Every Indian child, at least the ones who learn Hindi, knows about Kabir—the mystic poet, saint, and philosopher. Kabir ke dohe or Kabir’s couplets were a part of my school life too. Not only did I read his poetry in my Hindi textbooks, I was also exposed to his philosophy through the Government of India initiated “National Integration Campaign” during my school years in the eighties as Kabir’s philosophy and background—which appealed to Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike—made him the perfect symbol of national integration.
Kahat Kabir suno bhai saadho…, which appears like a signature line in most of Kabir’s compositions, was probably the most recognised phrase during my school days. Yet, once I left school, I also left Kabir behind. Over the years, I had fleeting encounters with Kabir through a occassional article in a newspaper or magazine or through snatches of a song heard on TV or the radio.
So, when I heard about the Kabir Festival being organised in Mumbai, I knew that this was a chance to renew my acquaintance with Kabir. According to the Festival’s twitter page, “The aim of The Kabir Festival Mumbai is to introduce Mumbai to the message of Kabir which is perhaps even more relevant today than it was in his time.” The Kabir Festival Mumbai is a “confluence of mystic poetry, music, dance and films”, with the main festival being held from 21–23 January, and the run-up events from 14–20 January 2011.
I attended the events on 19th January, which was hosted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. The first programme of the evening was the screening of Do din ka mela, a film on the music and every day life of two musicians—Mura Lala Marwada and his nephew Kanji Rana—against the backdrop of the Rann of Kutch. While the former sings songs by Kabir and sufi composers like Abdul Lateef Bhita’i, as well as Kutchi folk songs, the latter plays the Jodiya Pava or the double flute and accompanies his uncle. Mura Lala and his troupe’s music performance was the second programme of the day.
An award-winning film, Do din ka mela is directed by Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar (both faculty members of TISS) and produced by TISS. The opening scene of the film—a gloriously bleak, shimmering canvas of blue and sandy brown—sets the tone for the contrasts in the life of the two artists. Culturally and musically so rich, yet dependent on subsistence farming and daily wage labour for a living; proud of living off the land, yet feeling deprived; content with their life, yet wanting to travel abroad in an aeroplane; Mura Lala’s old wooden tanpura-like instrument and Kanji Rana’s flutes made of PVC; the high-pitched voice of Mura Lala and the mellifluous notes of Kanji Rana’s flutes…
The film’s narrative is beautifully interspersed with the music of Mura Lala and Kanji Rana. Mura Lala’s rendition of Kabir’s Do din ka mela is, in my opinion, the highlight of the film. In this song, Kabir says that, “Nothing in this world lasts, it is a two-day fair” and Mura Lala conveys Kabir’s disdain for man’s lust for material possessions and his spiritual disconnect with the Almighty so poignantly.
While I remember how the film began, I can’t remember how it ended as I was too caught up in the music and the narrative of the film. I do remember the credits scrolling on the screen and the audience clapping at the end of the film. I also remember leaving the screening room for the venue of Mura Lala’s live performance, which began almost immediately. But I don’t remember how the film ended.
Mura Lala sang many songs during his live performance and as he sang, the lines between the film I had just watched and the live performance that I was watching blurred until the two couldn’t be distinguished. When Mura Lala sang Do din ka mela on stage, I could almost see the women in his family sitting around him embroidering, and the little child (probably his son) listening to Mura Lala and gurgling his appreciation just like in the film. Like the film, the live rendition of this song, too, was the most powerful and evocative part of his live performance.
It has been 2 days since Mura Lala’s performance and listening to so many of Kabir’s songs. The mood and music of that day is still fresh in my mind. Kabir’s simple and powerful message of self-reflection or seeking a spiritually rich life over a materially rich life is still resonating. Kabir’s call for a humanitarian approach to God without the borders or strictures of religion is still resonating. Kabir’s message of seeking a balance in whatever we do and hope to achieve is still resonating.
Kahat Kabir suno bhai saadho… is still resonating in my mind.
Update: My friend Anita pointed me to a video produced by two students of TISS as part of an assignment on editing. These students have made a video “capturing the essence” of Kabir’s Do din ka mela as rendered by Mura Lala. Enjoy 🙂