On Storytelling Aspirations, Or: Dastangoi!

I’m a notorious story repeater. I can’t help it. There are certain things that just trigger a particular story of something that had happened in my life. While most of the time it works out and I happen to be around different people when I tell a specific tale, the unfortunate truth is that some friends have had to sit through a story that I’ve already told them, letting me run through the whole thing, struggling to not break it to me that I had, in fact, told this same exact story when the same exact situation happened before. Bless them and their inability to dampen my enthusiasm.

I enjoy telling stories though and when something random happens, I file it away just in case. This way, when something weird occurs, like the oh so awkward lecture I got for the Muslim taxi driver when I was in San Diego last week for work, I can get something positive out of a situation by telling myself that I can at the very least entertain some people with it.

Lately, I’ve realized that I want to do something about this. I want to tell stories. This feeling was magnified when I went to an event at a bookstore in San Francisco for The Moth to promote their book. The Moth, for those not aware, consists of events in which people tell true stories on stage. I didn’t realize that they actually have two events in San Francisco a month called StorySlams in which folks drop their name in a hat (or bag, rather) and up to 10 people tell a true story based on the theme of the evening. So, I figured I’d scope out one of these StorySlams.

The night that I went, the theme was “Office” and so those chosen told a story that they had prepared that was based on something work-related. At first, I was wondering if I should put my name in the running to tell a story but figured I’d just be an observer at the event and see how it plays out. One by one, someone was called up to tell their story. They had five minutes. The whole event was entertaining and the crowd was really into it. The fact that there exists events in which one just listens to strangers tell stories is pretty cool. I decided that, although I don’t know when, I eventually want to tell a story up on the stage for a StorySlam.

A lot of cultures have storytelling traditions and mine is no different as this kind of ties into an Urdu Storytelling event I went to before this, called Dastangoi – The Lost Art of Storytelling in Urdu. “Dastangoi” is the name of a form of Urdu storytelling and apparently, it used to be a big part of my culture, when gatherings used to have storytellers on hand to tell stories as entertainment. The event I went to is part of the effort of this one person, Mahmood Farooqui, to bring this form of storytelling back into the public sphere. He told two stories, one of a trickster named Amar Aiyyar and another one about partition. For both of the stories, Farooqui acted out some of the characters. I’m not going to lie, even though my understanding of Urdu is pretty good, there were parts of the stories I didn’t even understand because the level of Urdu used was so high. Farooqui acknowledged this in the beginning and said to all of the audience members that if they don’t understand specific parts, they would still be able to enjoy the performance. And that I did. I love the concept and if anything, I have inspiration to really step up my Urdu game.


The difference between The Moth and Dastangoi was that in the former, the stories were true. But, the outcome was the same – people sat around and listened to stories. In the case of The Moth, I thought it was pretty cool that one doesn’t even know who would be telling a story about what when they get a ticket.

In my previous post, I wrote that I don’t know how to contribute my narrative. I still don’t know but I think I’ll use the StorySlam events as inspiration and hopefully get myself up on stage one day (when the thought of it doesn’t make we want to hurl*). I’m not quite sure I’ll ever reach the level of a Dastangoi but it wouldn’t be a bad a idea to aim for that too. An english version of a Dastangoi anyway, even if it’s only because I like saying “Dastangoi”.

One day, InshAllah, one day.

*Funny enough, I do enjoy being up in front of people talking, usually for a speech or presentation. For some reason though, the thought of telling a story in front of a lot of people I don’t know makes me nervous.

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