Text: Arati, Photos: Hari
We were all there, obeying inner urges, conscious or unconscious, as partners in a yatra - the Kabir Yatra through Malwa. We were an accidental set- formed as divergent streams feeding into a pool - from vastly diverse economic, educational, cultural, class, caste, religious, and even national backgrounds that had traversed vastly different personal histories to coincide in Malwa for this journey together - a journey of nine days, but experiencing a lifetime. What was this common inner call, the common gravity that pulled us enough to leave, for dusty wanderings through Malwa?
I sit wondering about this, as I now stare at the dense-green outside my campus window...and again and again the answer is affirmatively Kabir, and only Kabir. The power of Kabir's words had made us into adventurers, explorers, seekers, kaffirs, and fakirs.
And even while the call of Kabir was strong but still incomprehensible to many of us, there were several amongst us, most often people from Malwa, who had inherited and grown up with Kabir. They recognised the great force in Kabir's words, for social, political transformation, and for a personal, very direct way out the shackles of their own boundedness - both internal and external. These were musicians of Kabir tradition, educators, social workers that used the voice of Kabir to affirm individual positions towards a secular, equitable world, with equal rights, opportunities for all. This was an intensely political, essential Kabir singing directly to our times, and our needs, just like he did six hundred years ago!
Narayanji, a teacher and educator with Eklavya's outreach program was with us for large part of the Yatra. He spoke persistently on how Kabir was the one who could bring about "samanata", equal-ness within society - an equalness of our shared humanity, irrespective of gender, class, caste divisions. Narayanji, in his self effacing way, takes a most vocal, progressive stance on this Kabir - that erases differences, crumbles walls. And this Kabir - this respected Sant poet's voice rings with the necessary authority to drown the repressive force of traditional divisions - especially of caste and religion.
I remember a conversation that I had once had with a teacher from Eklavya program, in a 'Learning with Kabir' workshop...he had said that his direct act of revolt was when he sat with students for lunch - wondering if he would be served with the rest, by the rest, because of his caste - and he was! His action also led to all children coming to eat, together, as part of the government's midday meal program - an event that had no previous precedence in this school.
This is the power of Kabir - directing concrete action by imbibing words, singing songs. It is a calling that is recognised here, in Malwa, in a variety of forms, from the needy-for-a-God, Kabir Panthis, to local bards, musicians and mandalis, teachers, village elders, and the singing women of rural, central India that know Kabir songs appropriate for all occasions - birth, death, marriage, association, friendships, cooking, lovers, and journeys like ours.