This is a famous and popular album, combining as it does the poetry of Kabir, the voice of Abida Parveen and the compositional flare of Gulzar. The very definition of “triple threat”.
Abida Parveen needs no introduction. In a rough analysis she could be considered the female counterweight of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The Empress to his Emperor. A huge figure with a massive ecstatic voice that towers/ed above all rivals and peers. Their dedication to singing the kalam of Sindh’s (Abida) and Punjab’s (Nusrat) many Sufi poet philosophers unequalled over the past 30 years. I have written in other places of what an impression she created on me the only time I saw her live (at a semi private function at Islamabad’s old Marriott Hotel) and won’t go over that again. Though a friend contacted me the other day to wonder if I’d be interested in seeing her when she’s in Melbourne early next year!
Gulzar, one of India’s cinematic icon’s (his lyrics, including for Jai Ho, and music as well as scripts and direction are universally lauded) was born in Jhelum district in present-day Pakistan. One of the thousands of figures who made their careers and names in ‘Bollywood’ after the 1947 Partition of British India and who hailed originally from what is now Pakistan, Gulzar has been a champion of cross-border amity his entire life.
He conceived of this album and of Abida singing the dohe of Kabir. He selected the verses and composed the music. Kabir’s writings have a special place in the Sikh religion, into which Gulzar was born in the mid-1930s. Many of Kabir’s sayings have been incorporated into the spiritual music as well as the scriptural writings of the Sikhs. So this is material that Gulzar has been exposed to since his childhood.
His deep voice opens each of the four tracks with a few words of praise, delivered in the crisp diction and efficient concision of the writer for both the poet and the singer. And as such these pithy introductions add their own nasha (intoxication) to the album.
Like the first album of Kabir’s music I shared, this one opens with his famous doha
Mann laago mero yaar fakiri mein
Mann laago mero yaar gareebi mein
Oh friend, my mind has
taken to living free!
This lyric speaks the joy of poverty, and the beauty of simplicity. [Here’s a nice explication of this bhajan if you’re interested.]
My personal favourite, however, is track 3:
Saahib mera ek hai, duja kaha na jaaye,
Duja Saahib jo kahun, saahib khada rachaaye.
My Lord is One, without a second,
If I see multiplicity, it is also my Lord’s play.
Phool phool chun liye, kaal hamari baar.
Fully blossomed ones are plucked away, our appointed day is near.
Jinko kachu na chaiye, woh hi Shahenshah.
He who wants nothing is surely the king of all kings.
Antar raakhe jo mile, taase mile balaaye.
Those who meet You with a pure heart, have indeed found a Friend unmatched.
Har roothe Guru chhod hain, Guru roothe nahi chhod.
One may seek the shelter of God after displeasing God,
But there is no refuge after one is refused at the door of a Master.
Bove pe babool ka, aam kahan se hoye.
Nurturing the thistles of a barren tree, can one expect mango?
Saat samand ki muss karun, Guru gun likha na jaye.
all waters of seven seas be its ink – even then the Lord’s praises remain unfinished.
Kabira jab tum gaavate, tab jana Guru nahi.
Kabir, whenever you tried to utter the mysteries, the knowledge of your Master vanishes.
Sab mera main saban ka, tihan doosara naahin.
When everyone is mine, and I am everyone’s, there ends all duality.
When shall I die, when shall I find the perfect joy (of the vision of the Beloved)?
sab samundra moti nahi yun Sadhu jag mahi.
nor all seas are filled with pearls; likewise the real gnostics of God are truly rare.
Kabira ab aisi kar chalo, paache hansi na hoye.
and you were the only one weeping.
Kabir, now be in this world such that none laugh at your behind
but you yourself depart the world laughing, leaving all weeping, mourning.
Bhaven banda bhakshe, bhaaven gardan maar.
Now that I’ve realized O Lord, do as You please.
Dhan ka bhookha jo phire, so to Saadhu nahi.
Those who thirst after material wealth are not saintly at all.
Rai te parbat kare, parbat rai mahi.
Seriously narrow is the passage to salvation, smaller even than the mustard seed.
Tera Sain tujh mein base, jaag sake to jaag.
Your Lord is within, now awaken to That truth if you dare!