Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish : Revolutionary Voice of Palestinian People

by Chanchal Chauhan

Mahmoud Darwish (b.1942) passed away on Saturday, August 9, 2008. He died after he developed some complications following heart surgery in a U.S. hospital in Houston, Texas. Being the national poet of Palestinian people he was given the same honour with the state funeral in the West Bank on Tuesday as was previously accorded to PLO leader Yasser Arafat only.
It was during the summer of 1988 that Prof. Aijaz Ahmad came from United States to Delhi and Prof. Muhammad Hasan, the then Working President of Janwadi Lekhak Sangh brought him to our central office where Prof. Aijaz Ahmad talked about Palestinian struggle and also told us that he had translated in Urdu some poems of Mahmoud Darwish. On our request he gave us a poem translated in Urdu of the great Palestinian poet that we published in Naya Path, isssue no. 7 in Hindi, in the month of October, 1988 with the title, 'Main Filisteen ka Ashiq'. In the same issue of Naya Path we had included the poems of Fahmeeda Riyaz and Habib Jalib, and , of course, some poems by Aijaz Ahmad also. By publishing those poems we conveyed the message to the Hindi readership that all of us belong to the same tradition of literature that supports the cause of liberation of mankind from tyranny, slavery, exploitation of man by man. We always supported the struggle of Palestinian people. So Mahmoud Darwish became the poet of that fraternity of mankind that stood for democratic values, national liberation movements against imperialist blood-suckers and supported the cause of world peace. Mahmoud Darwish wrote an article, 'A War for War's sake', in which he, following the spirit of world peace, wrote :
This is a war for war’s sake, since it has no other aim than its self-perpetuation. Everyone knows this; and, once again, the sword will prove incapable of crushing the spirit. The Arabs have offered Israel a collective peace in return for Israeli withdrawal from a fifth of our historical homeland. Israel’s answer to this generous offer was to declare all-out war against the Palestinian people, and against the Arabs’ very imagination.

That was the cry of a poet's soul who wished his homeland to flourish in peace while the warmongers always responded negatively and thus more and more blood was shed killing innocent Palestinian people whom Mahmoud loved and wrote poems and prose with the spirit of liberation. He always expressed his concern for his people, for his nation. He wrote : "The Palestinians have no other choice. In the face of the political genocide being offered by the American- funded Israeli occupation of their land, they offer their steadfast resistance no matter what the cost. Backs against the wall, their eyes fixed upon hope, they show a strength of spirit for which there can be no facile explanation."
As a poet he had been an interpreter of the exile and hopes of the Palestinian people. Darwish's major theme in his poems was the fate of his homeland. In a well-known poem he wrote:

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland.....

He used simple vocabulary and plain, recurrent images: an open wound ('wound that fights'), blood ('we will write our names in crimson vapor'), mirrors ('shape of the soul in a mirror'), stones ('my words were stones'), and weddings. Darwish often addressed the reader arguing fiercely, defending, and pleading, as a prophetic voice from a large supporting choir.
Sister, there are tears in my throat
and there is fire in my eyes:
I am free.
No more shall I protest at the Sultan's Gate.
All who have died, all who shall die at the Gate of Day
have embraced me, have made of me a

(from 'Diary of a Palestinian Wound')

This poem reminds us of similar imagery used by Muktibodh in his poem, ‘Bhool Ghalti’ (‘Error of Judgement’). Darwish’s poetry, too, creates the images that suggest how human tyranny imposes helplessness on the poor and forces them to stand and fight back the repression. His greatness was manifest in his ability to reflect the collective memory of the Palestinian refugee experience in his poems. In his famous poem ‘Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?’ he expressed in words the Palestinians' experience of exile with the living remnants they left behind: The horse left alone, the abandoned well and the key to the empty house kept in the pocket of every Palestinian. The image of ‘key’ is related to the liberation of the occupied land from the clutches of the enemy and for that every Palestinian will have to resolve to be ready for struggle, even if it is a prolonged struggle. He wrote in his article,

From this day on, he who does not become Palestinian in his heart will never
understand his true moral identity. This is not only because the unfashionable
values that lay hidden beneath daily talk of a ‘peace process’ empty of justice
and freedom have now been brought back to life. It is also because the will has
now been liberated from the simplistic calculation of profit and loss and from a
debilitating intellectual pessimism. This has liberated the only real meaning
human existence has: freedom

Mahmoud Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwa, which was located east of Acre and destroyed in 1948. He was a member of Israel's Communist Party before he left the country for Beirut, where he joined the Palestine Liberation Organisation. In 1988 he wrote a manifesto, which he wished to be treated as the Palestinian people's declaration of independence from Israel. That same year he created a controversy with his poem ‘Passers Between the Passing Words’, in which he called upon Israelis to leave Israel and take their dead with them. "So leave our land / Our shore, our sea / Our wheat, our salt, our wound," he wrote.
On his death rich tributes are being paid by writers and democratic leaders from all over the world. "He translated the pain of the Palestinians in a magical way. He made us cry and made us happy and shook our emotions," said Egypt's vernacular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm on his death. He added, "Apart from being the poet of the Palestinian wound, which is hurting all Arabs and all honest people in the world, he is a master poet”.
In an interview with Haaretz last year, Darwish spoke about death, saying, "Let it not come like a thief. Let it take me in a swoop." on Saturday, after having experienced clinical death once, the poet passed away. He wrote poetry on death also, It is something like premonition. In a poem, ‘A Short Vacation’, that reminds us of John Donne’s poem on Death, he wrote :

I thought that I died on Saturday ...

I screamed: This death has no meaning!
absurdity and chaos in the senses
I will not believe that I have died a full death
perhaps I am in between?
perhaps I am a retired dead man
spending his short vacation in life!

This metaphysical strain is not to be taken as religious spiritualism. He cannot die, he will live in those who have a dream of socialism. He talked about his identity in a poem: And my address:
A village isolated and deserted
Where the streets have no names
And the men work in the fields and quarries
They like socialism
Will you be angry?
He had published around 30 collections of poetry and prose, which have been translated into 35 languages. He was the editor in chief and founder of the prestigious literary review Al Karmel, which resumed publication in January 1997 out of the Sakakini Centre offices. He published in 1998 the collection of his poems: Sareer el Ghariba (‘Bed of the Stranger’), his first collection of love poems. In 2000 he published Jidariyya (‘Mural’) a book consisting of one poem about his near death experience in 1997. In 1997 a documentary was produced about him by French TV directed by noted French-Israeli director Simone Bitton. He was a commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters.
Muhamoud Darwish was the winner of 2001 Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom. The prize recognises people whose extraordinary and courageous work celebrates the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression. As defined by the foundation, cultural freedom is the right of individuals and communities to define and protect valued and diverse ways of life currently threatened by globalisation. When Darwish was very much active in literary creativiy, poet Naomi Shihab Nye, wrote about him: "Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link, and shine a brilliant light into the world’s whole heart. What he speaks has been embraced by readers around the world – his is an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered.” Darwish published his first book of poetry, Leaves of Olives, in 1964, at the age of 22. Since then, he had published more than twenty collections of poems, including The Adam of Two Edens, Mural, Why Have you Left the Horse Alone, and Eleven Planets. The University of California Press published his prose work, Memory For Forgetfulness. In 2000, Gallimard published the latest French anthology of his work and, in 2002, a new English translation of Darwish’s Selected Poems was to be published in the United States. Among his accomplishments was the 1969 Lotus Prize and 30 compilations of poetry and prose.
Now he is no more with us but his voice will reverberate in all the corners of the world where people are still struggling to fight the hegemonist manoevres of the world imperialism and their lackeys. We writers will cherish his values and fighting spirit for the noblest cause, the cause of peoples' emancipation from the age-old rule of exploitation of man by man, who fight against the evil designs of world finance capital and imperialist war mongers who own the most powerful WMDs and occupy with force the territories that do not belong to them.
He departed like a 'guest of a gypsy' as he himself once wrote:
With shyness, I look at the beggar’s cup
With shyness, I listen to an old song on a scratched record
With shyness, I smell the scent of a rose that is not mine
With shyness, I scratch a body part
With shyness, I use my five senses
With shyness, I succumb to my sixth sense
With shyness, I live as if I am the guest of a gypsy
Who is about to depart!