“Agar firdaus bar roo-e-zameen ast
hameen ast-o, hameen ast-o, hameen ast”
[If there is a paradise on earth
It is this, it is this, it is this.]
This quote in Farsi (Persian) is ascribed to the famous Sufi poet and philosopher Hazrat Amir Khusro Delhavi (from Delhi, India circa 1253 – 1325); centuries later, the Mughal ruler Jehangir (1569 – 1627) is said to have uttered these words spontaneously, overwhelmed by the majestic beauty of Kashmir.
This blog is merely an attempt to (re-)focus attention on events unfolding around us, although I have taken the easy way out to write on a difficult subject. Only those who are suffering can truly express their pain; I am therefore offering you the verse of four writers who, while separated from each other by geography and time, are united in expressing a tormented yearning for their lands and way of life now lost to them forever. Words can be constrictive and may not truly communicate a writer’s feelings, especially if employing a language that is alien to them or the translators of their works. Still, emotions cannot be restrained, as is evident in young Amineh’s poem.
Lament for Syria
by Amineh Abou Kerech (13 years old Syrian refugee who arrived in the UK in 2016, learned English and won the 2017 Betjeman Poetry Prize. This poem was written in Arabic and English, with help from her older sister, teacher and Google Translate.)
“Syrian doves croon above my head
their call cries in my eyes.
I’m trying to design a country
that will go with my poetry
and not get in the way when I’m thinking,
where soldiers don’t walk over my face.
I’m trying to design a country
which will be worthy of me if I’m ever a poet
and make allowances if I burst into tears.
I’m trying to design a City
of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,
free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.
Oh Syria, my love
I hear your moaning
in the cries of the doves.
I hear your screaming cry.
I left your land and merciful soil
And your fragrance of jasmine
My wing is broken like your wing.
I am from Syria
From a land where people pick up a discarded piece of bread
So that it does not get trampled on
From a place where a mother teaches her son not to step on an ant at the end of the day.
From a place where a teenager hides his cigarette from his old brother out of respect.
From a place where old ladies would water jasmine trees at dawn.
From the neighbours’ coffee in the morning
From: after you, aunt; as you wish, uncle; with pleasure, sister…
From a place which endured, which waited, which is still waiting for relief.
I will not write poetry for anyone else.
Can anyone teach me
how to make a homeland?
Heartfelt thanks if you can,
from the house-sparrows,
the apple-trees of Syria,
and yours very sincerely.”
By Mahmoud Darwish (translated by Fady Joudah. Mahmoud was a Palestinian poet and author who was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. Born in 1941 in a Palestinian Arab village in 1941, he died in the US in 2008)
“In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me … and I forgot, like you, to die.”
Do You Know The Tales Of Our Forefathers?
By Dhi Lhaden (a Tibetan monk, intellectual and writer born in 1980)
“To my niece Gangzum,
Before the sun’s rays hit the smiling peaks
You are ready to hit the road.
Following the hooves of yak singing a sad song
With the day’s provisions stored in the fold of your chupa,
This is when my heart turns weak like the tunes of your song.
If you have to spend your life
On the plateau like animals in the wild,
I never want to say “Farewell” and leave.
Instead if I can turn you into a student holding a book and a pen
Will you be a girl in the service of our country?
Will you be a woman who loves her people?
Let me ask you:
Do you know the troubled tales of your forefathers?
Did you see their footprints in the mountains you roam?
Do you recognize the mountain peak
Where your forefathers’ vital blood dissolved?
Write this single word called “Freedom”
On the mountain peak where your forefathers have
Shed tears for livelihood and
Sacrificed their lives for their rights.
This will be your first proof to be with the people of the world
On an equal footing.”
By Agha Shahid Ali (Kashmiri poet born in Delhi in 1949, died in the US in 2001. He was deeply moved by the music of the immortal ghazal singer, Beghum Akhtar and influenced by the works of the legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.)
[Farewell is popularly assumed to be a letter from a Kashmiri Muslim to his Kashmiri Pandit friend, wistfully reflecting on Kashmiriyat (centuries-old indigenous secularism of Kashmir) which came under attack by divisive forces in the 1990s]
“At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.
when you left even the stones were buried:
the defenceless would have no weapons.
When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller’s balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
Who is the guardian tonight of the Gates of Paradise?
My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved – all
winter – its crushed fennel.
We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?
In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other’s
Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are found like this
centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?
In this country we step out with doors in our arms
Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.
At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me.
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect Enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory:
I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.
The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed- as it withers – toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.
If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn’t
have happened in the world?
I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive. You can’t forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.
There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.
If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?”
We trundle on, lurching from one human tragedy to another, doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
As a counterpoise, enjoy this vibrant composition penned in 1964 by the famous Kashmiri poet Deena Nath Nadim. Originally an opera about ill-fated lovers – the “bumbro” (bumblebee) and the narcissus flower who can never have a union; it became very popular as a song sequence in a 2000 Bollywood movie.