The life of Sufi poet Amir Khusrau lends itself beautifully to a musical dastaangoi performance, especially if writers-directors and lead actors Ajitesh Gupta and Mohit Agarwal are also excellent singers.
For Jo Dooba So Paar, they also have a team of good singers and live musicians, who bring energy to the story of a Turkish-Indian child prodigy destined for greatness. Since the format is that of seated story-telling, some variety is brought into the performance by having multiple actors voice Khusrau’s lines, and other characters; there is also the foot-tapping music, with timeless songs like Chaap Tilak and Aaj Rang Hai.
There is a fair amount of published material on the 13th century poet-scholar-mystic, plus the stories passed down in an oral tradition. Born Abu’l Hasan Yamiduddin Khusrau in 1253 in the village of Patiyali in Uttar Pradesh, as a child, he had the famed ability to create a poem on the spot from four words given to him.
His proud father wanted him to get an education in Delhi, but died before he could take him there. His mother, fulfilled her husband’s wish, which is how, young Yamiduddin landed on the doorstep of Harzat Nizamuddin Auliya, who became his pir, lifelong inspiration. The Sufi influence of Ajmer’s saint-mystic Moinuddin Chishti also found its way into his writings.
It was on Auliya’s advice that he started writing in the down-to-earth language of the people, and came be known as the father of Urdu literature, inventor of the sitar and the creator of the qawwali—of the devotional kind that is sung at dargahs in praise of Allah, in which the almighty is perceived as the mehboob (beloved).
With his prodigious output in Persian, Urdu, Hindavi, Khusrau, in his role of court poet to seven Sultans Including the notorious Allauddin Khilji) , wrote poems extolling them, but also for the people and followers of Hazrat Auliya in various formats like the ghazal, masnavi, qata, rubai and a series of playful riddles. Since he travelled extensively through the country, he saw life from the point of view of the common people, instead of writing from the comforts of palaces. A lot of his work survives and continues to be sung by Sufi performers all over the subcontinent. When he died, at the age of 72, he was buried alongside his pir, Hazrat Auliya.
A life this rich and accomplished can hardly be encapsulated in a 90-minute performance, but Gupta and Agarwal have picked well-known incidents—a sort of Amir Khusrau for dummies—and studded the dastaangoi with a fine selection of songs. A few minutes into the show, and audience clap along with the music. Jo Dooba So Paar is staged with simplicity, but it exudes good cheer and is wonderfully entertaining.
Produced by Aranya
Written & Directed by Ajitesh Gupta and Mohit Agarwal
Music – Mohit Agarwal
Cast: Ajitesh Gupta, Rattan Deep, Arun Chandaliya, Ashish Mishra, Jitendra Singh Rajput, Shalaka Redkar, Pooja Kulkarni, Rigved Singh Maurya
(This piece first appeared in Mumbaitheatreguide.com)