On a humid August afternoon in Mumbai this year, in the bustling Press Club of the city, a bunch of story tellers were about to make an unusual presentation.
“Agli kahani pesh kartein hain, Saadat Hasan Manto ki ‘Thanda Gosht’…” (The next story we present to you is Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘Cold Flesh’)
There was pin drop silence among the audience as the listeners waited for the story to unfold.
‘Thanda Gosht’ is one of the most hair-raising pieces of fiction written by Manto. It tells the tale of a Sikh man raping a dead Muslim girl, during the communal violence of the Partition in 1947.
This bold narration of the story on stage, perhaps for the first time in the country, was the work of Katha Kathan, a literary initiative spearheaded by 68-year-old Jameel Gulrays.
“To be honest, I had mixed feelings during the rehearsals. I was expecting the audience to raise objections but our move was appreciated. At the end of the narration, the audience sat in stunned silence, soaking in the story,” shares Jameel. “We had successfully done our job.”
This was Katha Kathan’s third performance since they started doing their story-telling performances in early 2016. ‘Thanda Gosht’ was part of a four-story collection by Urdu writers Munshi Premchand, Ismat Chugtai and Saadat Hasan Manto that Katha Kathan had put together. The theme for the evening was stories depicting the woman protagonist in many roles and moods – from being a silent provider to an individual exploring her own needs.
Katha Kathan was born in Jameel’s Santacruz home. One evening, sitting amidst his only treasure – Urdu books, as he claims – he pondered over the fate his books would meet once he passed away.
“The books would probably be sold to a raddiwala. Maybe the pages of the books would be used to wrap paan or serve bhelpuri,” jokes Jameel. “And so, I thought why not document the stories. That’s how I started a YouTube channel where I upload a story or two every day. The aim is to save Urdu.” As of now, the YouTube channel has over 600 stories. During this process of documenting the stories, Jameel met with many people from different demographics. “I realized it wasn’t just Urdu that was suffering, almost all Indian languages are on the threshold of being reduced to dialects. It is heart breaking. That’s how Katha Kathan came into being,” says Jameel.
The objective of Katha Kathan is to revive and preserve Indian languages and reintroduce them to the youth
In this endeavour, Jameel has with him a team of 12 readers who meet at least thrice a week to practise staging the show.
In order to reach a wider audience, Jameel and his team are adapting short stories written in Bengali, Konkani, Kannada, and Marathi, among other languages. In their previous shows, Katha Kathan presented Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Kabuliwala’ in original Bengali and an adapted Marathi version, and Manto’s ‘Taraqqi Pasand’ in Urdu and Marathi too.
Katha Kathan’s shows have been received with a lot of warmth, says Jameel. “We have witnessed audiences laugh out loud as we narrated ‘Taraqqi Pasand’ and, within minutes, wipe away tears over Tagore’s tragic story ‘Kabuliwala’.” People connect with a live storytelling sessions and, with each show, the initiative gains in popularity.
Katha Kathan will stage its fourth show on November 16 at Sathaye College in Mumbai. The show ‘Kya Sahi? Kya Galat?’ will bring forth four stories by Manto. Two stories, ‘Shareefan’ and ‘Saadhe Teen Aane’, will be read out by Vasudha Sahasrabuddhe in Marathi. ‘Licence’ and ‘Jee Aaya Saheb’ will be presented in Urdu.
Given the burning issue of currency, the organisers have decided to have free entry for the show. Those who purchased tickets earlier will receive refunds.