Excerpted from the introduction to The Relevance of Kabir. By Todd Vickers
Let us let go of taboos when encountering poems. A lyricist mixes metaphors like a cook making soup. Before you taste this broth, be warned, I like spice! When we allow bold statements, we quickly clarify ideas that might otherwise be obscure, hence the following metaphor. Prostitutes who serve women were once talked about in hushed and disbelieving tones, but a quick internet search of the terms female sex tourism shows that these behaviors exist and have their own market. Sex for sale now attracts women with disposable income. The allegory that follows applies to both men and women.
Things happen in brothels beyond the pale of tradition, proving possibilities exist outside of custom. Do you wonder what you are missing? Yet, it is forbidden to go. If you went, what would your mother say? To break the taboo, cowards armor themselves with arrogance and display contempt for women who know their hidden desires. Isn’t that why these ladies are condemned by the masses? Kabir knew many secrets and, likewise, suffered derision.
Cowards are often cruel, weak and hide in groups, feeling safer with foolish comrades. They are like thieves ransacking a home without finding the treasure in plain sight. The ignorant take only what they believe to be valuable. Gorging on wine and food, they leave with a night’s guilty pleasure, followed by a hangover. They may even speak of disappointment. Do not imitate these pathetic men when entering a brothel or reading a poet.
Kabir’s verses are like women at a brothel. Have courage and remove your religious and social prohibitions. After all, if customary correctness were really satisfying, there would be no business for brothels at all. Discard beliefs at the door like uncomfortable secondhand clothes. Now, be honest! You do not go to a brothel to pass the time, for idle conversation or drinks. Why pretend? Why hide your blush? There is no need to be false. The women know exactly why you came. You cannot pretend in front of them. Do not denigrate such women or mimic the hypocrites who will not come in; pretenders who enact both virtue and disdain publicly, while, in their blood, they burn with lust. If you have gathered enough courage to enter, then do not be a coward once you pass the door. Surrender to these women! Many are there and, like poems, a few always stand out. See the one with eyes flashing like lighting in the dark night. She reveals things in a strange way, other than what you have known. Another has strength and can overwhelm you. One more sees your pettiness and contemptuously impugns you with a glance. Yet another has a warmth and kindness that rivals the gift of your own mother’s breast.
If you want help understanding Kabir’s verses, then take off the clothes that hide your reality. Stop pretending to be anything that you are not and hear his song. The risk of this prose surpasses the charms of the above-mentioned women. Unlike prostitutes, Kabir offers beautiful gifts without charge. He exposes you in a way that does not pass like an evening’s delight. Leaving a bordello, you again dress and return to routine. Like a child, you can make-believe that you are something else. However, Kabir seeks to destroy pretense and burn the bridges from the past; he leaves you without a false sense of security. You can dive deeply into one moment and abandon the travails. Now, see what remains.
Will you give up yourself when the clothes of pretentiousness fall away? Will you yield? Will passion drive you nearer to the beloved, while you whisper “yes”? What if a beautiful lie, to which you were promised, bursts in shrieking, “Stop! I will be anything you want. You cannot possibly want that truth so crass and ugly. It is your duty to remain with me!” In that moment, can you say “No! I desire the beloved that no lie can rival”?
Come! Oh, will you come and meet someone dear. He thought you might be coming and he prepared a gift. Do not be afraid. He is a loving and simple man, a weaver by trade and his name is Kabir.
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