'The Singing Guru' by Kamla K. Kapur
Ideas on religious myths and legends as a continuing source of new literary creations, and Guru Nanak as the first Sikh, were discussed at the Chandigarh Literary Society’s book release function of Kamla K Kapur’s ‘The Singing Guru’ at the Chandigarh Golf Club on Saturday.
The co-panellists, noted art historian BN Goswamy, theatre personality Neelam Mansingh and the audience members participated in the interaction.
The author said her inspiration for writing the book came from Nanak’s janamsakhis. The historicity of the hagiographical accounts is highly disputed and debated in scholarly circles. Goswamy questioned the recreation as to her intention of presenting it as a parable or an allegory or a story with historical truth. Kapur’s defence on this point was it didn’t really matter if the incidents in the janamsakhis were real or fictional. For her, “fiction, fantasy and myths are profound and a better way to tell the truth than historical facts".
The book is written in first person narration from the point of view of Nanak’s disciple, Mardana, an adventurer and seeker of desire. The conflict between flesh and spirit has been explored as Nanak, with a superior wisdom, shows the path of life to Mardana, who has an inferior intelligence, verging towards fulfilment of material and sexual desires.
The subtitle of the book, ‘Legends and Adventures of Guru Nanak, The First Sikh’, became an interesting point of discussion among the panellists.
As Sikh means disciple, both Goswamy and Mansingh questioned the appropriateness of calling Nanak the first Sikh. It turned out to be a chicken and egg situation as they questioned if “Nanak was a Sikh”, whose disciple was he? Kapur answered that in her research, the word ‘Sikh’ came earlier, and Gobind Singh only institutionalised the religion. The guru in Nanak’s case was the higher self, the inner voice, which is God himself, and is revealed through detachment from material possessions and self-reflexivity. Mansingh commended Kapur on three parameters of a good author — story component, technique and passion in writing.