There is lot of confusion everywhere around me, about my faith. Some think that I am a Moslem while others believe that I am a Hindu or may be a Sikh.
I rarely opened my cards.
With this note I am not clarifying anything but adding fuel to the confusion.
So here is my story. I was born in a family where there are divergent views intersecting each other without any harm. On my father’s side my whole paternal family is a follower of “Shakta” tradition of Hinduism where-as my Great Grandfather, his wife and their first son were all Sikhs. That doesn’t qualify my grandfather to be a Sikh. His side of family had an ancient tradition where some members (apparently first son) are baptized as “Khalsa” while the rest keep retaining their faith -which is a mixture with some bits of Hindu rituals additionally visiting Sufi “Dargah” and at times offering Namaz in the mosque.
These practices have been very common in western Punjab with the passage of time and wounds of partition, they lost their significance. Some are still followed. I used to visit Dargah with my father and maternal aunt in childhood.
Now the background from my mother’s side, my maternal Grandmother and her family followed a saint belonging to Nirmala Tradition of Sikhism. Guru Gobind Singh (10th Master of Sikhs) sent few of his followers to study Hindu scriptures in Benares. When they came back, they laid the foundation of comparative studies between Hinduism and emerging Sikhism. With this the Nirmala Sect was established.
Little bit of historical masala, making a move back to the theme. After completing kindergarten studies from a school, I am not able to recall the name; I was admitted in a Sikh missionary institution. The hymns from Adi Granth (Guru Granth Sahib) constituted our morning assembly. After the assembly, we used to recite Jap ji Sahib written by Baba Nanak in the classroom to begin our day with high spirits. There are times when I move back to my classroom morning gathering and hear verses from the surroundings- “Thapeya Na Kita Na Hoye… Aape Aaap Niraanjan Soye… Soche Soch Na Hoviye Je Sochiye Lakh Waar…. Suniye Saat Santokh Gyaan… Suniye Aath Sath Ka Ishnan…. Suniye Dookh Paap Ka Naas”. As a part of school curriculum we studied Sikh History and went deeper to understand the meanings of Gurbani. The subject we studied was named Divinity. From fifth to seventh we had a very interesting Divinity teacher. He never condemned any faith. He never forced the Sikh Hymns on “Hindu” students still many Non-Sikh students recited the words respectfully. He read the stories where a Sufi saint Bhikhan Shah was blessing the child Gobind Rai. Peer Buddhu Shah another Sufi fighting from the side of the Guru against the Mughal Army. In the evening post school hours, I used to visit Gurdwara with my neighbors who were faithful to their lord, sometimes on my own. The humbleness and the martial tradition of Sikhism enthused me. Gurbani Kirtan sent soothing vibrations.
Around the same age my mother took me to the abode of Nirmala saint for Naamdaan. Naamdaan is a practice started by Sramanas who used to bless their followers by the name or Mantra of different Gods and deities, depending on the belief of the pursuer. The aged saint very softly in my ear spoke the Mantra of Shiva which for years I recited. Soon I was out of that school. But my interest in theology went deeper.
For my secondary school studies I joined Lyallpur Khalsa College. Like my previous school this institution was also refugees’ institution, had its foundation in Western Punjab which is now in Pakistan. College was known for Lafantarbaazi as well as for intellectual masturbation. I was frequent to library but never read Punjabi literature. My readings constituted mostly mystery novels and some short stories here and there. In the college our Punjabi lecturer inspired me to explore the unknown world of my own mother tongue. I was instigated to write short stories in the same. While reading Punjabi literature, I discovered unknown history of Punjab where there were Sufis, Buddhist Monks, Naath Jogis, Sikh Gurus, Shaktas etc. There were many differences between them and their rituals. But their language was one. They spoke of love, freedom.
On one of the trips during collegiate days I was named “Khan” by my friends for some stupid reason. The reason is not even worth sharing. But I adopted it as my pseudonym. I started writing with the same Pen Name and founded a library with donations from various segments. We subscribed to different magazines which were sent to us free of cost. There were some Sikh Missionary magazines also in the lot. I was addressed as “S. Kabir Singh” in them. I don’t know what made their mind to address me like that. “Khan” & “Singh” both meant the same. I chose “Khan”. Khan was just a pseudonym for me, but for the masses enclosed it gave the sense of direction to the sect I belonged.
There came another transition- from Sikh Institutions I switched to Islamic one, got admitted in Jamia Millia Islamia (National Muslim University) for Under Graduate course. For many around me it was not a welcoming a decision. My parents were indifferent to it whereas my Grandmother appreciated and said “there is not much difference between us and them. We bow towards the east and they towards the west”. She has spent all her life in a small town where people are liberal. I met her sister when I shifted to Delhi. She has been a resident of the cosmopolitan city- from last many decades. She was horrified by my choice and there she spoke “Be careful, Moslems are riotous”.
I followed the words of my grandmother and not her sister. “Khan”which was a mere pseudonym was transforming itself to an Abrahmic Faith. I studied Islam in depth and as the meaning of the word “Islam” goes I felt like surrendering. Sunni-Shia, sects of Islam, Salafi, Wahabi, Deobandi, Hanifi- different schools of thought all failed to attract me except the path of Khwaaja Moinnudin Chishti and I surrendered. While my studies were going on I went closer to Sufism. Bullah, Waaris Shah, Shah Latif, Baba Farid, Sain Wajid, Hazrat Nizzamudin Auliya. I found all of them surrounding me. Discourse in Jamia encouraged me to study Nanak, Ravidas, Meera, Namdev and other Bhakti saints. I was amazed to hear their voices they were all encouraging universal fraternity.
My name played a very important role in defining my identity. In the novel “Vavrola” written by my favorite novelist Duleep Kaur Tiwana- character Prof. Chauhan tells Sumeet that the choice of name is not accidental, Nature names the person according to the personality of the individual. I don’t know how much truth is there.
My naming ceremony is also having a narrative behind it. My father was traveling from Delhi to Jalandhar in a train. He was smiling. His happiness was noticed by a fellow commuter who was a baptized Sikh. The aged Sikh inquired the reason of his happiness. My father told him that he is going meet his son who was born recently. The Singh suggested him to name his son “Kabir”.
And there I was named by an unknown one. Kabir- the medieval weaver who has left confused legacy in South Asia, many Muslims believe that he was not a Muslims so do Hindus who think that he was not a Hindu. Majority of the historians believe that he was born in the Julaha (weavers) caste of Muslims and became the follower of Guru Ramanand (Bhakti saint in Benares), batch-mate of other medieval saints including Ravidas , Peepa, Sain. He rebelled. His faith was rebellion. He inspired Sikhs to become Martial race. “Kabir Jaan Bhaye Khalse” and with the same verses Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa- the pure ones. Some say Kabir’s dead body was divided between Hindus and Muslims. Hindus made a Samadhi and Muslims buried him in the grave. His grave is still there. Samadhi I am not sure. Because of the grave there are strong claims by weaver community –Ansaris, of Kabir being a Muslim.
On the other hand Kabir Panthi still says he was born to a Brahmin woman. Different sects in North India have different Kabirs. Sufis sing his words in the form of Qwaali, singers from Malwa sing it in the way old Sramanas. Sikhs have their own classical form of singing Kabir. Kabir’s confused legacy is my identity.
The path of Kabir went further in the history. I saw Buddha meditating under the Peepul tree. While world was yelling Lord’s name. He had none. I read a speech of J. Krishnamurthi where he says “The one who believes in God is as foolish as the one who doesn’t”. I was amused. I shared this with my flat-mate. He narrated me a story of Buddha. Once Buddha was walking with Ananda, they came across a passerby who was loudly reciting the name of God. Buddha asked him “Where is your God… Have you seen him…?” The passerby was dumb folded. He just left silently. They came across another one who was condemning God and said there is no such thing called God. Buddha asked him “Is there no God really… Can you prove it?” The passerby gave no answer and left mute. Ananda asked Buddha “What is this? Is there a God or not?”. “God- it doesn’t matter whether there is any or not. What matters is the question!” replied Buddha. After completion of graduation I was enrolled on a fellowship programme. Ten days of Vipassana – meditation said to be prescribed by Buddha himself was a mandatory part of it.
In those ten days and the time post that, I transcended in different times and spaces where I saw Abraham sacrificing his son, Noah making a boat, Mediterranean ripping apart to give way to Moses, Christ resurrecting, desert fathers living far off to keep the satanic feelings away, foundation of church being laid by the inverted crucifixion of St. Peter, Muhammad signing a humiliating treaty so that ummah can prosper. His last sermon at the outdoors of Mosque in Mecca rang in my head- he said Arabs & Non- Arabs, Blacks and Whites, Muslims and Non-Muslims, Men and women we all are one.
Mind moved to another time and I saw Prahlad being saved by Narsingh, Vaaman placing his foot over Baali’s head, Sita giving an examination, Bhishma lying on the bed of arrows, Mahavira removing his clothes, Yashodhra giving away Rahul to Buddha, Shankracharya walking across the subcontinent.
The vision didn’t end there. I saw the caravan of Imam Naser, Khwaaja Moinuddin Chisty landing in Hindostan, Nanak condemning Aarti in Jaganaathpuri with the universally uniting words “Gagan Mein Thaal Ravi Chand Deepak Bane”, Kabir playing toomba, Ravidas ordering Meera to drink milk in leather, Bhai Ghaniya offering water to Sikhs and Muslims in the battle field, Bullah dancing on the door of Shah Inayat, Shah Lateef singing the story of Sassi Punnu and wailing.
So what is my faith? The answer is lost in the narratives or there is no answer. May be it is rebellion, transcendence or a question mark! And God- May be there is none laa illah or may be there is one ill lal lah.