Koi Sunta Hai, which means someone is listening, is a three-day festival on Kabir organized by the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, and is the outcome of a six-year project called The Kabir Project by film-maker and artist Shabnam Virmani. Apart from screening four films by Virmani, the event will feature live music concerts by folk artists such as Mahesha Ram from Jaisalmer, classical bhajans by Vijay Sardeshmukh and Sufi and Qawwali singers from India and Pakistan. There will also be an interactive session with the noted Kabir scholar, Purushottam Agrawal. Edited excerpts from an interview with Virmani:
How did your tryst with Kabir begin?
I was living in Ahmedabad when the Godhra incident happened. I saw the need to make peace. As I traversed that road, Kabir and his teachings began to signal to me.
Why is the poet’s voice relevant today?
Kabir is relevant because he urges us to rise above identity politics. We’re seeing growing polarization in our society on the basis of language and identity, and borders. Here is a man who is urging us to let go of the packaging and seek an essence. Not just Kabir, but all the Sufi voices have similar ideas.
Bulle Shah said famously “Bulla ki jaana mein kaun?” at a time when society all around us is erupting with confident, self-righteous and acrimonious proclamations of identity—a Sufi is saying he doesn’t even know who he is! This is a profound message of ambiguity. This is a healthy kind of uncertainty.
So the shift from making films on gender issues wasn’t a shift after all?
“The personal is political” dictum inspired me while I worked on films related to gender issues. The meaning hit me with stronger resonance when I discovered Kabir. He pushes you to understand the ego and insecurities that make all of us violent in some sense, to see the connections between those violent impulses in your individual ego and how they multiply into collective egos of mobs.
You spoke to artists, a fruit seller, a Buddhist scholar and many others for their interpretation of the poet. Which version appealed to you the most?
I think it’s the multifarious Kabirs that appeal to me most—not any one.
Koi Sunta Hai starts 27 February and is on until 1 March at Sophia High School, 70 Palace Road, Bangalore. Entry is free. You can pick up passes at KC Das on Church Street, Max Muller Bhavan on CMH Road, Pecos R&B near Ramaiah Hospital. For a detailed schedule, log on to www.kabirproject.org