Kabir like you’ve never known him

The novelist places the mystic saint in a world where religious, ethical and other human conflicts are as charged and relevant as ever

Kabir like you’ve never known him

Kiran Nagarkar

But why is there so much suffering?’ one of the weaver’s disciples, the one they called Gunidas, asked. He was so earnest and solemn in his quest for God, the Weaver wanted to kick him down the stairs to get a laugh out of him. ‘Why does a child of two die of diphtheria? Why do the poor starve while the rich only get richer? Why is there no justice? Why is there pain, Master?’ There was no stopping Gunidas.

‘What a silly question,’ the Weaver said. ‘Because God is evil.’

Gunidas and his fellow-pupils were aghast. The Master was always being heretical, partly to shock them, partly because he liked to speak in puzzles and enigmas, but today he had gone too far; he had crossed all bounds, even those of irreverence. He had to be taught a lesson. They would all leave him.

‘Good riddance,’ the Weaver shouted as they walked out on him, ‘I’ll have some peace now’.

But blasphemy is always tempting. It is, after all, the first expression of freedom. One by one, they came back.

‘We are here on one condition and one only. You’ll stop saying terrible, heretical things to merely provoke and torment us. Is that a promise?’

The Weaver gave his word that he would never say anything shocking again. He looked contrite. ‘I swear by Satan I shall not be heretical again.’

It was pointless talking to him, they said, and walked out again.

‘Is Satan not the creation of God?’ he shouted after them. ‘Are there departments up there, one for evil and one for good? You, Michael, you are in charge of all plant life. Gabriel, I’m shifting you to the department of prophesy and prophets. As to you Uriel, from now on you are in charge of the full spectrum of plagues and the research institute for new and more horrific diseases. We haven’t had anything grand and deadly since smallpox. And you, Lucifer, the portfolio for evil, I’m entrusting it to you. I don’t want any dirt to stick to me. You are the bad guy and I’m the good one. It’s very primitive and simplistic but take my word for it, good against evil is the best theatre in the world.

People will flock to see us. The bishops, qazis and rabbis will philosophize interminably about the tree of knowledge and the doctrine of free will, and how God in his wisdom created polarities and each human being must choose between Him and evil. They’ll love it, Lucifer.

‘Have you noticed something else?’ the Weaver asked. ‘Something bizarre? Satan, I mean Lucifer, has all the time in the world, and I mean quality time, for all of us. He is always available. Not just that, he takes the initiative, he’s patient, he’s persevering and, most of all, he never gives up

on us. He’s always there, even when we don’t need him. In fact, especially when we don’t need him.

‘How do you think original sin came about? God was sitting on his high horse, acting all mighty and remote and unapproachable while the devil was holding Adam and Eve by the hand in the Garden of Eden and making them feel wanted.

‘You’ll admit that it’s a little odd that while the devil is always on call, the good Lord seems a little preoccupied.

‘Why does God get all the credit for good,’ the Weaver asked, ‘and why is all evil attributed to Satan? If God is the Creator, he can handle both. You must decide who’s in charge here, my friends. Only then will you understand that all polarities and divisions are sacrilege. God, if I may use one of these new-fangled academic terms, is the unified theory of the universe. Good and evil, warmonger and pacifist, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, materialist and preacher, atheist and believer are all encompassed in Him.

He’s large enough and wise enough to accommodate all contradictions.’

Karni kare toh kyun dare,
Aur kari kyon pachhtaaye,
Tune boya ped babul ka
Toh aam kahaan se khaaye

Having committed the deed
Why would you be afraid, and then repent
First you sow the thorny babul,
Then how come you expect to eat mangoes

This extract has been taken from The Arsonist with permission from Juggernaut, the publisher)

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