The Many Desires of Chouboli

Here in the halls of LSR we had the honour of having a talk session with Dr Madhavi Menon, Professor of English at Ashoka University, on the play/narrative The Many Desires of Chouboli. Ma’am bears expertise in the Shakespearean era of English language. She has also written three books that are now in circulation all over the country.

Chouboli is a form of dastangoi, Persian dastan (tale) goi(to tell). It involves narration of the text without much action, consisting of a story within a story and never reaching a final conclusion. The best example of this is the work of The Arabian Nights. Chouboli attacks the increasingly British concept of sexuality in India that has raised a culture of acceptance of only heterosexuality and the degeneracy of all other forms of expression.

The central text consists of a princess, Chouboli, who is adamant to marry the person who can make her laugh four times in one night. Anyone who failed to do so was locked up in a dungeon and forced to grind fodder for horses. A parallel story is of a girl who sees a ‘Thakur’ shoot 108 arrows through his wife’s nose-ring. She is asked to dress like a man and try the impossible task of the princess. After narrating four gripping stories, she is able to win the princess’s hand and they are married.

It is an expression of continuous movement of desires, forces us to be open to new ideas, to pause and engage in the allegedly “cheap” notions of the society and traditional forms of sexuality and desire. The talk was followed by questions by the students. The discussion centered on the identity and labels we seek in life, the conformist attitude that compels the subjugation of desire, and the changing notions of tradition.

The whole session left the students with a new insight to the theory of decadence and provided ideas to ponder upon related to their attitude towards the same.

Report By Apoorva Gupta


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