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Keshav Khanna

IWB Blogger

Darwesh Tells The Tale Of Cities Through The Eyes Of the Women Who Saw Them

  • IWB Post
  •  July 18, 2017

Some of us like History, for us it’s like reliving the stories of the people and places of the past. Many of us don’t care about it.

Perhaps because it was taught to us in the boring, monotonous way of our school books. With none of the storytelling panache that does justice to it.

I, personally, enjoy history. I give credit to my middle school teachers who told me the tales of everything from Chandragupta Maurya to Razia Sultana with an incredible zest for detail. Never a boring moment in class because we were all busy recreating the battles and victories of characters from the past in our heads. Letting our imaginations run wild in a sea of different locations from Old India. It could be the First War of Independence in Kanpur or the lavish courts of the Vijayanagara Empire in Mysore.

We studied tales of great valour and bravery in the cities I knew and saw. The fact that I knew Delhi was just a stone’s throw away made reading about the Mughal Empire even more interesting. Knowing that Haldighati was just a drive away, made me curious to learn about the great battles fought there. It seems a personal connection with the place of great history seems to make history more palatable.

But I always had this question in mind that bugged me. What was the situation of women actually like? We rarely heard female narratives on Indian history. Sure, we studied Noor Jahan and Razia Sultana in some detail but other than that it seemed as if women’s narrative was largely absent from contemporary history syllabus. I am sure many of you felt the same way.

Darwesh: Sharing Stories of Spaces, People, and Places

Team-Profile-Yuveka-600x600

Yuveka Singh

Meet Darwesh, a non-profit organization that is attempting to correct some of these wrongs by weaving theatrical tales of cities and the women who saw them. I had the pleasure of talking to one of their three founders, Yuveka Singh. “We use a theatrical format because we’re trying to bring these characters to life in the spaces that are relevant to them,” she tells me. Darwesh organizes historical walks, where they use elaborate costumes to bring characters of the past to life. Their most recent walk, organized on July 16th, is about Roshanara Begum, daughter of Shah Jahan.  

About Roshanara Begum: Shah Jahan’s Daughter

“Roshanara Begum has a very interesting story to tell. She was an ambitious lady, who actually gave the idea to kill Dara Sikoh to Aurungzeb and claim the throne. But no one has heard of her. She had commissioned a park outside Shahjahanabad, called Roshanara Bagh. This is where we’re performing our theatrical thematic walk. Because this space is relevant to her.”  

How cities can tell tales

Darwesh is attempting to bring out the perspective of the women that embodied Delhi. But to recreate a person you need a lot of preparation, research for instance. “Our research is very extensive. It needs to be when you’re playing the character. Our information primarily comes from books, historical accounts and history scholars. We could try the internet but women don’t prominently feature on there.” However, they are primarily storytellers and not historical scholars themselves. Therefore, they attempt to find the right people, with the right knowledge. “We try to be as historically accurate as we can. We don’t make any of it up. We do the weaving. Putting it in chronological order, making a linear storyline.”

Bringing history to life

And look at them go! It is almost like reliving the scenes where these characters come from. Characters that you may have never heard of. Figures that don’t feature in your history text books, but who have their own story to tell. “We started Darwesh in 2013. We wanted to present cities in an interactive way. Tell the tales of the cities. Only recently we have started to receive media attention because we were invited to perform in the Diwan-i-Khas by the ASI.” Their theatrical presentation was called Story of Roshanara Begum.

The tale of the missing women’s narrative in history

“The more you go into the history of Delhi, the more you realise that women’s narratives aren’t mainstream. History is from men’s perspective. Which we aren’t arguing against. But we want there to be an alternative. That’s why we are presenting these Her-Stories.” The extremely talented women at Darwesh know how sensitive Indians are about history. That is why they attempt to make everyone happy. “We know there are different versions of every historical narrative. There is no absolute clarity. That is why we use the version most historians agree on but we mention that other versions do exist, in passing.”

On Darwesh’s versatility

Darwesh wants to bring these tales to children as well. “We did this education project with the good people at Nirantar, which is a feminist organisation. We were requested to design something that presents history in an interactive way. So, we did, but we also incorporated the ecology, the environment, the rivers, the people living around the rivers and more. We just slightly adjust our presentation to every requirement.” They are also doing one on Muhammed-bin-Tughlaq, the eccentric ruler of the Delhi Sultanate who attempted to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. The Darwesh twist is, Tughlaq will be played by a young lady.

Darwesh has a team of incredibly talented young women who have expertise in classical dance forms like Kathak or are brilliant theatre performers.

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Performing at the Baradari (12 arches/doors)

Problems they’ve faced

That being said things haven’t been all hunky dory for Darwesh. They have faced a lot of problems. “We don’t have to pay for sets and stage design so our projects don’t cost much. So, expenses have rarely given us much headache. Our problems are with the bureaucracy and red-tape. We have been wanting to collaborate with ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) for a while now. But it is very difficult to work with them.” The ASI is responsible for protecting and preserving monuments around the country. But they’ve not been overly enthusiastic to educate people what makes these monuments famous. “We’ve been relegated to do our walks in smaller, lesser known monuments. Because we aren’t allowed to do them in bigger monuments. We’re told to leave. That is why we often do the walks without costumes.”

Rising above the struggles

“We’re storytellers, what we do isn’t pure theatre. Because we concentrate on stories. Lesser known stories, not well-researched stories. We bring them to life. That is why content creation is a difficult process for us. We are constantly reinventing ourselves.” Darwesh’s Yuveka plans to bring their walks to the whole country. On the phone call, she expressed hope to bring them to my city of Bangalore.

Unfortunately for me, Darwesh’s walks are currently only in the historical goldmine that is Delhi. When they come to Namma Bengaluru and organise a walk in one of the beautiful parks here, I’ll be the first to register. But if you happen to be from Delhi and want to visit one of Darwesh’s walks, click here.

Darwesh is founded by Nitika Arora, Madhavi Menon, and Yuveka Singh.

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