told me, while clipping the grass at the lawn of the Parsi Place of Worship. 

“I am their employee and they are always so polite to their workers”, he added.

I guess Baba realized I wanted to know more, and this encouraged him to look back and reminisce. “Once some leaders from the community visited while I was having my lunch. I was about to leave it halfway and get up, in order to serve them. They simply asked me to finish my lunch, take rest and only then come and serve them. That’s how they were, always!” He fondly remembered.

My journey to this amazing place kick-started when a couple of months back my friend told me about the existence of a Parsi Place of Worship somewhere at Murree Road, Rawalpindi.  As I have a keen interest in heritage buildings and old architecture, I kept on searching for this place. I asked around, spoke to people residing in the area but none of them had any idea about such a place!

The irony of the situation is that most of the people living in Rawalpindi (or may be in other cities as well) are too busy with their own lives and do not have the time to look around or know much about their own locality, even if it is right next door. No wonder, this sheer neglect and indifference is turningour historic landmarks into ruins, right in front of our eyes.

Anyway, after many such visits around the city, I finally managed to find out the exact location of the place and one fine Sunday morning I went out to visit the place.

As it is, Murree Road is the commercial hub of Rawalpindi city. Moreover, near the Benazir Bhutto Hospital there is a sprawling jewelry market and one cannot even imagine that amidst this congested area there could exist a historic landmark!

However, it is a fact that hidden behind these lavish jewelry shops, there is indeed the Parsi Worship Place that I had been looking for. I already knew that such a place, according to Parsi traditions, would be called a “Fire Temple” and I was excited that finally I had my chance to explore it in detail.

As I reached the area, close to the location, I came across a commercial place, and took the lane behind it.
My earlier experience with several old Temples and Gurdwaras had prepared me well and I was expecting to walk into an old building in ruins, its architecture in shambles, its walls crumbling and the ever-present foul smell of garbage rising from its grounds.

And here came a pleasant surprise as I came face to face with a completely different scene! A red-bricked single story building stands there. Neat, clean and well-maintained. The path below was shadowed and lined with rows of tall trees of Evergreen and Dates variety. It was a treat for the eye and I was taken by surprise, almost awestruck.

One the right hand side there stood an old colonial style building and in front there was a gate to the Parsi Graveyard. A lush green lawn surrounded the building and an old man was busy with his gardening tools, digging the clay and cutting the grass. It was a peaceful scene.
The stone plate at the gate of read:

“This cemetery
together with the buildings well and compound wall was erected to perpetuate the memory of the late Set Jahangiriji Framji Jussawala
Set Jamasji Hormasji Bogha
both of the Rawalpindi Parsi merchants  
by their respective grandsons
Set Dorabji Cowasji Jussawala
Set Nasarwanji Jehangiriji Bogha
Shahshai month Tir 1367, January 1898”

The graveyard was also very calm and clean. 

I asked the old man(the gardener)if the Place of Worship was still functional.
“Yes” he nodded, “There are some 30 to 40 Parsi families in Rawalpindi and whenever someone passes away in their community they perform funeral and religious rituals here”

A member of Rawalpindi's Parsi community Feroze Bhandara tells that "It is not a Parsi temple. There is none in Rawalpindi. However this bungli is part of our Parsi graveyard and is used for the purpose of washing the dead bodies and saying last rites."  Mr. Bhandara is currently based in Houston, United States and his brother Minno Bhandara of Rawalpindi is buried here.

 Mr. Bhandara says that "About ten years ago the frontage along Murree Road for our Parsi grave yard was illegally taken over by developers who have built shops along Murree Road and literally blocked off access into the grave yard. Proceeding in this case are pending in the local courts."

Given that we all know that there was a Parsi community (mostly merchants) in Rawalpindi, some hundred years ago, it was indeed news for me that they still live in Rawalpindi in present day and time!

The old gardener also informed me that this place belongs to the owner of a famous brewery company and they often visit this place to pay homage to their elders buried at this graveyard.

I also noticed that the doors to the building are kept locked and the whole premises is well taken care of.
While walking back,what I felt was immense joy and relief that a place of worship, which belongs to a minority community of Pakistan, is well managed and looked after.

All I can wish for is to see our tolerance towards the other religious minorities in Pakistan and that we live along with each other in harmony, peace and prosperity. 

Text and Photos by: Shiraz Hassan

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ansar Abbas: The blast tore his arms but not his spirit

Ansar Abbas uses his computer with his feet after losing his arms in a tragic suicide attack. PHOTO: SHIRAZ HASSAN

Pakistan has been a hotbed of terrorism and militancy for almost a decade now. In this period of time, more than 50,000 people have become victims of terrorism with the north western areas being especially vulnerable to militancy and bloodshed. Many Pakistanis see the country’s future as dark and hopeless, however, Ansar Abbas is not one of them.
Syed Ansar Abbas, aged 30, is one of the many victims of terrorism that has plagued Pakistan. He lost both his arms in a suicide attack in Dera Ismail Khan. However, despite such a grave and life-altering tragedy, he is still hopeful and passionate about the days to come. With an indomitable spirit he says,
“I don’t like to be labelled as disabled or a victim”.
Currently working as a news editor with a news agency in Pakistan, Ansar is pursuing his career confidently and hopes to make Pakistan a better country. He also worked as a field monitor in DI Khan for PakVotes for the recently concluded by-elections.
The life of Ansar Abbas is a true story of hope and resilience.
He hails from the north western city of Dera Ismail Khan. Son of lawyer Syed Muzaffar Shah and youngest among his ten siblings, he belongs to a noble family in his district.
Ansar drew inspiration from his father, as he was well connected to literary circles. This also encouraged Ansar to take up Mass Communication as a subject for his Masters’ degree at the Gomal University, DI Khan. Having completed his Masters’ in 2006, he began his career as a journalist with a national daily.
Looking back in time, he recalls,
“I was passionate about writing since my childhood; my father was my inspiration, and hence I chose to be a journalist.”
However, as fate would have it, around five years ago his life changed forever.
On August 19, 2008, while in Dera Ismail Khan, Ansar came to know about a target killing incident in the city. He reached the district hospital along with other reporters where he learnt that the victim belonged to his family. Soon, many of his family members and others gathered at the hospital. There was a crowd of some 200 people there when tragedy struck; a suicide bomber blew himself up, resulting in a death toll of 32 people. More than 50 people were injured, and Ansar was one of them. He narrates how around 20 of his relatives and friends died on that tragic day.
Recalling the incident he says,
“I guess I was in my senses after the blast, or maybe I wasn’t, but I saw my arm cut off from my body laying in front of me.”
If this trauma was not enough, both his legs were also fractured in the blast. He was sent to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) hospital, Islamabad the next day for treatment, where he was operated on almost 50 times in six months. He recovered physically with the passage of time but lost his arms.
Ansar’s real arms were replaced by artificial ones which he cannot even move – such is the sorry state of prosthesis in Pakistan.
Yet, Ansar did not lose hope. He did not give up, and he moved on.
He says it, in a matter-of-fact tone,
“What had happened cannot be undone; it’s time to move forward, to live my own life”
And that is what he has successfully done.
He restarted his career in journalism with a renewed vigour. Though it took almost two years to fully recover, he started using the computer while sitting on a wheelchair at home, and he learned to use his toes as his fingers till he mastered the skill of typing with his feet.
Ansar started using social media and connecting with people from different parts of the world. He wrote blogs and articles narrating various incidents of terrorism in his home town, criticising the militancy and addressing terrorism related issues. Last year, he completed another Masters’ degree in Political Science.
He says,
“The internet gave me a new lease to life. I was not used to the internet earlier, but after this incident, it has opened new gateways to the world for me. Now I read news, write and edit articles. This is how I keep myself busy.”
An activist, Ansar Abbas is keen on working for social welfare. He, along with other people of his area, organises sports and other events for the welfare of Dera Ismail Khan. He is also helping an organisation working for disabled individuals, which once helped him too.
In Pakistan, sectarian killings are on the rise and the people of the north western areas of Pakistan, especially Dera Ismail Khan, still remain the main victims of sectarian killings.
Incidentally, Ansar thinks otherwise; according to him, DI Khan was once known as the city of flowers. There were no sectarian killings among Sunnis and Shias in the past. He also believes that sectarian harmony among the local people still exists. He says that right after the the suicide bombing incident, the first person to donate blood to him did not even belong to his sect.
He goes on to narrate that DI Khan is home to the famous graveyard of Chah Syed Munawar Shah where not only the Sunni and the Shias bury their loved ones, but several Christians are even buried in the same grounds. Moreover, the mosque next to the burial ground is open for all sects and both the Shias and Sunnis offer their prayers in same mosque. He adds,
“That is an excellent example of sectarian harmony and I doubt you would find such an example anywhere else.”
Given from where he is coming, Ansar is not in favour of negotiating with the militants and also critical of the role of government and security forces to counter terrorism.
“If incidents like Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan jail breaks continue then how will we eradicate terrorism?” he asks.
Confident and hopeful that someday in the near future Pakistan will see peace again, Ansar pays a rich tribute to the people of Pakistan, who, in spite of countless acts of terrorism that devastate their lives, are still moving forward.
“Pakistanis are brave people and they will never let militants to takeover this country,” says Ansar, a proud, hard working Pakistani himself.

This article was originally published at Express Tribune  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Now we won’t let war happen

Jan 17, 2013: International sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik creates a sand sculpture influenced by skirmishes along the India-Pakistan border with a message "Violence never brings permanent peace". Pattnaik created a 5ft high sculpture at Puri beach of Odisha, India. The sculpture shows flags of two countries with two faces symbolizing the armies of both countries, facing each other at the LOC. "We want peace," said Sudarsan. /AFP photo
The India-Pakistan peace process, which went into a state of impasse after the 2008 Mumbai attack, has not been reinstated yet. And now it seems a formidable task to get the peace process, which got derailed after the terrible incident, on track and moving again. When asked about the issue, this is what an Indian journalist had to say: ‘‘155 people were killed in Mumbai. The Indian government had to take some retaliatory step, and so it sacrificed the peace talks.’’ India had accused Pakistan for the attack and gave a death sentence to Ajmal Kasab, who was indicted in the incident.

Prime Minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif has been indicating on several occasions before and after the recently concluded general elections in the country that he is in favour of establishing congenial relations with India and for sorting out issues through negotiations across the table. But since January this year, incidents of firing at the Line of Control (LOC) between the two countries and the killings of troops and civilians on both sides of the border have not allowed the peace talks to progress.

It should be noted that the recent LOC skirmishes and those in January this year did not trigger too much agitation in the Pakistani media and political environment. With the exception of some television anchors and leaders of some religious parties, for others the question of ‘’honour’’ did not douse their eagerness for peace. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even repeated the invitation to his Indian counterpart for a dialogue, although it was not accepted. Though resolutions were passed in Pakistan’s National Assembly and the Provincial Assembly of Punjab regarding Pakistan’s security and against the ceasefire violations by India at the LOC, the moot point is that no serious enragement/retaliation was voiced.  On the other hand, the Indian Lok Sabha also passed a resolution against Pakistan. It is also noteworthy that in his recent address, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani did not mention the LOC confrontation at all, and focused mostly on internal threats.

The state of affairs within Pakistan does not make it conducive for it to bring up new issues at this time. While in FATA, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Karachi, terrorism has to be countered and contained on an urgent basis, government and security forces have been unable to come up with a clear policy to fight and end terrorism. What is noteworthy is that in this entire scenario, India is not held with much suspicion, obviously due to lack of enough evidence.

 The government and security forces are trying to fight terrorist groups in their own ways.

Recently, on the Indian Independence day, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as BJP leader Narendra Modi voiced anti-Pakistan sentiments. Elections are round the corner in India and political parties there resort to anti-Pakistan sloganeering to gather public support and also to fan nationalist sentiments. Whether it is the ruling Congress party, or the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, both try to outdo each other in Pakistan bashing. However, it is not in the interest of either the two countries or of the entire South Asia region if the unfortunate incidents at the LOC lead to straining of bilateral relations between the two neighbors.

We can only hope that in the given circumstances, the leaders of both the countries display foresight instead of emotions. Both the countries should fight together to eradicate poverty and cooperate to improve conditions in the spheres of education and health.
Sixty six years have passed since Independence and Partition. If the two countries cannot sort out their differences through negotiations across the table even now after fighting three wars, even the next 100 years will be made hostage to “nationalist” frenzy. 
Perhaps it is time to reiterate the lines of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpyaee regarding managing political relations between the two countries and contributing to establishing a peaceful global order:

 “Ab ham jang na hone den gey, Hum ab manav ko aisey maut ki neend na sonay dein gey”
(Now we won’t let war happen, we won’t let human beings die like this...)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holi Celebrations in Rawalpindi

Holi - The Festival of Colors - celebrated across Pakistan by the Hindu community of the country. 

In Rawalpindi, there are hardly 600 Hindu families, mostly belonging to the Valmiki sect of Hinduism. There are two Valmiki and a Krishna Mandir in Rawalpindi. With the Colors of Holi being still in the air, sharing some photographs of a Holi celebration at the Valmiki Mandir in Rawalpindi. 

The curator of the temple, Shri Jagjit Bhatti says that “ tell the world that Hindus in Pakistan are celebrating Holi in its full colors and glory, we are safe here.” This Valmiki Mandir, located at Chaklala area of Rawalpindi is a temple from the pre-partition era. It was built in 1935 and active since then. Post partition, most of the Hindus migrated from the area, thus drastically reducing the Hindu population in the city to bare minimum. This Valmiki Mandir is among the three active temples of the city where Hindus come to pray and celebrate their religious festivals on a regular basis.

A friend comments that these are sad pictures. The faces in these pictures reflect their minority status and not their religious freedom or their festive mood - as Holi is not a 'temple festival’ to be celebrated indoors, in the evening, but rather a celebration out in the open, during the day.

I have no words to counter my friends observation, but all I have, are these photographs and they are what I would like to share with you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kalyan Das Temple: Blindfolded Heritage Sees Humanity Eye-to-Eye

Kalyan Das Temple: Government Qandeel Secondary School, Rawalpindi
Blindfolded Heritage Sees Humanity Eye-to-Eye

A trek through the old areas of Rawalpindi reveals to us many examples of old architecture: silent testimonies of our heritage, narrating tales of our past, stories of our land. Unfortunately, these exponents of our history are in a state of utter neglect and cry out for immediate attention by the authorities.

In the middle of the area that is commonly known as Kohati Bazaar, one can see the dome of a temple which is almost blinded by the high walls of an academic institution. Here stands one of the beautiful, historic landmarks of the city: Kalyan Das Temple.

Outside this building, you can see the board of Government Qandeel Secondary School for visually impaired children. On entering the main gate of the school, one is at once confronted with the sight of a magnificent architectural form which stands right in the middle of the school courtyard

As I entered the building, I turned to the security guard, and queried him casually, "I just want to see." He nodded his head in agreement and asked me to go ahead.

This temple was named after a generous resident of Rawalpindi, Kalyan Das, who laid its foundation stone in 1850s, and it is said that it was completed in 1880. The Kalyan Das temple is believed to have had more than 100 rooms and was spread over an area of about seven acres, besides a vast pond around the main temple building.

According to some reports, Kalyan Das had no children but his brother had. One of the grandchildren of his brother is Saghir Soori, the owner of Saghir Apartments — the tallest residential tower in Delhi. Kalyan Das’ family had a residence by the name Soori Building in Kartarpura (a locality near Kohati Bazaar), which is now known as Noori Building.

One of the significant facts of the Kalyan Das Temple is linked to the Amarnath Yatra, which is an important religious ritual in Hinduism. Hindu pilgrims used to stay at this temple en route to Amarnath in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir, making it a very important place for Hindu worshippers

Like many other temples of the city, in 1947, during the partition of India, Kalyan Das temple was also left abandoned as the Hindu population left the city. Today this magnificent architectural piece still stands tall but the complex has been brutalised and vandalised over decades and is in a state of decay.

The beautiful paintings engraved on the walls of the temple are fading away; the damp roof of the main architecture pours in rainy days. The rooms of the main complex are used as store rooms and are kept locked. The idols are missing but their marks attract the attention of visitors. The many spires in the temple complex are still imposing but 60 years of neglect has made them colourless. The white paint used to brighten a canopy inside the complex has, in fact, buried its original floral work.

After the partition and migration of the Hindu population from Rawalpindi, the temple remained functional. In 1956, it was taken over by the Auqaf Department and survived as a place of worship until 1958 when a school for the blind, started by Begum Farooqi, was shifted into the complex. At that time it had a Baradari with rooms for worshippers, a pond and an Ashram.

In 1973, the school was taken over by the Punjab government. A new building was erected for the school in 1986 during the time of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, when the wave of Islamisation was in full boom. It was the time when the original buildings surrounding the temple, the rooms and the pond were demolished and deprived of their beauty. A seminary nearby acquired almost half of the temple land.

The security guard at the school’s gate said that Muslims vandalised the temple at the time of partition. In 1992, in the wake of the demolition of the historic Babri Mosque in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) by Hindus, when several Hindu temples were demolished across Pakistan, luckily the school administration prevented this temple from meeting the same fate.

"Its our national heritage and we should preserve it," the security guard asserted!

According to him, some people in the school’s administration are thinking of demolishing the temple to increase the space for the school. But there are some good people too who do not wish so, he added, urging that this heritage building should be renovated so that it doesn’t meet any mishap.

The Punjab government has constructed some new rooms and hostels for the visually impaired students of the school in the complex. It can be claimed that despite its decaying condition, this temple is still much better preserved as compared to other abandoned temples of the city.

I saw some visually impaired kids playing cricket in the school yard. I asked one of them named Mustansir, “What are you doing here?” He said, "I am studying." On asking what he was studying, he said, "ABC and 123." It made me smile.  When I was leaving, he urged me, "Where are you going, stay here!"

In my view, this is the best use that an abandoned temple can be put to: for providing shelter and home for visually impaired kids. And I think Kalyan Das will also not be annoyed with us, seeing this magnificent building being used for a good cause.

That said, it is also true that this architectural marvel is in desperate need of renovation and restoration work and the government must take notice of this need; this is not just an abandoned place of worship, but also an important heritage site of the city. And given the noble cause that it endorses now, this place serves to provide a huge symbolic impetus to people to open up their eyes blinded by hatred. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dastangoi: The Art of Story-telling

Dastangoi: The Art of Story-telling

Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Hussain narrate the tale of 'Dastangoi'

Danish Hussain and Mahmood Farooqui performing Dastangoi

It’s a silver moon setting. An ethereal throne on a luminous floor, flanked on either side by thick cushions and ‘paan-daan’, with two celestial beings in velvety white clothes adorning the throne. A whiff of a gesture and a gentleman gets water in dazzling silver bowls for the duo. They both take little sips of water and clear their throat...and then one of them begins, spinning a yarn:

These times when the heart is nobody’s destination
When stones are used to pay respects to glass

In these times, the infidel voices of the heart, with defiance
The one who kept voicing, he was called Manto   

Manto, who kept consuming poison all his life,
And kept calling for ‘life’ all his life

Peeling the layers of culture’s wounds of deception
He kept avenging for us humans all his life

(‘Ye daur jisme dil ka nahi hae koi maqaam
Patthar se kar rahaa hae jo sheeshe ka ehteraam

Is daur mein bajurrate rindaanaa dil ki baat
Kahtaa rahaa thaa koi to Manto thaa uskaa naam

Manto ki jisne zahar piyaa hae ba har nafas
Aur zindagi ka naam liyaa hae tamaam umr

Tahzeeb ka khurach ke harek gaazaa e fareb
Insaan ka inteqaam liyaa hae tamaam umr’)

In response, the second Dastango (a person delivering the Dastangoi performance) continues: “Manto was a 14-15-yr-old boy when I first saw him. A thin boy with a broad, black-framed pair of spectacles, ruffled hair, fair complexion, medium height, and an attractive voice. He would say things off the beaten track and think out of the box. He spoke and wrote fluently in English…” And thus the story begins. The audience is already listening with rapt attention, mesmerized by the scene and the performance.

Dastangoi, an ancient form of theatrical art in the subcontinent, is a special genre which presents both sad, epic tales and romantic stories. The genres of stories and novels in Urdu literature can be said to have developed from this art form, which could even be called a lost and forgotten metaphor in Urdu literature. The legendary Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib said: “Dastangoi is a fine art which is a good source of entertainment (‘Dastaan taraazi mann jumla funoon-e-sukhan hai, sach hai ke dil behlaane ke liye achcha funn hai’).” According to Urdu writer Kalimuddin Ahmed, Dastangoi is a long, detailed and complex style of storytelling. Famous Urdu scholar Gian Chandra Jain says that the literal meaning of Dastangoi is that of a story, a tale, a narration, whether it involves a poetic form or prose or opinion making. The story always has a relation to the past/history–it could be a natural and realistic tale or unnatural and fictional. According to famous writer Shams-ur-Rahman Farooqi, Dastangoi is basically a form of ‘performance’. In the Preface of his work Saahiri, Shahi, Sahib-e-Qurani, Dastan Ameer Hamza ka Mutaala (Volume 4), he says that a Dastan (story) might be written and published several times, but its language and form has to be essentially that of the oral tradition of storytelling. It is meant to be narrated verbally and heard.

Storytelling is a tough art. A Dastango is expected to have an ocean of words and expressions at his fingertips. He creates an entire milieu through voice modulation, painting various scenes. Sentences with punch, enticing language and an ability to sketch such images that keep the audience at the edge of their seats, curious about what will happen next––this, in a nutshell, is the art of Dastangoi.

The practice of translating Persian stories or Dastans to Urdu began in Lucknow at the end of the 19th century. It was during this time that Mir Baqir Ali was famous in his art of Dastangoi. His maternal grandfather Mir Aamir Ali and his maternal uncle Mir Kaazmi Ali, both of them acclaimed Dastangos, were associated with the Dilli Durbar. But after Mir Baqir Ali, for a very long time, we don’t find any major name connected to the art of Dastangoi. And in the present time, one has to look hard to even find the traces of this art form, which was once believed to be the pride of Awadh and Dilli.

Mahmood Farooqi and Danish Hussain, two young men in Delhi, were so moved by this loss that they tried to revive the tradition and within a few years, they were successful in their attempt to infuse a new lease of life into this theatrical genre. Their group that presents Dastangoi recently visited Lahore from Delhi and staged performances at various places. They had a candid, detailed conversation with this reporter about the art of Dastangoiand its revival in the contemporary world.

Much of the credit for the revival of Dastangoi can be given to Mahmood Farooqi. Talking about his first brush with this art from, Farooqi said that he heard the Dastans (stories) from his granduncle, famous Urdu writer and critic Shams-ur-Rahman Farooqi, who has also authored a book on Dastangoi. It was Shams-ur-Rahman Farooqi’s book Saahiri, Shahi, Sahib-e-Qurani, Dastan Ameer Hamza ka Mutaala that influenced him immensely with regard to the art of Dastangoi. “I have always been interested in theatre and films but this book opened up the doors of the new world of Dastangoi for me. Initially I was preparing to make a documentary film on Dastangoi. For that I started investigating the history of this art form. I read many Dastans and wrote quite a lot on the subject. I was immensely impressed by the art form and was totally in the grip of its magic,” Farooqi, who has a Masters in History from Oxford University, confessed, adding that much before he presented the Dastans on the stage, he was deeply moved by the elements of humour, drama and the lucidity and succinctness with which so much was said in the Dastans in so few words. “I was very influenced by the story of Ameer Hamza and his heroic fight with various negative forces, and the stories of Afra Sayaab and Umroo Ayyaar. I strongly felt that the Dastans could be presented on the stage in the manner of Dastangoi.”

Farooqi said that he got a chance to undertake detailed research on the tradition of Dastangoi when a Delhi-based non-government organization, Sarai, granted him a fellowship for this work. “During that time, I also gave a lecture on Dastangoi at India International Centre in Delhi, and that was when I got an opportunity to present this art form before common people,” he said. As a student of history and a theatre artist and a student of this art form, Farooqi believes that many idioms went into making the genre of Dastangoi–literature, theatre, history and a novel way of presenting history. Dastan Ameer Hamza, which is in 46 volumes, helped the art of Dastangoi reach its peak. These stories, which are hundreds of years old, still interest the audience, but the art from was becoming extinct and hence they decided to put in efforts to revive it, he mused.

Initially, Farooqi staged Dastangoi performances alone. But following Shams-ur-Rahman Farooqi’s advice, in May 2005 he decided to have two persons present these stories and after that Danish Hussain joined him in the performances. Farooqi feels that this change increased the entertainment value of the performances since it included dialogue between the two Dastangos and the atmosphere became more interactive. He gave his firstDastangoi performance with Danish Hussain in Mumbai in 2006 and from then, Dastangoi, the art form, embarked on a fresh journey. The two performers have already enthralled audiences with over 500 spellbinding performances in India and other countries. They are also currently training some 15-20 youngsters in this theatrical form, and each one of the students has already staged some 30 performances!

Farooqi and Hussain suggest that the theatrical art of Dastangoi should also receive patronage and be developed in Pakistan. Since at present there is no group in the country that performs Dastangoi, they offer to guide any Pakistani artist who wishes to be trained in this form.
Regarding his own journey vis a vis Dastangoi, Danish Hussain said that Marsia goi (elegy performance) was at the root of his interest in Dastangoi, adding that Marsia-goi of the works of classical Urdu elegy (‘marsia’: elegy) writers, Mir Anis and Mir Dabir, is quite similar to Dastangoi in its impact. “I have read and have been impressed by marsia writers since my childhood. But there is a little difference between Marsia goi and Dastangoi–as an art form, Dastangoi has similarities with Marsia goi but the former is very secular in its core. It is not associated with any specific community or group. Anyone can present it anywhere,” Hussain explained. He said that till mid1990s, he was associated with Marsia-goi and theatre, and was also employed in a bank. But in 2002 he left his job with the bank and since then has been totally dedicated to Dastngoi and theatre. He also shared that a radical turning point in his theatrical journey came when he acted in legendary playwright Habib Tanvir’s  famous play ‘Agra Bazar’, which was adopted from the life story of Nazir Akbarabadi and is one of the finest theatre plays in Urdu.

The two Dastangos recalled that when they first started performing, this art form had almost gone extinct in India and they had to go through a tough phase to revive this beautiful part of the subcontinent’s literary and cultural heritage. Initially they were not very optimistic about succeeding, they confess, but with time, they managed to win the hearts of the audiences and got them interested in their storytelling. They also pointed out at another crucial aspect of the revival of Dastangoi. Urdu, about which once upon a time the famous Urdu poet Dagh Dehlavi had said, “It is us who know the language called Urdu, the language that is so immensely popular worldwide (‘Urdu hai jiska naam humi jaante hain "Daagh"/Saare jahan mein dhoom hamari zabaan ki hai’), has now been unfortunately overshadowed by English and Hindi in India and does not enjoy such popularity and favour. In such an atmosphere, presenting Dastangoi in Urdu is a very encouraging step for the Urdu language too, they noted. Farooqi further observed that although the status of Urdu in India is almost like a minority language now, they perform Dastangoi in Urdu and have done so in many cities where the audience’s Urdu proficiency would be low, but still they have received considerable appreciation and acclaim.

Regarding their performances in Pakistan, they said that they have performed 5 times in the country and the greatest joy in performing here comes from the fact that the audience here is more proficient in Urdu as compared to India and so they relish the language and the dialogues much more and understand the contexts better. As a result of the their understanding and enjoying the performances more, the appreciation received here is also more.

Expanding further on their journey with Dastangoi, Mahmood Farooqi said that they initially used extracts/stories from ancient epics like Tilasm Hoshruba and Dastan Ameer Hamzain their performances. Presenting these stories before modern audiences was a unique scene and a successful experience, and their art form received a lot of appreciation in cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi. However, they slowly started creating newDastans (stories) too. This was a difficult task which required not only a high level of proficiency in the language, but also the art of creating a story and retaining the story element in the narrative–all these skills had to be woven together. But they did it. Some of the Dastans that they created and presented as Dastangoi were: The Partition Tale, Mantoiyat, Chauboli, Sedition, and Ghare Baire (based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel).

The enthusiasm of the two artistes, however, is tempered with pragmatism. Danish Hussain believes that it may not be possible to fully revive the art from of Dastangoi to the extent of making it mainstream. But he feels that through their efforts, they are increasing people’s awareness of their heritage and history and creating in them a love for a lost art form and tradition. This is their biggest achievement. Hussain also pointed out that as an art form,Dastangoi is more difficult than regular theatre, but the benefit is that one doesn’t require any special sound system or other infrastructural elements for this. As an example, he reminisced about his Dastangoi performance on the stairs of Delhi’s famous Jama Masjid, and underlined that it was one of the most memorable experiences of his personal theatrical journey.

Elucidating further on the art form, Mahmood Farooqi observed that after being lost for a long time, the traditional art of Kissagoi (“kissa”: story) or Dastangoi was now emerging as a new genre of theatre, a parallel theatre form. In this regard, he touched upon the ever persistent debate about mainstream cinema and theatre versus serious/parallel cinema and theatre. He said that the audience for the latter is limited in numbers everywhere in the world and it would be unfair to compare the two. Bollywood has its own place and characteristics and serious cinema and theatre shouldn’t be compared to it. There is more scope for experiments in serious theatre and films and it is in these that people get to see unique things. Notably, Mahmood Farooqi was also an assistant director and writer of the critically acclaimed film ‘Peepli Live’ produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao. He had assisted the film’s director Anusha Rizvi.

Highlighting the egalitarian nature of Dastangoi, Hussain said that this art form can be appreciated by all sections of society, which is how it should be, since no art form should be made niche and reserved for any specific section. Having sad that, he affirmed that a look at history will reveal that various traditions that began in the subcontinent at the grassroots and were meant to cater to all sections of the society (like various types of performances that happened in Dargahs, village squares (chaupals), or as street theatre) suffered utter neglect and were now becoming extinct. The persistent quest should be to not let that happen.