An evening with Kabir

The Kabir Festival was held in the last week of February at various venues across Bengaluru. It had promised to be a week of films, music and enjoyment. And so it was...

Just as I rued missing a January evening of South and West Asian folk music, thanks to my inertia, I was delighted to hear of the Kabir Festival, from 23rd February to 1st March, at various venues across Bengaluru. It promised to be a week of films, music and enjoyment. And so it was…


A photo of Shabnam Virmani and her friends during a spontaneous singing session at the festival (Pic: T.B. Dinesh)

An exciting and enchanting journey that began with the thought provoking and soulful ‘Kabir ke dohe‘ (Kabir’s couplets), the festival offered an opportunity to interact with Shabnam Virmani, feminist and filmmaker. For, the festival was “an outcome of my quest for the socio-political and spiritual legacy of Kabir, a 15th century mystic, in our contemporary worlds” during her Kabir Project at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Yelahanka. This project has resulted in a series of films, music CDs and poetry books and many workshops, events and relationships, spread over a five-year period. Incidentally, I first heard of Virmani when we (a few volunteers with AID-India) screened her powerful and inspiring film When Women Unite – about the mid-90s liquor prohibition movement in Andhra, at IIT Chennai, in 1998.

After mulling over the schedule of events a few times, I decided to spend a couple of hours in the serene environs of Sophia High School, Palace Road – the festival venue. The programme included one of Virmani’s documentaries, Chalo Hamara Des (Come to My Country) followed by a Q&A session with her and other artistes. More importantly, it did not require the free entry passes, mandatory for the evening live performances, which were completely exhausted the week before.

And oh, what a time I had! Spontaneous recitals and singing by Virmani and her friends. Quotations, analogies and anecdotes from the performers and followers of Kabir. Laughter, applause and appreciation by everyone present. One of the seekers of Kabir very aptly compared himself and others like him to blind people (the three blind men?) with their distinct perceptions of an elephant.

I had originally planned to be there till five in the evening but left only at 8 PM, and that too, rather reluctantly. Needless to add, I had managed to get a free pass. To say that I enjoyed my time at the festival thoroughly and felt elevated by the experience is an understatement. I eagerly look forward to more such events. The CDs that I listen to and the couplets that I remember from school are a poor substitute, a mere consolation.

‘Maati kahe kumhaar ko, tu kya roonde mohi,
ik din aisa hoyiga, main roondoongi tohi.’

The earth says to the potter, oh, how you knead me!
One day, I will return the favour…

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