Thursday, 25 February 2010

Kabir Revisited

by Vishakha Chanchani

I say revisited, because Kabir’s baani resurfaces in new ways, back into our lives.

It could be because of our own dilemmas, the mess individually and collectively we keep falling into, difficulties of relationships, image and identity traps, wanting more… these knots, centuries old, still ask to be undone. The discovery or rediscovery of Kabir is also recognition that it’s time to make a move! Old words in new worlds, really, not so new, and the words not so old.

Kabir revisited also because the Kabir that exists in school texts needs to come alive and find new spaces.

Spirituality defies definition. Can it ever become a subject? Ideally, (!), it has to permeate all that we do, that we engage in. Children, especially very young children have a capacity to see things directly, to ask questions with innate intelligence. How do we, design material that does not undermine these qualities? Children eternally grow up with many people telling them what to do or not to do, and when people are not direct agents for making rules, the environment around them through advertisements, gadgets, toys, structures, or fashion, old acquired habits, life styles, might dictate what traps to fall into.

So when Kabir makes an entry into schools, he is probably going to ask all kinds of funny questions which will not fit in with the systems we have set up.

What trouble will be afoot?

This voice, this figure, or presence is going to ask you who you are, where are you coming from, where are you going. He will bring in the uncomfortable theme of death, ephemeral ness. He will question ‘religion’, God, your inheritance… scoff at the puffed up scholar. He will also point out that you are a cosmos within a cosmos, he will sing about the sea, or the sky or garden inside you. Hint at eternal mystery. The unknown.

Kabir will bring in and question history, look at the nature of nature. He will ask you to look at landscapes of the city, soil and body, to look within. Kabir will weave and sing, talk about pots and potters, about form and emptiness. ‘Be still’, ‘go slow,’ he will say, or ‘do it now’! Kabir will even confuse.

In a world of where promoting one self, being ‘someone’ is becoming the done, accepted, norm, a voice will say, ‘suno bhai, who are you, how big, how ‘established’ can you get? What is being secure? How much is under our control’?

And then he will always talk about friendship, love, about being aware.

It will not be easy to do a question and answer chapter on Kabir in the current set up, and to ‘measure’ how he has been absorbed by the school child. Introducing Kabir is also a way of seeing, listening, being. And through explorations of his verse, comes the need for music, an exploration of ‘sound’, the richness of language, which has its own dynamic culture, an appreciation of poetry or the spirit of oral traditions.

Being part of a group/space like this will perhaps be the most challenging area. What is the dynamics of the group to be like, I tentatively ask, are these questions relevant to us? How do we connect, where does Kabir make a ‘formal’ entry? Shabnam has opened up Kabir to us, in ways we cannot fathom how we might have absorbed.

Personally, I realize I am treading into this land with all my vulnerabilities, pattern making abilities, my insecurities and my inability to define now, where I am, and where I’m going. As Paresh Raval says in the film ‘Radio’ - Bahut confusion hai!’

The connecting links for me that seem tangible are also ~the need to make books, connect to children, more people. To draw and illustrate Kabir’s verse, an excuse to experience his words through other media for myself. And as someone who has always felt intensely about exploring education, I still ask what it means to be in a school for life, in all its shades, in its fullness, not as separate disparate subjects or ‘curriculum’.

While we work out the nitty-gritty of the Kabir in schools…or khel khel mein Kabir - I cannot help but think that in the true sense, ‘Kabir’ is not really the subject, not as a person, his insights are important. He should never become the ‘focus’, someone to exclusively glorify.

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