A Lyrical Message
BY ANAAM IKRAM
“There, on the highest shelf, you will rest. Be careful, I want you to settle between the perfumes and the graceful antiques till the day my hands reach you to dust you off, sweeping the longing from your cheeks and all that waiting may have done to you.”
– A Window For Longing by Ali Abdulla Khalifa
Giving a voice to the unsung heroes that contributed to creating Bahrain’s history, prominent Bahrani poet and Chairman of the International Organisation of Folk Art, Ali Abdulla Khalifa, has highlighted the suffering of the working-class. Juxtaposing harsh working traditions, such as those of the pearl divers, with modern businesses in his poetry, Ali Abdulla Khalifa has made a name for himself for his ability to articulate his perspective in an artful manner. The award-winning poet sat with Perle Magazine and spoke about his love for literature from the very beginning and his collection of work to date.
An artist from the start, Abdulla Khalifa’s interest in literature arose when he was a student in primary school. Enjoying reading poetry out loud in class, Abdulla Khalifa said he went a step further and read more than the assigned literature. His genuine thirst for education as a young boy saw him spending hours at the library over the course of six years. Attending school as well as being the sole provider for his family, Abdulla Khalifa worked in the afternoons, followed by his daily trip to the library. “I kept myself busy with reading, I made a plan for myself”, he said. Focusing mostly on poetry, Abdulla Khalifa said he would also read books on other topics, taking particular interest in a magazine from Egypt called Al Sha’er. In 1963, he finally got the chance to showcase his talent in Al Hawadith magazine, in which he published his first poem, followed by the completion and publication of an entire first collection in 1969. His first collection, Anin As’Sawari, focuses on the suffering of the pearl divers and compared it to the modern-day issues at that time, which at the core, were similar. An example he gave was when the pearl divers would embark on their pearl-searching journeys, they would take a loan from their masters and upon returning when the divers would give back the money with added interest, the same situation can be seen with banks where the loaned money has to be returned back with interest – making banks the masters. His second collection, Atash An-Nakhil, released in 1970, focused on the date pickers and their issues while working on the abundance of date palms that add to Bahrain’s lush greenery and bare fruit to delicious dates. The beauty of Abdulla Khalifa’s words is that he skilfully uses both Traditional and Khaleeji Arabic in an abstract manner to express his point-of-view without it coming across as too abrasive. Staying away from any political agenda, Abdulla Khalifa says his poetry allows him to highlight some of the hardships of the workers that have been overlooked in the past.
Though he recalled several poets as his favourites, Abdulla Khalifa said he draws inspiration from poetry and the message that is being delivered rather than focusing on the poet.
Of his preferred poets, he mentions liking poetry of classical Arabic poets Al Mutanabbi, Omar Ibn Al Faridh and Abu Nawwas; Persian poet Omar Al Khayyam; Egyptian poet Ahmed Rami; and Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. These poets not only write in their native language, but have also had their works translated into multiple languages as well, much like Abdulla Khalifa’s own work, which has been widely acclaimed worldwide.
Having had work translated into English, Italian, Persian, Romanian, and most recently, French. Moroccan artist and poetess Dr. Thuraya Iqbal, has translated a selection of his poems, Washaag (Affinités) into French, including artwork by French artist, Chantal Legendre (Chanath), as part of the design of the book, making it a work of art in it self.
With 12 collections comprising his body of work thus far, his most recent collection, released in April 2015, looks at the art of “Mawwal”, the vocal music that is presented before the actual song begins. His poetry collection also includes a CD that features famous singers from the Gulf region reciting his poetry in the form of Mawwal. Referring to the pearl divers in his collection title and presenting his book in the same manner they would entertain themselves out on the sea, Abdulla Khalifa aptly named his book, Gal El Muanna or Talk of the Sufferer. Singers such as Bahraini singers Khaled Al Sheikh, Ahmed Al Jumairi, Kuwaiti singer Abdullah Rowaished, and Iraqi singer Mohammad Misbah can be heard singing Abdulla Khalifa’s poetry on the CD. Designed by Basma Al Banna, who also suggested the poetry collection to be created as a Mawwal, the book features art by talented Bahrani calligrapher Ammar Al Mahmood and Iraqi artists Ahmed Al Shehabi and Nasser Samaraee. Well-received all over the gulf, Abdulla Khalifa explained the success of his book is due to his celebration of this traditional art from combined with local Arabic to express modern ideas.
His dedication and passion towards the art form over the years earned Ali Abdulla Khalifa a plethora of accolades such as the Creativity Award on the International Poetry Day, in 2004, from the Bahrain Writers and Literary Association for his poetry as well as for his role in pioneering modern poetry in Bahrain and the International Grand Prize for Arts from the International Academy Orient-Occident in Romania in 2006. Not having received a formal education, Adbulla Khalifa was also awarded an honorary Doctorate from Guiseppe Colona University in 1987 and an honorary diploma from International Academy Orient-Occident in Romania in 2006. Abdulla Khalifa was also awarded prizes from the late Amir, Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa in 2000 and a prize from His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa in 2002.
“I am a student of life. I like life as it is, with so much beauty. I always think about how great God is and how He has created so many beautiful things”, he said. He expressed his gratitude towards the people of Bahrain and said it is important for people to come together to live and laugh together. “One poem of mine says: ‘my heart has left me and is on the street with people, shaking hands, kissing and hugging people. People from different nationalities, ethnic groups and religions’, and that is my belief how things should be”, he said. As a poet, he said, it is important for him to look at the whole picture, “if I see a rose, I will not just look at the flower, but the whole plant itself, the leaves and so on. There is beauty to see in everything.” He also expressed the importance of reading, saying it is a key that opens many doors and transports the readers in the world of the literature they are reading, “I used to go from Muharraq to Manama, by bus to the library daily, but now you can use your phones and computers to read. It has become so accessible and easy. Reading is my key” he said, “it has taught me so much.”
A true gem of Bahrain, Abdulla Khalifah is a perfect example of flourishing if one perseveres for his passion.
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