It is heartening to note that in the last decade or so the tradition of dramatised readings and the art of storytelling (dastaangoi) have been undergoing a revival of sorts. For an hour on Wednesday evening at T2F, Zambeel Dramatic Readings transported the audience into the world of Dilli and Dilliwalas when they read out sketches Sahab Alam and Deewani Aapa penned by Ashraf Suboohi.
Before the readings, Asif Aslam Farrukhi gave a short background of the writer and the era that he belonged to.
Born as Syed Wali Ashraf in 1905, Suboohi was the penname of the writer who belonged to a religious family in Delhi. Suboohi grew up in the midst of people who had an association with the royal family and carried with them stories and memories of that era. He was fascinated by these people and spent much of his childhood and teenage years with them.
Farrukhi also shared with listeners anecdotes about Suboohi as his family was related to him and the kind of vocabulary that the writer used while talking to people around him.
First up was the reading of Sahab Alam by Asma Mundrawala and Mahvash Faruqui.
The story centres on Sahab Alam, a royal scion in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, who goes to attend a wedding during which a palanquin while moving down has its drapery untied. As a result, the border of the dupatta of the woman seated inside the palanquin gets exposed. Sahab Alam being a chivalrous man cuts the border of the dupatta so that the lady remains concealed. However, while doing so he glances at the sole of the woman’s feet and gets infatuated with her.
Sahab Alam loses his sleep and appetite thus upsetting his closest confidant Bankay Mirza, who takes it upon himself to find the mystery woman. In doing so it leads to disastrous consequences, something which both Sahab Alam and Bankay Mirza do not realise when they embark on this futile mission.
Sahab Alam also has Nani Muglani, the male narrator voice and the Parsa Biwi. Both Ms Mundrawala and Ms Faruqui interchangeably voice-acted the roles which initially was disconcerting but after a while one became at ease with. Since Sahab Alam had predominantly male voices, the actors deepened their voices a notch lower and when it came to uttering the dialogues of biwi, the tone became much softer and sweeter. The use of recorded sounds of koels chirping, hukka smoking, the sitar and the tabla at various points during the reading enhanced the experience and one’s imagination.
Deewani Aapa, the next in the repertoire, is a heartbreaking and compassionate account of a woman who has lost her senses but is known to possess miraculous powers.
The narrator of the story gives a couple of instances in which Deewani Aapa displays her ability. It so happened that it was a month of heavy rains that showed no sign of stalling. Deewani Aapa, always dressed in bridal finery, was distressed that her husband must have been stranded in a mosque unable to venture out because of the downpour and hence he must be hungry and thirsty.
She prayed to the Almighty in the verandah of the narrator’s house, asking Him to make her a widow once and for all. And lo and behold the rain clouds came to a standstill and sunlight appeared out of nowhere. Thus from nature’s calamities to people’s illnesses, Deewani Aapa became the medicine woman for all kinds of woes. Strangely, the household had no idea about the background and history of Deewani Aapa even though she had been frequenting the house for about 20 years. It is only after her death that the lady (Valida) of the household found out about the royal origins of Aapa and her tragic life story.
Deewani Aapa has quite a few female characters such as Valida, Manjhli Begum, Deewani Aapa, Khala and Ladkiyaan. Here, too, the actor-readers ably voice-acted the characters. However, in this case Ms Faruqui stuck to playing Deewani Aapa and Mundrawala to the narrator.
As Deewani Aapa, Ms Faruqui competently articulated a range of emotions that Aapa experiences. There is a scene in the story about elaborate wedding preparations and the manner in which Ms Mundrawala and Ms Faruqui express it which is in fast-paced excited voices that they were successful in creating a sense of action through their voices. In that reading, too, recorded sounds were used where required such as heavy rain, people reading siparahs and shehnai sounds that enhanced the listening experience.