You are invited to join the Kabir blogfest, organised in collaboration with the Kabir Project. If you have read Kabir the Weaver Poet, you can revisit the book or respond to it on your blog. Or send in your response to us. You can also blog about Kabir, write about how you have been touched by his poetry or the stories around his life or write about how you have responded to him. Do remember to leave a comment with a link to your post below. Read all about the blogfest here.
Here is Usha Mukunda's response to the book, along with responses from young people she has shared the book with:
Kabir The Weaver-Poet published by Tulika, seems to have rediscovered the man, the mystic and his message through a fortuitous encounter. What ensued is, in itself, a magical story and the book that was born from that story is a gem. You can read more about this in her foreword. The strong personal affinity between author and subject permeates the book but in no way is it cloying. Rather, it draws the reader into an intimate circle and the result is an absorbing and thought-provoking read.
The author has chosen to set the whole story in the space of one day, dividing the book into three main segments, Daybreak, Midday and Nightfall. This gives her the leisure to describe sights, sounds and feelings at each time of day. There is a deftness in the narrative like the intertwining of threads during weaving.
“The ghat was empty. The dark sky would soon rip under the weight of the morning sun.....Kabir liked best to pause by the river...to watch its seamless fabric transformed into a stretch of shimmering magic with the waters running zigzag. He had been a weaver for so long. Was that why he saw weaves everywhere?”
The author also manages to convey the continuing nature, not only of man’s daily rhythms but also of his patterns and prejudices. All this is done against the background of Kabir’s ‘dohas’ which give us clear insights if only we are ready to ‘see’ them!
“Kabir did not notice the thread or his bright, jolly face. He was singing softly, “Like oil within seed, like fire within flint, God is right inside you – find him if you can.”
Dakshayini, who read this book when she was 13 has some interesting comments. “Usually when I read a mystery, I can’t put it down but this book was un-put-down-able! I think the story of Kabir’s life and the way it was told held my attention. Ordinarily I would not have picked up this book about some saint’s life but my mother suggested it and once I started it caught me. It was such a colourful book.” It seems very important that parents, teachers and librarians try to nudge children into reading Indian writers’ books. There are very many excellent ones and it would be a pity if they were passed by.
A whimsical fancy of the author in personifying the loom, the weft, the warp, the spindle, the shuttle and most crucial of all, the dhaga, has appealed to many young readers I spoke to. “It added fun to the story”, says Yamuna, age 13. “Cute”, said another reader. Yes, it did add an unexpected turn to the story especially when they gathered their forces and set out to save Kabir and ended up playing a crucial part in the popular account of his death. Roses for remembrance? Using Dhaga to release tales and myths about Kabir added a swirl and a twirl! The black and white illustrations by Saudha Kasim are suitable muted and blend beautifully into the story.
The story is interspersed with Kabir’s Dohas and I wondered how young readers responded to them.
“I skipped them,” said Yamuna and Rishon, “but later when my teacher taught them in class, they made sense.”
“I liked the way there was an explanation and a background for each Doha,” said Daksha. “That made it more natural.”
When I suggested to a young reader that the final part of the book seemed very violent for children, I was struck by her response. “The ending made me cry. It made me see how pointless it is to hate and kill. Even now we are doing the same thing.”
As we journey with Kabir through his life, I wonder if we emerge a little sadder but wiser. Jaya Madhavan has managed to bring Kabir the weaver and the poet into our hearts and minds. The rest of the work is ours.
Question for Jaya: Usha says, "Jaya Madhavan, the author of Kabir The Weaver-Poet published by Tulika, seems to have rediscovered the man, the mystic and his message through a fortuitous encounter." Could you tell us about the encounter? How did the book begin?