Kathakar 2022 – A curtain raiser

After a hiatus of two years, Kathakar—India’s only oral storytelling festival—is back with a two-day festival, starting May 20 with a bunch of raconteurs from within the country and abroad

Kathakar 2022 – A curtain raiser
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Murtaza Ali Khan

After a hiatus of two years, Kathakar—India’s only oral storytelling festival—is back with a two-day festival, starting May 20 with a bunch of raconteurs from within the country and abroad. Organised by cultural organisations Nivesh and Babaji Music, Kathakar has successfully revived storytelling as a standalone art form through dramatic performances. “Everyone suffered losses during the pandemic but the entertainment industry and especially the performers have been badly hit. I myself lost out on two years of work but my other colleagues and especially the folk artists lost their livelihoods as a number of them don’t have large savings. In fact, during the second wave so many people reached out to me for assistance, so we helped out over a thousand folk artists’ families across India with ration kits to support their kitchens,” recollects Mohit Chauhan, the patron of the festival.

The venue this year again will be Sunder Nursery, the 16th-century heritage park complex adjacent to the magnificent Humayun’s Tomb. The book titled ‘Curious Tales from the Desert,’ authored by Shaguna and Prarthana Gahilote, will also be released as part of the festival. Chauhan is delighted to be back after a long impasse. “The pandemic made one realize how as social animals we simply cannot do without meeting people and being part of collective activities and exploring more beyond ourselves. That how interdependent we all are on each other… It’s been so long that when one first stepped out it seemed surreal. Even odd. But now that I have been travelling for concerts, I understand that people want to be out and interact and how much everyone missed these cultural events. And how much such cultural events are needed for emotional and social growth of an individual,” explains Chauhan.

The 10-session event will bring to stage India’s rare folk stories as well as native tales from Rajasthan and Gujarat, alongside those from Italy, the UAE and Poland. “We have a fantastic lineup this year. My good friend Shantanu Moitra joins me at Kathakar for the first time. We were travelling in the Himalayas together sometime back and we thought it would be great if he comes and shares his stories from the Himalayas. He is a man who understands and lives the arts. The art of storytelling fascinates him. And with his experience as an author and a traveler, he has loads to tell. My dear friend Imtiaz (Ali) is an integral part of the festival now and he’ll be joining us for some Kissagoi. Imtiaz's connect with people is phenomenal. When he holds a session every member of the audience feels like he is speaking to just that one person there. It is so personal and enriching. What's great is, he loves the festival as much as we do. So it's a treat. An element of music has been added to the festival this time and we have two fantastic folk singers performing. Madan Gopal Singh with Sufi folk and the Langha Manghaniyaar. For the first time Delhi will witness Dastangoi in Gujarati too,” rejoices Chauhan.

Imtiaz Ali
Sanchi Peswani
Kathakar 2022 schedule

Some of the major artists at Kathakar this year include theatre artist Sikanadar Khan, Sanchi Peswani and storytellers Paola Balbi (Italy) and Michal Malinowski (Poland). Khan will be narrating the folk tales of Rajasthan in his inimitable style, including the ones from Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi Award winner Vijaydan Detha. “For an artist getting back on stage after such a long gap always is an emotional moment. It’s a gamut of emotions. With Dastangoi Gujarati we try to get stories written by authors who are now forgotten by the current generation. It’s our attempt to keep the Gujarati tradition and culture alive. As part of my performance, I will also be narrating a story from ‘The Curious Tales of the Desert’. The festival starts with the story ‘The Hard Bargain’ from the book narrated by me and I will follow it up with my Dastangoi Gujarati story ‘Kholki’. To take Gujarati tales to Delhi, it is an absolute privilege and delight,” rejoices Peswani.

The 14th edition of the festival is curated by Rachna Gahilote Bisht, Prarthana Gahilote and Shaguna Gahilote. “It’s been 12 years now… one long journey. 12 years can be a lifetime. There has been so much of learning and so many memories. What we really like is when people come up and tell us about the previous events they came to and enjoyed. Children who have now grown up watching the festival are now volunteering with us. So it’s great. And what is really heartening is that we have put storytelling back on the performance art scene. When we started with UNESCO we were simply trying to preserve and promote the art. Today it is thriving,” sums up Chauhan.

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Published: 19 May 2022, 10:00 PM