Saturday, November 2, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


Thus spake Sant Kabir
Khushwant Singh

Uma Gupta, Rita Sawhney and Shanta Bhalla
Uma Gupta, Rita Sawhney and Shanta Bhalla

WITHOUTDOUBT the most popular saint-poet of northern India was, and is, Bhakta Kabir. Almost everyone, be he Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, educated or unlettered, rich or poor, will know a doha or two of Kabirís by heart. And yet we have no definitive biography of the man. The popular cherished belief is that he was born in Banaras, of Brahmin parents but adopted and raised by a Muslim weaverís family. I find that hard to accept. My own reading is that he was the son of a Muslim weaver who was influenced by the teachings of Hindu bhaktas and rose above considerations of caste and religion. In his writings he always referred to himself as a Julaha (weaver).

There are two distinct compilations of Kabir poems, his granthavali which is an anthology of his dohas known by rote to millions of Indians and his shlokas incorporated by Guru Arjan Dev in the Adi Granth, which are known to those familiar with the Sikh scriptures. Though the message that comes through is the same, the two read quite differently. While the former have been rendered into English many times, the latter have only been rendered by scholars like Macauliffe, Manmohan Singh, Gopal Singh and Talib as parts of their translations of the Adi Granth. The first time Kabir of the Sikh scripture has been published in translation in a separate book by Kartar Singh Duggal: So Spake Kabira (UDSPD). He has taken the trouble to render Kabir in poetic form and his translation makes pleasanter reading than the renderings by his predecessors. If he had given the opening lines of the shlokas in Roman script, it would have made identification easier.

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How a rapist should be punished
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Historical research: Punjabi style
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No one will go hungry
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Neither blind nor deaf to the beauties of nature
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More about life after death
August 17, 2002
Importance of being important
August 10, 2002
Land-grabbing in the name of God
August 3, 2002


Duggal is among the top three or four writers of Punjabi, his output of novels, short stories or poems would fill a couple of shelves of a library. Rather late in life, he realised that Punjabi could take him that far but no further. So he switched to English. He is equally prolific in both languages. I canít think of another person who could have done more justice to Kabir than Duggal. He is a devout Sikh, his wife is a Muslim.

Kabir (1398-1448) was by no means the founder of Bhakti Movement as stated by Duggal. The movement had started more than a couple of centuries earlier in Tamil Nadu and had then spread northwards. A popular couplet describes its advent and increase:

Bhakti Dravid oopjee, uttar Ramanand

Pargat kiyo Kabir nay sapt dweep nav khand

(Bhakti was born in Dravidian country;

brought north by Ramanand;

Kabir spreaded it over the seven seas

And nine continents.)

Kabirís message in the simplest words is the total rejection of religious bigotry of any kind. Mocking at the pretensions of mullahs and pundits with equal relish, he pointed out the pointlessness of erecting mosques and temples for a God who is all-pervasive and arrogance of the rich and the powerful who like the poor and the destitute must go into oblivion. He asked:"What is the point of putting bricks and stones together to raise a minaret for the mullah to shout the call for prayer? Has God become hard of hearing? And why bother about the mighty and the rich?They are no better than the date palm which casts a very small shade for the weary traveller and its fruit is far beyond reach!" Kabir accepted the semitic version of the origin of life and the casteless fraternity of humans:

Avval Allah noor upaaya

Qudrat kay sab bandey

Ek noor tay sab jag upjea

Kaun bhaley kaun mandey

(At first God created light

We are creatures of nature

From one light came the entire world

Who then is high and who is low?)

He summed up what the aim of life should be in these memorable lines:

Jab hum aaye jagat mein

Jag hassa ham roey;

Aisee karnee kar chale

Jab hum jaayen jagat say

Ham hassein jag roey

When I was born everyone rejoiced but I did cry

Fill your life with such deeds that

When you die

You have a smile on your lips while others cry.

Late flowering

There are people who find their true vocation somewhat late in life. They are like the autumn crocus which blossoms before the winter takes over; it is this flower which yields saffron used to flavour and add fragrance to pulao, biryani and sweets. The thought came to my mind at the exhibition of works of three women at Habitat Centre: a photographer, a painter and a sculpturess in their mid-fifties. Age is all they have in common.

Rita Sawhney is a grandma and a widow. Her children and grandchildren live abroad. First she set up a boutique in Delhi; then with her mother took up export of ready-made garments. It did not do well. She took to writing for the papers. Ten years ago, she acquired a camera, attended courses in photography and illustrated her articles with pictures taken by herself. In her spare time, she plays golf. But she has little time to spare and does one assignment after another, travelling by road, rail and aircraft. She has found a purpose and fulfilment in life.

Shanta Bhalla is married but has no children. She has lived in Canada, England, Nigeria and the Sub Sahara. In Canada she conducted writing workshops. Back home she worked for a publishing house and has written two books, which are yet to be published. While living in Calcutta, she took to painting. She admits that in her youth "my soul was yet relatively untouched by life. Two and a half years ago when I applied paint to canvas for the first time after over thirty years, the feeling was indescribably cathartic. Each canvas I have painted since then has engrossed me to the point of exhaustion."

Uma Gupta is mother of three children, all living abroad. While visiting her sons in America, she developed interest in ceramics. She went into making pottery. After tiring of making pots and vases, she took to sculpting, first with clay, then with bronze. She has won acclaim in many art exhibitions.

So ladies whether you are single, married, ditched, divorced or widowed and on the wrong side of middle age, donít waste time sitting idle at home, gossiping, going to bottle or cocktail parties; you can be creative and earn the good feeling that you have not wasted your life.

Biblical truth

I was addressing and stamping envelopes at my Christian friendís home when I ran out of stamps. "I have some in here," my friend said as he reached for his Bible.

"Now that," I said, "just goes to show that if you need help, turn to the Bible."

"I also keep my petty cash in here," he replied. "Itís a good place to hide things. The ones who do open the Bible wouldnít steal from it, and the ones who would steal never open it."

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)

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