The Outreach Programme of Jamia Millia Islamia, in collaboration with the departments of English, History, Educational Studies and Sarojini Centre for Women’s studies, organized a Dastangoi (storytelling) performance to mark the recent publication of the book, “In Freedom’s Shade” by Ayesha Kidwai, which is an English translation of Anis Kidwai’s book in Urdu titled, “Azadi Ki Chahon Mein.” The book has been published by Penguin Books, India.
Ayesha Kidwai, is a teacher of linguistics at the Jawaharlal Nerhru University and is also the grand-daughter of Anis Kidwai. She has also written much about Jamia.
Also present were Subhashini Ali, a political activist; Najeeb Jung, the university vice-chancellor; Sumangala Damodaran, a singer; and Gita Hariharan, author of “The Art of Dying” and also the moderator for the event.
The event was held in the auditorium of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology on Thursday, March 10, 2011.
After a brief introduction by the moderator, the event of Dastangoi commenced, which was staged by Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Husain.
Dastangoi, as the name suggests, is an oral style of storytelling in Urdu, which involves great detail and precision, in a poetic manner. Dastangoi is considered to be a dying art and there are believed to be only a few artists who still practice it.
Farooqui and Husain presented a Dastangoi of a magician emperor named Afrasiab, whose world was a false one, and in one which form-alteration was possible. The story continued with the character of Amar Ayyab, weaving in and out of a plot of revenge, magic and temptation.
The two storytellers were noted for their perfect synchronization and a blend of humor in their narration.
Later on, keeping in with the theme of the book, they talked about partition of India, relaying the messages of unity, togetherness and brotherhood, and observing how worldly possessions and materialistic goals divide people and drive families apart, which is a meaningless existence.
They stressed on the importance of Urdu literature, the loss of its culture and its unawareness in today’s youth. Through a small demonstration, they appeared to explain the benefits of partition to each other, in apparent hints of sarcasm. They also highlighted the plight of the people who had to cross borders, and how bloodshed crept in the scene between the people of a divided India, taking an example of Rawalpindi Express bringing the dead across the border.
They reminded us of the brutal message which was sent out with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and went on to criticize the permit system which was established to control the flow of cross border migration, taking the example of man named Ghulam Ali, a trained limb-fitter in the British, Indian Army who was shunted across borders many a time due to confusion and self-contradicting laws at the time of partition.
The audience was also made aware of how people suffered while going back and forth government offices due to an inefficient bureaucratic system.
The two Dastango were loudly applauded for their imaginative and entertaining narration.
Following their performance, the original manuscript of the book, handwritten by Anis Kidwai was handed over by Ayesha Kidwai to Vice-Chancellor Najeeb Jung, to be placed in the Jamia archives.
This was then followed by short speeches by the guests, wherein they spoke of Anis Kidwai’s memoir.
Ayesha Kidwai mainly talked of her grandmother’s desperation as a child of eight, who had to live under the purdah system, and how she befriended servants for someone to talk to. She told the audience how Shams and Kaiser, students of Jamia Millia Islamia, who ran schools for Hindu and Muslim pupils, took her in at her time of need.
Today, a girl’s hostel in Jamia is named after Begum Anis Kidwai.
The vice chancellor reminisced of the time of 1940s, when his mother with her children went to Hyderabad, while his father lived in a room in Connaught Place, which was taken by the refugees. They moved back in 1946, whereas the sons of those refugees are his close friends.
He spoke of a persisting need of upgrading the archives of Jamia, with a larger and rarer collection of papers.
Subhashini Ali praised the intricacies of Anis Kidwai’s book and deeply appreciated the Dastangoi. She brought attention to how her book tore to pieces, the fake canvases of caste system etc through the story of her camps. She praised how the author had raised curtains on social taboos and how she was concerned with the general public, which had equal place for the Harijans.
She went on to laud the women who endured the partition and highlighted their achievement of keeping the spirit of hope alive by participating in burning foreign goods, attending meetings etc, while the men were in jail.
She lastly stressed that the book shows this generation of women who were filled with a zeal for independence and were aware and active in the cause of social work.
The event finally concluded with a musical vote of thanks as Sumangala Damodaran sung a song written in memory of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy.
A book stall was placed outside the auditorium by Penguin publishers where, among others, one could buy the book “In Freedom’s Shade,” and have it signed by the author.
Scenes From the Event