The National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) has been contributing substantially to the realms of culture and art for more than a decade, but nothing can be more valuable and fruitful in terms of community engagement than training young people from the underprivileged areas of Karachi in the art of dastaangoi (storytelling).

The academy’s outreach programme bore fruit on Saturday with a two-day Storytelling Festival in which young boys and girls entertained, and in certain cases pleasantly surprised, the audience with their sparkling performances. The children from Ibrahim Hyderi, Baldia and Mauripur trained by the academy graduates Farhan Alam, Fawad Khan, Meesam Naqvi, Nazrul Hasan and Zarqa Naz performed pieces from works of literature ranging from Tilism-i-Hoshruba to Ismat Chughtai’s short pieces. It was a heartwarming experience.

No less heartwarming was the sight of residents from the above-mentioned three neighbourhoods packing the auditorium in the blink of an eye. They not just appreciated the storytellers’ skills but also listened to, with exemplary discipline, individuals such as Zia Mohyeddin and Dr Asif Farrukhi (in conversation with Fawad Khan) wax eloquent on the history of dastaangoi.

If anyone had even an iota of doubt about the children’s ability to pull off saying long lines with the correct stresses and pauses, it was removed the instant the young Riaz Baloch and Qadeer Ahmed, in the very first act of the festival, began to present an extract from Tilism. The boys were fluent, their diction was clean and their enunciation convincing. They did not give the impression that they had been taught for a period of merely two to three months.

The next act further illustrated how well the five trainers had worked with the children. Mohammad Irfan, Maria Zubair, Urooj Khalid, Mohammad Hasnain and Mohammad Shafique narrated Ismat Chughtai’s Chiri Ki Dukki with a great deal of flair — the kind of flair that’s required for a tongue-in-cheek tale. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the five kids’ work and gave them a resounding applause at the end of the narration.

It was followed by the famous Pitras Bukhari essay Kuttay presented by Riaz Baloch and his teacher Meesam Naqvi. Since Mr Baloch had already displayed his talent in an earlier piece, by now the audience had started to expect quality storytelling. And the two artists did not disappoint them. It also had them in stitches.

It was thoughtful of the academy not to confine the event to the Urdu language. Shoaib and Amna told the story Bicycle Ki Taleem in Hindko and Sindhi, which added a distinct flavour to the programme.

Mirza Nikhattu by Shahzaib and Nimra was again a cute little effort that had everyone’s undivided attention. To round things off, the Dastango Group (Fawad Khan, Meesam Naqvi and Nazrul Hasan) performed.

The academy should carry on with such initiatives. It is one way, and a powerful one at that, to attract the youth of the country towards healthy, artistic activities.

Originally published in Dawn, November 6th, 2017