My friend Dawn Promislow read from her collection Jewels and Other Stories, Ava Homa read a passage from Glass Slippers, probably the best story in her collection Echoes from the Other Land, Sheniz Janmohamed read from her book of ghazals and H Nigel Thomas read an extract from his novel Lives: Whole and Otherwise.
This blog is about Sheniz Janmohamed’s book of ghazals Bleeding Light.
The ghazal is a unique concept in poetry where the singer is as important as (or perhaps more important than) the poet. This amazing confluence of words and music makes ghazals not merely a pleasant experience, but a transcendental, even spiritual one.
Two of the best contemporary ghazal singers are Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali and the best ghazals they have sung are:
Jagjit Singh: Tum ko dekh to (poet: Javed Akhtar)
Ghulam Ali: Hangama hai (poet: Akbar Allahabadi).
I had never read ghazals in English before and quite frankly, it took some getting used to and re-readings before I began to enjoy Sheniz’s ghazals. All the ghazals are refreshing and make you see the world differently. Once the light touches your soul, you can’t remain unmoved.
Here’s one that I liked the most because it evokes so many images.
A man sells packets of socks in a gully where most men walk barefoot.
What can he do but rest his head on that ledge, hastily painted crimson?
In Old Town, Allah hu Akbar pounds the walls of crumbling Fort Jesus.
A taxi cuts us off, Allah is Great plastered on his window – in crimson.
At the Coast, we bargain shillings for bags and kisii stone elephants.
Indians are not good customers. The seller brands our skin crimson.
Bombs detonate at the steps of every mosque, in the throat of every believer.
If Allah is a war cry, how can we lift Bismillah from asphalt stained crimson.
If only we planted a thousand trees for each page we discard and crumple.
When her last pen snaps, Israh will draw blood and scrawl words in crimson.
Israh is Sheniz’s takhallus