Kashmir lost its celebrated storyteller, the ‘daastango’ Mohammad Ismail Mir, recently. The deceased was instrumental in keeping the flame of ‘daastangoi’ alive in the state for over half a century. He breathed his last after a brief illness. He was 85.
Mir was a household name in ‘daastangoi’—an old form of storytelling in prose and verse of Kashmir, dating back to several centuries. It was his versatile plus inimitable style that popularized the art among masses.
As a word of his death spread, many who’s who in ‘culture club’ turned up at Mir’s Mujgund residence to convey condolences to the bereaved family. The mourners termed the late storyteller a legend, who had been instrumental in keeping the tradition of folk storytelling alive.
Winner of multiple awards, Mir was known for reciting traditional Kashmiri ‘dastaans’ like ‘Himal Nagrai’, ‘Bumber Yamberzal’, ‘Aqla Wazir’ and ‘Aknandun’ in a style that would keep the audience spell bound for hours. Mir was gifted with sharp memory, making him a treasure trove of tales.
During his heydays, bereft of modern means of entertainment, his ‘daastangoi’ was very popular attracting masses across Kashmir. His stories about righteous outlaws, epic-power struggles, legendary wrestlers and star-crossed lovers broadcast on Radio Kashmir and Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar over the decades caught the attention of people cutting across age.
It was Mir who introduced ‘Saaz’ in ‘daastangoi’. He performed in almost all the states of India, and thus took the art outside the state. Mir’s two sons — Ghulam Hassan Mir and Abdur Rashid Mir — have taken up storytelling as a profession.
As a child, it is said, Mir was visited by a god-man in his dream, asking him to tell stories. Mir protested, writes Chitralekha Zutshi in her ‘Stories And Storytellers Of Kashmir’, saying that he was illiterate and didn’t know any stories that he could tell. The god-man asked him to try, and as soon as he opened his mouth to protest yet again, stories poured forth from him.
When Mir woke up, he could recall not just the dream, but also the stories.
– Riyaz ul Khaliq