Timeless dialogue

“Mann lago yaar faqiri mein

Aakhir yeh tann khaak milega kyun phirta maghroori mein

Guru Gobind do-u khade kaa ke lagoon paaye

Balihari Guru aapne Gobind diyo milaaye

Maalaa kahe hai kaath ki tu kyaa phere mohe

Mann ka mankaa pher de so turant milaa dun tohe” – Kabir

[(My) being is engrossed in devotion

Ultimately this body will to turn to dust (so) why (do I) strut about proudly

(My) Master and God are both present, so whose feet should I touch (in obeisance)

Blessed is my Master who shows me the path to the Almighty

The wooden prayer beads inquire why do you turn us

Turn (/alter the beads of) your being (instead), and you will instantly attain Godhood]

My wife and I recently went to a concert by Abida Parveen at Roy Thomson Hall. As always, starting with a Qaul Tarana (Man Kunto Maula) she sang from her favorite repertoire of compositions by Bulle Shah, Shah Hussain, Kabir, Ghulam Farid, Amir Khusro and other Bhakti/Sufi poets and elevated the captivated audience to an altogether different plane.

There were the usual distractions, people sauntering in up to 45 minutes after the performance got underway and then scrambling over patrons to find their seats, using cellphones to take pictures and recording the session in spite of being requested not to do so. It was distracting and I protested to the person next to me, busily clicking away with his large telephoto lens equipped camera. As he was in no mood to listen, rather than remonstrate I chose to shut my eyes and immerse myself in the gossamer web being spun by the performer. Divinity has to be experienced and transcends our five senses; one has to feel, rather than merely listen or see.

In 2002 or possibly 2003, famous lyricist Gulzar and Abida Parveen collaborated to release a set of CDs of Kabir’s poetry. Everything about these compositions is special – the introductory comments by Gulzar, compilation of verses selected from the huge collection of Kabir’s dohas and Abida’s straight-from-the-heart rendition of exquisite poetry. Around the time that I acquired this collection, my mentor Professor Singh and I were driving one summer afternoon to get his groceries. Abida’s CD was playing in the car. Suddenly, Professor Singh requested that we drive to a nearby conservation area. Once there, we sat in the car for over an hour on a gloriously beautiful summer afternoon, listening to Abida pouring out Kabir’s love for his Maker. As the music ended, Professor sahib slowly opened his eyes and in his reflective style of speaking, said to me softly in Punjabi, “Son, we just experienced something very unique. Do you realize that this poetry emerged spontaneously from Bhagat Kabir ji, who was neither Muslim nor Hindu. Some 500 years later it has been put to music by a Sikh – Gulzar in Bombay (India) and sung by a Muslim – Abida from Pakistan. A number of artists in the orchestra have contributed to create this divine music, from the plucking of the violin strings and the accompanying tabla to the peal of the tiny bell struck at precisely the right time, every little piece comes together in perfect harmony. And finally here we are, two persons sitting in Canada enjoying the timelessness of the entire “kaaynaat” (nature/universe) coming together to give us these precious moments of total bliss!”

Soon after I lost several loving souls from my life. Kabir and Abida buoyed my spirit and provided comfort through those grieving times and a decade later their timeless collaboration continues to give me joy.

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