Monday, January 10, 2011

Finding life within the work we do...

The Kabir blogfest is on. Do read author Jaya Madhavan's blog post on how the book came into being. And here's Samina Mishra's response to the book Kabir the Weaver Poet by Jaya Madhavan... 

My first encounter with Kabir, perhaps like all school going children in India, was in my Hindi textbook. I don’t remember being struck by too much other than the fact that his language was so much simpler than the rest of the Hindi curriculum, despite being in a dialect I was not completely familiar with, and I could actually write about the dohas without having to study. In hindsight, in the context of middle school Hindi, that is saying a lot. Kabir’s poetry, infused with an everyday life, encouraged an everyday engagement that even the most pedagogically challenged teachers could not take away. But, to be honest, it didn’t really stay with me except:
Maati kahe kumhaar se, tu kya ronde moye
Ek din aisa aayega, main rondungi toye

Perhaps that was because of my mother who has a fondness for this doha. And then, in the last two years, I encountered Kabir again through the work of two gifted filmmakers – Rajula Shah and Shabnam Virmani. Shabd Nirantar and Had Anhad both opened up for me the word of Kabir in all its everyday profundity. The mysticism inherent in everyday tasks, the quiet observance of the world around you, the elusive core of being without the essentialising of becoming. These are ideas that are best understood in an experiential way and so, the films worked for me by giving me the space to experience that in the darkness of the theatre – the poetry, the images and the people in the films who seemed to have grasped the simplicity of it all.

To try and share that experience with children is not an easy task and I am all admiration for Jaya Madhavan to have undertaken the task. It is important to create art for children by according them the same respect and intelligence that we accord adults and by tackling questions of conflict, death and the quest for an inner spirituality, Madhavan does just this. It will mean different things to different children – that is in the nature of all art. Some may just respond to Kabir’s message of equality, some to the device of Dhaga, a thread from Kabir’s loom that takes us through the events of Kabir’s last day in life and some may find in the book a desire to learn more about Kabir and about their own questions.

I read some bits out to my nine-year old son and he read some more over my shoulder. He was prompt in saying that he liked it.

“But what did you like?” I persisted.

“Well, that he says that people should be equal… and that even his tools – the charkha and the thread and stuff – can all have a life of some kind. I mean it’s not really that they have a life, but it’s nice to think that they do…”

“Why? Why do you think that? Does that tell us something about our work?” (Forgive the leading question – I was trying to push the conversation further.)

“Ya,” he declared, with a smile, “That we should work with concentration and do our work well.”

Yes, that’s something he’s sure to have heard before at home and in school. But if he can connect that oft-repeated message to a nascent life that lies within all work that we do, then is that not Kabir’s word within the word:
Jaise til mein tel hai, jyon chakmak mein aag
Tera sayeen tujh mein, tu jaag sake to jaag

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