City-based storyteller and speaker Mohan Krishnan says saint-poet Kabir’s Dohe was subtle and prompted the reader to reflect and arrive at his own conclusion

While many have tapped into the power of a well-phrased, two-line string of words, the 15th — 16th Century saint Kabir Das was a master at it. Kabir’s Dohe (two-liners) retains its charm and relevance even today. Sample this. Central banker-turned-storyteller, motivational speaker and corporate trainer Mohan Krishnan has been studying Kabir’s couplets for many years now. “I did study Kabir’s Dohe as part of my high school syllabus. But it was much later that I discovered my passion for Kabir Das, when a speaker at a conference cited one of Kabir’s couplets while outlining how communication ought to be handled,” says Krishnan, born and educated in Kolkata, and settled in Chennai.

Now, Krishnan can talk at length about each one of Kabir’s 900 couplets and his other poetry as well. Alongside, Krishnan conducts story telling sessions on epics, folk tales and fables, and uses them as tools for training, mentoring, healing and transformation. At a recent session organised by the Leela Palace and Apparao Galleries, Krishnan gave Chennaiites a fascinating account of Kabir’s couplets. Being a good singer, his lyrical rendition of Kabir’s Dohe in bhajan style too struck a chord with the audience.

The poet's life

Though he lived to a ripe old age, much of Kabir’s life is shrouded in mystery. We do know that Kabir lived in Varanasi sometime around 1440-1520, and that he was abandoned as a baby, and found and raised by a Muslim weaver couple Niru and Nimma. Despite the prejudices that existed then, Guru Ramanand accepted him as his student and taught him Upanishads and other philosophy, until the guru passed away a few years later. “With that, Kabir returned to being a weaver, but his mind continued to spin with thoughts. He broke into verse whenever he was struck by any encounter, incident or observation,” says Krishnan. The spontaneity is reflected in his verses. Kabir’s simple, insightful and reflective couplets continue to hold a mirror to ourselves, and provoke a rethink on aspects we have excluded from our critical appraisal, in the name of prejudices, faith, destiny or rituals.

Studying the human mind

Kabir did not renounce the world as did other great philosophers. He went on to marry and continued with his weaving. Perhaps, this gave him an insight into the human mind. “The charm of Kabir’s couplets is that he never attempted to dictate or prescribe morality or paths of action. He was subtle, and prompted the listener or the reader to reflect and arrive at his own conclusion,” says Krishnan. We may have lost much of Kabir’s poetry, as being illiterate, Kabir never wrote down his verses. Luckily for us, some of these verses were recorded by his followers. And, what is left is a precious legacy.

Couplets to ponder on

On knowledge and wisdom

Volumes of literature does make one a scholar,

A real scholar is one who knows compassion and love for fellow beings.

On right speech

Speech should be such that it neither hurts others,

Nor leaves the speaker feel regretful later.

The glory of God

Even if oceans make the ink, the woods the quill, and the earth’s surface unfurled into paper,

It would not be enough to pen the glory of the Lord.

On mindless rituals

Mindlessly they shake their heads and scream not knowing why,

Like the blind in a battlefield.