The storysellers are not only training to revive the lost art of qissa khwani, they are also preparing to take over the storytellers.
The storytellers and the grandparents, for that matter, have reason to worry as the people who were trained in Saturday’s story- performance workshop at The Second Floor cafe look as if they will be better equipped for the task than their forerunners. They were trained to perform the story instead of only telling it.
The workshop was organised jointly by a group of National Academy of Performing Arts graduates, who have named themselves as Qissa Farosh (storysellers) and publisher, Kitab. They are focusing on making traditional children’s literature accessible in Urdu and English to the younger generation in a more presentable form.
There were about a dozen students, mostly between the ages of 25 and 35 years, exercising and performing enthusiastically their pieces from the works of Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum and their translations by Musharraf Ali Farooqi.
Their trainers, Adnan Jaffar and Zohair Raza, corrected them along the way.
Kitab’s Sharjeel Ahmad said that this workshop has adopted a two-pronged approach. “The story performances in schools will make the students familiar with our traditional stories and this will encourage parents to buy their children our traditional literature,” he explained.
“We need to be storysellers where the task has become quite an art and needs training and a lot of drills,” said actor Adnan Jaffar, who is also the co-founder of the group, Qissa Firosh, along with his wife Farheen Zehra Jaffar. “We chose story pieces that have a performance margin in them and it is great to see that they are not only learning to perform but are also improvising in a creative way.”
The group has performed the Urdu works of Patras Bokhari and Farhatullah Baig and it is now training for a children’s story, said Farheen. Since there are no storytelling sessions in our modern day nucleus families, the solution is to hold story performance sessions in schools, she added. “This is the mindset that brought Qissa Firosh and Kitab together to start this project.”
She added that this is a pilot project and they will go into more depth if it proves to be successful.
Workshop student Essa Allahwala, a corporate trainer by profession, told The Express Tribune that he found the training of performing stories very useful. Any audience, including the children, understands and retains the content that is communicated to them in the form of a story, he said.
Another student Sarah Shaikh , who works for deaf and dumb students from the platform of Family Educational Services Foundation, said that the workshop training will help her improve Pakistan Sign Language because it involves a lot of communication through signs and performance rather than uttering words.
Correction: A previous version of the story erroneously mentioned ‘Zohair Raza’ as ‘Sohail Raza’. The error is regretted.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2014.