Kabir Kabir is an abridged and simplified translation of ‘Akath Kahani Prem ki’ by Purushottam Agrawal. I loved reading his Hindi book. It gave me many more lenses to not just read Kabir but also how to read poets of another era. Till I had this English book in my hand, I did not realize it is the same book. Anyway, it is about Kabir, so I had to read it.
In the review, a comparison of the two books is inevitable. The Hindi book is obviously way better than the English one, so without a doubt pick that if you read Hindi. There are many reasons for it. The author is far more natural in Hindi, he flows like a river in youth in Hindi. In fact, he is so good with Hindi that you would need to read it with a lot of attention. He is not bad at English, but I do not find his English very contemporary, there are jerks in his narrative. If you do not read Hindi, you may not notice the difference though.
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Hindi book is far more detailed than the English one. It goes much deeper in its analysis, probably the author is aware of the awareness levels of his audience in Hindi and English. He knows that Hindi readers know Kabir, his poetry, and his philosophy. The English readers may not know as much. Even the poetry included is far less in the English version. In my opinion, translations can never do justice to poetry. The book does have some poetry along with its translations by leading scholars of Kabir like Linda Hess.
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Illustrations have been done by Devdutt Pattanaik. He follows his well-established style to illustrate some poems and some scenes of Kashi. They are nice but do they add any value to the book? I do not think so, as the book discusses historical social systems during the times of Kabir more than his works. There is nothing much to illustrate.
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The last two chapters are a bit disappointing, where there is less of Kabir but more of the author’s response to current times. I would not be surprised if Mr. Pattanaik has influenced these chapters. I am a little amused at this partnership. Purushottam Agarwal comes out as a deep thinker in his Hindi book, who is bound to leave you thinking. He dives deep into the available literature both local and global. Devdutt on the other hand is more of a pop culture author on Indian subjects. I guess, since he was the catalyst who asked for an English version of the book, he was paid back by allowing him to illustrate the book. I can not imagine the two of them talking at the same level. But then, what do I know!
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Overall, it gives you an insight into the times of Kabir Das, the later writings that created his persona, and what he himself tells us about all his times in his poetry.
Read the Hindi one if you can, else it is a good read.