Kabir the Weaver-Poet by Jaya Madhavan to mark the day. Mystic weaver, radical reformer, loved and hated equally in his time - the simple wisdom of his pithy couplets, the famous dohas, makes him one of the more frequently quoted poets even today. Yet Kabir the person remains an enigma.
This brilliant novel traces one day in Kabir's life, threading fact, legend and poetry into a superbly structured narrative. Kabir the Weaver-Poet is a landmark in contemporary writing for young readers and old.
Author of the book, poet and children's writer Jaya Madhavan uses storytelling, theatre, songs and Carnatic music to create learning modules for children.
The ghat was empty. The dark sky would soon rip under the weight of the morning sun and the Ganga would look so different. Kabir liked best to pause by the river at this time of day, to watch it come alive in the light, its seamless fabric transformed into a stretch of shimmering magic with the waters running zigzag, this way and that. Ripples bloomed in bunches. Small waves tumbled towards the bank. The rivers' face was now no more the smooth unwrinkled cloth it was in the predawn hours. Now her body had lines, with silver currents running through and across like the warp and weft.
Kabir smiled. He had been a weaver for so long. From the time he could remember he had always seen his parents work at the loom. Was that why he saw weaves everywhere?
On clear nights, while the skies embroidered stars, Kabir would step out of his humble hut and make himself comfortable under the champa tree in his frontyard. In a deep tone, he would begin singing. The fragrance of the champa flowers and the rich timbre of his voice carried into the sleepy huts of the julaha neighbourhood. "The weaver-poet has begun to sing," the people would murmur, stirring from their beds to assemble quietly beneath the tree and listen to the soothing songs of Kabir: "Slowly, O mind, slowly. Everything in this world happens in its own time. A gardener may water a tree a hundred times, but the tree will bear fruit only in the right season."
Dheere dheere re mana, dheere sub kuchh hoye,
Maali seenche sau ghara, ritu aaye phal hoye.
"Everyone is born equal and the world knows it. It is just the cunning who say some are born high, some low," sang Kabir.
Janamte manus hote, sab yah jaanat sansar,
Banyak shudh karavahi Kabir pukar
It comforted the people to hear that there was no high or low amongst human beings, none pure or untouchable, and that Ram and Rahim were the same. In that space beneath the fragrant tree, with darkness embracing them like a warm blanket, what Kabir said did not hurt the listeners as much as it did after day broke and the humdrum of everyday life took over. The very people who listened calmly to Kabir's wise words the previous night would turn against him in the morning, reviling and insulting him at the first chance they got. Some even called him a fool for holding fancy notions that all men were born equal and that Ram and Rahim were not two different gods.
Kabir's weaves, like his poems, were expressions of his innermost feelings and thoughts. Cotton from his loom shone like silk and was smooth like satin. Kabir could spin the cotton in such a fine count that the fabric could pass through a ring. The designs he created were unusual and laid in exquisite colours. A blue stretch of cloth would look like a sliver of the Ganga itself, so much so people called it abrawan, 'running water' - for if you carelessly let the material adrift in the river, it would be impossible to distinguish the floating fabric from the running water. If he wove in brown, it would capture the very texture of the earth.
"Does Kabir weave cloth or magic?" some wondered.
"Maybe Kabir knows sorcery and lures the five elements to breathe life into his fabrics," commented the malicious ones.
Yet everybody looked forward to Kabir's weaves at the Friday market, if not to buy them then just to gape at the splendid creations. But today Kabir had spent more time than usual at the ghat and was late. He was headed for the market empty-handed. There would be many sad faces and sighs of disappointment.
"Go and find some other place to take your song!" the Potter shouted.
The blind man laughed. "Now I know why Kabir says none can tolerate his words. I am not even Kabir, I am merely singing his songs and that makes you angry already. I shall stay here and sing as I please."
The defiance in the drummer's voice somehow quelled the Potter into silence. He sang on: "Like one wind, one water, one fire, God the potter made us all in one mould with one clay."
Ekai pavan, ek hi paani, ekai joti samaana,
Ekai khaak gadhe sab bhaandai, ekai kumhara saana.
The lonely song of the blind drummer climbed over the walls of the temple and began to penetrate the indifferent ears of the Potter. "God the Potter made different pots but the clay is all the same. Take ten cows, differently coloured, yet the milk is all the same," the man was singing.
Maati ek sakal sansara, bahu vidhi maande ghadai kumhara,
Paanch varan das duhiye gaai, ek doodh dekhai pati aai.