Miscellaneous / 28.04.2012
By Hasan Altaf
The poet Kabir died in 1518, so it is jarring to open a translation of his writings and read the following line: "O pundit, your hairsplitting's/so much bullshit." It is even stranger to look up and realize that the poem bears an epigraph ("It take a man that have the blues so to sing the blues") from the American musician Lead Belly, who was not even born until 1888. A quick scan through the volume reveals more epigraphs (Pound, Coleridge), a dedication (one poem is for Geoff Dyer) and vocabulary that Kabir himself could not have come up with: "Smelling of aftershave/and deodorants/the body's a dried up well…" Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's Songs of Kabir is not, it is safe to say, your father's Kabir.
Miscellaneous / 22.04.2012
By Kabir Altaf
According to Hindu mythology, The Mahabharata was dictated by the sage Vyasa to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. However, some scholars believe that the sections of the epic that deal with Ganesh's scripting are later interpolations. Vyasa himself appears as a character in the epic. Vyasa's brother Vichitravirya died without issue, so Vyasa's mother asked him to impregnate his brother's wives, the sisters Ambika and Ambalika. Ambika was the first to come to Vyasa's bed, but out of fear and shyness, she closed her eyes. Vyasa cursed her and told her that her child would be born blind. The next night, it was Ambalika's turn. She had been warned to remain calm, but her face turned pale due to fear. Again Vyasa cursed her and told her that her son would be be anemic and not be fit enough to rule the kingdom. These two brothers would end up being the ancestors of the two warring clans, the Kauravas and the Pandavas.
It is this mythological background that Alice Albinia draws upon in her novel Leela's Book.