Thursday, 28 April 2011

on the road, in the song

Malwa Kabir Yatra, 2011.

Before I begin, let me apologize. I promised to blog live from the yatra. However, the whole experience was too overwhelming and intense for me to sit and reflect and find a laptop with internet and type. But I made notes, or rather, titles, and here is the expansion of some of them.

Kailash Kher: I am not an artist

Day 1, Luniyakhedi.
We have just arrived, and the heat hits us like a blast. An ice-gola fellow with a stall is standing in front of Prahladji's house, surrounded by thirsty people under the burning hot sun. I fight the temptation to buy a gola and go inside. Shantiji, Prahladji's wife, greets me warmly and offers me a khus ka gola. 'Khus beats the heat,' she says. How can I refuse?
I slurp on a green sweet ice and watch Kailash Kher give a bath to his cute little son, Kabir.
Night, Satsang. Kailash Kher shares the manch with Prahladji and Kaluram. Kailash tells us how a cd was once stuck in his car stereo for three months. Only that cd would play, again and again. Guess whose cd it was? Prahladji's of course.
He tells us that he has come here to listen, not to sing. He sings, nevertheless, but not before this disclaimer:
"I am not an artist here. I am a devotee who is calling out to the Lord. So don't judge my song, just sit back and enjoy."
As if you had to say that, Kailash.
When he got up and left, some of the villagers crowded around him, trying to touch his feet.
Kailash responded with a joke, 'What have you lost? Kuch khoya apne yahaan?'

I am amazed.
Day two: I have gone to pick up an artiste from Turkey, Latif Bolat. In the ride back from the airport,
Latif tells me about Turkey's kabir-like mystic, Yunus Emre. Latif is very enthused about sharing the Turkish dervish with India and taking Kabir to his country.

'Turkey needs to re-open itself to Indian culture, we have so much in common. In fact, Sufism started out with mystics walking all the way to the Indus valley.
He believes that Sufism was the direct result of the first Sufi, Mansoor's travel to Indus, mingling with the sadhus here, and then coming back.
"Analhaq! (I am the truth)", Mansoor answered, when the occupant of the door he knocked inquired, Who is there?' That he was hanged for this 'blasphemy', was another matter. A lot of Sufis caught the gist of this mahavakya and started singing and dancing.

Below is a translation of a poem Latif sings for us.

Seyyid Seyfullah Nizamoglu (16th C)

The Path of Amazement

I cannot say who it is I am

I am amazed, I am amazed!

I cannot call this self 'myself'

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who is in my eyes seeing?

Who is in my heart enduring?

Who is inhaling and exhaling?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who is speaking with my tongue?

Who is listening with my ears?

Who is understanding with my mind?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who is stepping with these feet?

Who is tasting with my mouth?

Who is chewing and who swallowing?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who holds these riches in his hand?

Who is the one throwing them away?

Who is buying and who selling?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Why is there life coursing below my skin?

Why are my eyes bloodshot from crying?

Why this religion, why this faith?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

O Seyyid Nizamoglu, hear this:

Everything comes from the One.

Abandon yourself to this mighty beauty

I am amazed, I am amazed!

The flying ghost
Day three, Lunikhedi, Prahladji's house.
We are all sitting on his first floor verhandah and having our meals when a sudden sand storm blew on us and our paper plates went helter skelter in the tornado.
Bhanwari Devi's ( the soulful folk singer from Rajasthan) son Kishan in conversation with a local, as I eavesdropped.
Kishan: Do you know how this sand storm arises?
Local : Of course I do. It's an angry ghost.
Kishan: Look where my paper plate is flying. High in the sky. Full power this ghost is.

When onions fell out of the camera person's dupatta.
Those of you who have lived in hot temperatures, specially in childhood, must be aware of the cooling powers of raw onion. Most of us have had to submit mutely to grandmothers rubbing onion juice on our feet to ward off a sunstroke. Since I was in charge of the medical kit, half a kg of onions were packed in my bag.
Whenever anyone complained of the heat, I would hand over an onion and tell them to either rub it on their bare feet or at least carry it with them. Even smelling an onion can stop a nose bleed. And that's how the onion fell out of the camera person's dupatta.

The fast slow down number
Makeshift band, the young manzil gang from Delhi, came up with a new, fast version of the song, 'Halke gaadi Haanko.' (drive slowly).
I quite enjoyed the beat, in spite of the seeming contradiction. Prahladji came upto Niraj on the stage and hugged him, saying that the lyrics are far more important than the tune, and as long as the song is heard, the purpose is served.

Niraj has promised to upload the song on his facebook page. My favorite of their songs was Ekela mat chod jo banjara re (dont leave me alone, o traveller). Niraj would half close his eyes and sway as he sang. Here is a link, to banjara, not so well recorded, but as Prahladji said, the lyrics are the loaded material.

on the road, in the song

We were two buses full. Both were overflowing with song. We stop for a chai. Its hot inside the bus, its not cooler outside either. As I walk back to the bus with the chai in my hand, I see Mooralala Marwada sitting on the road, in the shadow of the bus, happily humming a song by himself. Mooralala is always happy to sing.
I sit next to him, and am surprised to hear him sing, 'Jara Halke Gaadi Haanko'. We try to sing the whole song, and together we remember most of the words.
The next couple of hours in the bus are spent in learning this song by heart. Mooralala has a problem with the phrase, 'Bilakh bilakh kar chidiya royi, bichad gayi meri jodi'.
He would instead sing, ' Dagaj Dagaj kar chidiya royi, ...'
'Its bilakh bilakh, bhai. Crying her heart out.'
'Yes yes. Bilakh Bilakh kar, chidiya royi, chichad gayi meri jodi.'
Finally, I dig out a pen. 'Lets write it down, ' I offer.
He shakes his head, 'I cant even sign my name. If I was educated, I would have reached places by now. But never mind, its quite perfect, the way it is. No point in going faster. Let the road flow smoothly. Let there be spaces between us. If we try to compete, there will be a crowd. Jara halke gaadi haanko, mere Raam Gadi wale...'

Tujhe hai showk milne ka,
to har dum, lu lagata jaa

A song I know since two decades. Prahladji is busy, tired and always surrounded by people. But I get him alone on the fifth night.
'Please sing this song for me, Prahladji.'
'Which song? I don't know this song.'
I have recorded this song in his own voice on my mobile during the web archive editing work I do at the Kabir project.
I play the song on my cell and refresh his memory.
'Oh, this one?
Ok, I will sing it. Let me listen once more, I forget the words....'

...Two nights later, I hear this song on the speakers, and I run towards the stage, with tears in my eyes. The latter part of the song, however, has changed drastically. From Mansoor mastana, it is now Kabir who is calling out, suno bhai sadho...

Note: I would like to invite all of you who were in those buses, to write in your experiences, the high points and the low ones of the yatra, from your favorite music to how you felt when we were kicked out of the dharamshala after sleeping for less than an hour...

Monday, 11 April 2011

Saint Kabir's wedding night

Some things don't change, not over a few centuries. The flip-flop nature of the mind and the stilling, magnetic influence of art.

Makes sense? Yes, but so what, right? There are innumerable ways of saying something. I shall say the same thing now through a story. Tell me how you like it.

Tore Sang Jaaungi

Once upon a time, there lived a man called Kabir who weaved cloth for a living. You probably had to study his poetry in your Hindi books. Forget all you ever read. Imagine yourself to be here, in Kabir's house, now, in the fifteenth century.

Kabir lives with his mother, and mostly spends his time weaving cloth and singing his own songs to the beat of the loom.

Seeing his detachment from the worldly and attraction for the spiritual, Kabir's mother takes him to a neighbouring village on the pretext of getting some cotton and gets him married to a young girl. Kabir is neither overjoyed nor unhappy.

On the wedding night, when everyone else is asleep and they are alone, his bride suddenly bursts into tears.

'What? Missing your family? Want to go back?' he asks her.

'No. Never,' she replies.

'Ok. That's fine. Then why are you crying?'

'I am missing someone.'


Kabir walks to and fro in the small room, as his bride sits in a corner and weeps.

'You love him?' he asks her.

'Yes,' she admits.

'And he?'

'He also loves me.'

'Then why did you marry me?'

'My family forced me to. He is from a different caste.'

'Caste is all crap. We are all the same. Get up, wipe your tears. I will take you to him. We will reach early morning.'

The young girl can't believe her good luck. She thanks him profusely and they sneak off into the night.

It has just rained, the sky is clear. The moon is full. A bride and her groom are walking back to her village to meet her lover. But the groom is a poet, and before the song, he warms up with a doha,

'Laali mere laal ki, Jit dekhun tith laal. Laali dekhan main gai, to main bhi ho gayi laal.'
(As I sought the beloved, I began to see Him everywhere. I was so enraptured that I lost myself in Him.)

The terrain gets rocky and slushy. After a while, the young girl begins to tire. Her mood drops and she starts crying again.


'Slow down! I cant walk as fast as you,' she cribs.

'Why not? We are going to meet your lover. You should be walking faster than me.'

'Look at my clothes! Look at all this jewelry! Try walking two steps dressed like this.'

'All right, I get your point. Ok, sit on my back. We can't afford to slow down.'

So she climbs on his back and he carries her like a child. She is overwhelmed and can't stop crying. To soothe her, Kabir starts humming below his breath.

As he has intended, her curiosity is aroused.

'Can't hear you. Sing aloud, please,' she requests the master.

'Naiiharavaaaa humakaa na bhaaveyy, humakaa na bhaaveyy,
Naiharavaa... aaaaa'

Kabirs voice resounds in the dark night, lighting it up with melody.

Naiharwa humka na bhave

Sai ki nagari param ati sundar

Jaha koi jaaye na aave

Chand suraj jahaa pavan na paani

Ko sandes pahuchave

Darad yaha Sai ko sunave

Bin Satguru aapno nahi koi

Jo yaha raah bataave

Kahat Kabeera sunoh bhai sadho

Sapane na Preetam aave

Tapan yaha jiya ki bujhaave


(Most of you must have heard this song, sung by Kumar Gandharva, Shabnam)

(translated to English by Linda Heiss)

I don't like my native place.

The lord has a city of absolute beauty

where no one comes or goes,

where there's moon or sun,

no water or wind.

Who will carry this message?

Who will tell the lord of my pain?

I can't see the path ahead,

and going back would be a shame.

Oh beloved, how can I reach

the in-laws' house?

Separation burns fiercely.

The juice of sensuality

keeps me dancing.

Without a true guru

there's no one we can claim,

no one to show the way.

Kabir says, listen friends, seekers,

even in a dream my love won't come

to put out these flames.

The innocent girl's entire turbulence flows out.

For a little while after the song, there is silence. A deep, beautiful silence, a vast space where something happens. Something that can change a person's life. Kabir starts wondering if she has fallen asleep, when, all of a sudden, she starts crying again.

'Now what? You hungry?'



She is a fifteenth century village girl. But she finds her voice.

'Tore sang jaaungi.' I shall go with you.

He is a fifteenth century weaver. Who's just got wed.

'Pakkaa?' Sure?

'Sau takaa pakkaa.' Hundred per cent sure.

-written by Manjushree Abhinav, part of the team at the Kabir project. She blogs at

Watch this space for daily updates on the Malwa Kabir Yatra by Manjushree, etc.