Our First Anniversary and a “Friend” Sighting, all in One Week !

This is an unusual post for me…all mushy stuff opening with a couple of questions, followed by a few statements of fact, and ending with a sigh of relief.

First – a year ago this June 1 my beautiful wife, shimmyshark to WordPress People…but forever Char mi amor to me, exchanged marriage vows with me.  That was something I never imagined happening again in my life…but some lifetimes a guy just gets lucky.  My first question is – what is the traditional anniversary gift for a one-year anniversary?  I know the various anniversaries all have some element or other symbolic substance associated with them.  Am I write in thinking it is paper?  I think I recall that from somewhere.  I could look it up in a minute on the internet, I guess, but I’m done looking stuff up on the internet for the week.

This leads to my second question – what in the world do I give the such a special woman as a gift that is made of paper, if my recollection is true?  She got me a bottle of Chilean wine…Pinot Noir…my favorite, which is hard to come by and expensive here since the climate is not conducive to growing those tiny grapes that are cultivated at a very limited range in altitude and under conditions that are rare in South and Central America.  I know about this bottle of Pinot because I’m a snoop, and I helped her unpack groceries after her shopping trip the other day, despite her protestations she didn’t need my help.  If it is paper, that leads me to a statement –

char framed BW

My wife, the budding photographer, is having her work published for the first time next week in a poetry collection created by my friend from Pakistan, Maryam Shahbaz.  There is also an exhibition of her work being planned within the next month.

After only a few months of taking photography seriously, and being limited by the fact that the only cameras we have are a cell phone and an ancient digital thing, I’m extremely proud of her.

This is a self portrait she did one morning on our balcony.  I repeat, how lucky can a guy get?

Our move from Seattle to Central America might have helped a bit, giving her a colorful and constantly changing palette of images to work with.  But, the eye is hers, so we’ll toast her eyes next Saturday, along with the rest of her.

And, speaking of Maryam Shahbaz…

 

20130402_123840A communique arrived from Pakistan.  Some tough times have been had by a young woman who deserves much better, but things work out.  Her first collection of poetry, The Light Behind the Veil, is in the final stages of incubation…a few alignment edits with the printer, a few other minor publishing issues, and she’s off and running as a new voice in Pakistani poetry, a country known for its storytellers and poets.

Maryam is a private person, not used to the spotlight or a lot of attention, so I promised her I would not air any of our communications other than the fact she was alright and will return to the world of WordPress once her poetry collection is out and things calm down for her and her family.

The recent elections in Pakistan, in which the conservative forces of Flat-World-ism won out, stomping on the face of any hopes for the Progressive movement toward a better world for all of that country’s citizens instead of the favored few.

I told her I know how she feels, having lived through a few of those Back-to-the-Past elections which brought a New World Order in name only to the United States.  I can empathize with her and her country’s disappointments.

Here’s hoping for the best for her and Pakistan.

Anyway…I’m off.  Still trying to figure out this anniversary thing.  And, if paper it is, I guess paper it will be.  What does one give to someone so special made of paper?  A book of poetry with her photos in it?

We’ll see.

Later….

The Silence of the “Friends”

20130402_123957It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding                        Upton Sinclair

 

To those of you have been following my blog for a while, you have probably seen a post or two about my friend Maryam Shahbaz, the Poet from Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets.  For those of you who haven’t there are other posts about her.  I don’t want to bore anyone with redundant exposition.

 

Anyway, It’s still odd in this new (to me) world of Social Media to have lost contact with her.  We have been working on a project together, Maryam’s first published poetry collection.  The silence lately has been deafening and a bit disconcerting considering her recent activities.

 

 

20130402_130441Maryam is a busy woman.  She’s in the final stages of editing and publishing her book, which is all fine.  She’s also been working on the political campaign of Imran Kahn, a reform candidate from Pakistan, which is all to the good also, except she lives in a dangerous neighborhood…Eastern Pakistan where the borders of India, Kashmir and Pakistan merge.  It’s also a bit dicey when a young women gets involved in trying to get elders and especially elder males to consider voting for a reform candidate when she often finds herself having to go through male relatives to communicate with those elderly, more conservative males.  These two gentlemen would be a good example of that attitude.  She told me that her cousin had to act as a go-between when communicating with them.  They don’t represent the modern, emerging Pakistan, but they are a reminder of the cultural and religious barriers which have been in place for longer than anyone can remember.

 

I’m hoping that all is well with her, and it’s just a case of my friend being busy, busy, busy. It’s as if a friend who lives next door got involved in a tense situation and no longe answers the door when I knock…in this case my “knocking” is in the form of e-mails and blog posts which in the past have been usually answered within a week.

 

There are other issues at play, of course.  The electricity situation where she lives is one of brown-outs, and sometimes black-outs.  Then, there’s the previous theft of her identity by a hacker who set up internet accounts using photographs and information from her previous social media site.  Her family is concerned over this, as she is, and seems to strongly support her regression from the world of social networking.  That would be a completely understandable reaction for parents and brothers to be protective of a beautiful, young daughter or sister who is exploring a world which they might not fully understand, and have been given reason to distrust.

A Shot of Maryam at WeddingThese photos above of Maryam paying homage at the graveyard where the shrine to Imam-ul-Haq is located is a reminder to me that she comes from a culture I know little of, but am learning about through our social media networking and concerted efforts on a book project.

The reverence that she shows for the holy men and poets of her culture must be mirrored by some reverence and understanding from me, as a novice to the world she lives in and will have to live with.  Her work for a candidate whose campaign gave hope to a changing culture in a changing area of a changing world, I admire.  The conservative, failed politicians of her countries recent history seem to be doing everything in their power to slow, halt, or even reverse that progress.  That can get ugly sometimes.

My well wishes for Maryam, along with my impatience may be conspiring to raise unfounded concerns.

I’m hoping so.

Allama Iqbal, a Naat, and The Mystery Behind the Green Door

Maryam Museum VII

Maryam Shahbaz…young poet on the go…signed into the shrine honoring the life of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Iqbal, and hoping for the best.

 

She found herself caressing the carpet that a poetic icon and national hero tread on so casually in a past, commenting, “…it is hand woven and has a very desirable feel to it.”

 

 

 

Maryam Museum XIIIThe caretaker, Mr. Riaz, offered up the pen (qalam) and ink pot (dawat) that Allama Iqbal used to make words come off the page and dance for those listening to the music.  Words…words…words, such as –

You are the Sacred Tablet.  You are the Pen and the Book; 

This blue colored dome is a bubble in the sea that you are.

You are the lifeblood of the universe

You bestowed the illumination of a sun upon the particles of the desert dust.

The splendor of Sanjam and Selim; a mer hint of your majesty;

The faqar of Juniad and Bayazid; your beauty unveiled.

 

 

Maryam Museum XVIMr. Riaz seems to have his own sense of the dramatic – meant to tantalize the imagination of those sensitive to the mysteries of the universe, and of those chosen to interpret that universe for apprentices of the senses.

He led Maryam and a friend to a green door, telling her that it had been closed since Allama Iqbal passed on to the universal mystery nearly eighty years ago.

When asked why it was closed, he only offered that it had been used for a dressing room addition to the guest room.

Asked if it would ever be opened, he reserved his opinion and said it could be opened some day…some day.

 

Maryam Museum XXIVAn assistant to Mr. Riaz, offered a dramatic reading of a naat – a written epic honoring the master poet’s sense of his desired union with the eternal…the universal…the mysterious…the lines that moved me to think more deeply about my feeling of that eternal, universal, mystery:

It persuaded me with art, it pulled me by force;

Strange is Love at the beginning, strong in its perfection !

Separation is greater than union in the state of ecstasy;

For union is death to desire while separation brings the pleasure of longing…

 

Persuasion – Beginning – Perfection – Separation – Ecstasy – Union – Desire – Longing

 

And the final stanza of the naat, one that sunk into my hand-woven soul with a desirable feel to it that seeks out the magic left by those who have written my world into existence:

The world has become dark since the sun has set down;

Unveil your beauty to dawn upon this age.

You are a witness in on my life so far;

I did not know that Knowledge is a tree that bears no fruit.

 

To this I not only have nothing to add, but don’t even feel qualified to comment.

Later….

 

(Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be found on WordPress through Maryamshahbazmian.  Her poetry collection, The Light Behind the Veil is to be released soon through Multani Press.  Good luck to her…if the truly talented and deserving need luck).

A Young Poet’s Pilgrimage in the City of Poets

Maryam MarketI met the young poet on a social media site.  Over the past few months we’ve become friends – more than friends I guess.  She addresses me in Urdu, her native language, as big brother.  I address her in Spanish as my little sister.  Odd to me, having such a relationship with someone on almost the exact opposite side of the world…Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets.  I asked my little sister, the poet Maryam Shabhaz, if she would visit the shrine of Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan and another native of Sialkot, to give readers an idea of the importance of poets in her country.  She sent me these photos of her pilgrimage.

Maryam started with a photo of the bazaar, not an unusual place to start in a city with a history similar to Sialkot.  Alexander the great made Sialkot the eastern-most outpost of his empire.  Persians, Afghans, Sikhs, Turks, Mughal emperors, Brits, and Hindu Indians all took their turns trying to rule the Punjab, where Sialkot is located.  Cities that have often found themselves in the way of history tend to be market-oriented.  I’m going to let the national Poet of Pakistan, Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Iqbal take over for a while with an excerpt from his poem Age of Infancy –

 

Maryam Market IThe earth and sky were unknown worlds to me,

Only the expanse of a mother’s bosom was a world to me;

Every movement was a symbol of life’s pleasure to me,

My own speech was like a meaningless word to me.

During infancy’s pain if somebody made me cry,

The noise of the door chain would comfort me.

Oh! How I stared at the moon for long hours,

Staring at its silent journey among broken clouds;

I would ask repeatedly about its mountains and plains,

Maryam Market IIAnd how surprised would I be at that prudent lie.

My eye was devoted to seeing, my lip was prone to speak,

My heart was no less than inquisitiveness personified.

 

 

Maryam, it seems, stopped off in the market…did a little shopping around.  Here she photographed a dealer of essential oils, Ittar in Arabic…herbal scents distilled for perfume and home use.

 

 

Maryam Museum XThe next photo she sent me was of the exterior of Dr. Sahib Iqbal’s former home.  I think I’ll let an excerpt of Maryam’s poem The Departed Soul speak for the reverence Pakistanis have for a national hero, one so revered he has a national holiday named in his honor.

Giddily, stand at the light curve,

Wait to embrace the departed soul.

The trifle human remains

Are left of the life carefully mold,

After him, days keep unveiling to unroll

Not any tasks hold gild;

At last, men realize, memories aren’t sacred holes.

 

 

Maryam Museum XXVMr. Riaz, the caretaker of Allama Iqbal’s shrine, told Maryam that photographs were not allowed in deference to the memory the poet, scholar, and politician that had such an impact on Pakistani independence.  She told him about the project she was working on, and he agreed the photos were for a noble cause, giving her the unheard of permission to take photos.  The first photo inside the former home and current shrine to Dr. Sahib Iqbal is of Maryam signing the guest register.  Between 50 and 75 Pakastanis a day visit the shrine, with the number rising to 300 or so when a college or school arranges a visit.  The visitors who had signed the register before Maryam were from Rawalpindi, and Mr. Riaz pointed out a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan who had signed the register not long ago,misspelling Islamabad, the capital city in which he had exercised his official duties.  I guess politicians are the same everywhere.

The final entry to this introduction to Allama Muhhamad Iqbal, and to this introduction to Maryam Shahbas and her poetry, will contain photos taken in the former home and current shrine to Dr. Sahib Iqbal, and will be accompanied by one of his most famous naats, or religious praise poems.

Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be viewed on WordPress under the name Maryamshahbazmian.

Allama Iqbal and the City of Poets

Give to the youth my sighs of dawn;

Give wings to these eaglets again,

This dear Lord, is my only wish –

That my insights should be shared by all !

This poem is from the book Bal – e -Jibreel by Muhammad Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan.  Dr. Iqbal was one of the foremost thinkers and doers of his land of Punjab, formerly India, now Pakistan.  Dr. Iqbal began his education at Scotch Mission College in his hometown of Sialkot,then did graduate work in Arabic and Philosophy at the Government College in Lahore.  He also studied in England, earning a degree in Philosophy from Cambridge University, qualified as a barrister in London, and finally earned his doctorate from the University of Munich before returning to his native land where he practiced law, became a professor of Philosophy and English Literature, and produced poetic and philosophical writings that not only inspired people in their everyday lives, but contributed to the independence of Pakistan from Indian control.

Besides being proclaimed the official poet of Pakistan, born in Sialkot, known in Southern Asia as the City of Poets, Dr. Iqbal collected a raft of titles along the way, a testament to his importance in the academic world as well as Pakistan’s struggle for independence.  He earned the title Dr. for his academic work…he was knighted, and became a Sir…he was one of the most revered leaders of his country’s independence movement, hence Sahib, and a towering figure in Asian literature, adding the respectful title of Allama to his credentials.

The picture above is my friend, the young Pakistani poet Maryam Shabaz, before a mural of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Muhammad Iqbal.  Maryam is a new voice in Pakistani and world literature, her first collection of poetry, The Light Behind the Veil from Multani Press, is due to be released soon.  Maryam is a young woman I met through a social media site, but has become much more than a cyber acquaintance…more than a friend – mi hermanita…my little sister.  I asked her to travel around her hometown of Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets – and take a few photographs so I could write a post or two about her life as a young woman living in Pakistan, and the history of poetry from an area of the world where poetry is not only beautiful words meant to entertain, but essential food for the soul.

“Allama Iqbal’s poetry takes us far beyond the materialistic aspects of this mortal life,” Maryam wrote me.  “The youth, whom he called eaglets, are the only segment of society he believed were able to bring about future change for the better so vital to all societies.”

I am going to be doing a series of posts on Allama Iqbal, Maryam, and Sialkot…the City of Poets.  Maryam made a pilgrimage to Allama Iqbal’s former home, now a shrine and museum.  Cameras are forbidden in the revered site, but Maryam explained to Mr. Riaz, the caretaker, what she planned to do with the photographs, and he gave her permission that is not afforded others out of respect for Iqbal and his towering contributions to education, literature, and his country’s independence.

 

 Maryam Museum VIV

This photograph of Allama Iqbal hangs in his former home and current shrine/museum.  It is one of the few informal images of him in his home. I’ll leave readers with another of Allama Iqbal’s sayings, one I had to have Maryam explain to me.

You despise one bowing down, It frees a man from many bowings down.

This confused me at first.  It seemed as though the poet was implying that not bowing down to “the Creator” would save people from the many supplications to the Creator expected in the future.  Maryam explained that what Iqbal meant by these words was that there are those who think bowing before the Creator is a chore they don’t need to follow, but that bowing down before the Creator gives the supplicant an inner peace and sense of empowerment that keeps them from having to bow down before mortal men in their everyday affairs.  Sometimes I feel so ignorant.  It’s good to have friends like Maryam, poets who are in tune with the power of words and their true meaning.

More of Maryam’s trip through Sialkot and visit to the shrine of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Muhammad Iqbal to follow…Inshaa-Allah, Dios quiere, God willing.

(Maryam Shabhaz’s poetry can be found on WordPress under the name Maryamshabhazmain)

Social Media and Friends?

tamarindo estuary playa conchal atenas 183

I never thought about friendships formed through social media, or any technologically mediated communications, as a possibility.  As a matter of fact, I’ve been critical of any claims of such friendships made by students or relatives young enough to never have known a world without such possibilities.  Now I’m going to have to re-evaluate a few established prejudices.  This is not easy after discounting the whole idea as being born from the isolation and desperation of shut-in computer nerds and people so socially inept they can’t form meaningful bonds with “real” friends.

She – a young woman from a medium-sized city located in the border area where India, Pakistan, and Kashmir have established imaginary lines defining their geographical claims.  Several of these imaginary lines are dotted lines, disputes that often result in social, political, and religious divides supported by prideful indignation and suspicion, which makes for a dangerous neighborhood.

Me – a White-looking male twice her age, an American ex-pat who lives in a Central American beach town with fewer inhabitants than some extended families.  The imaginary lines here are as well established and stable as can be expected.  A sleepy neighborhood where not many consider it worth their time to get excited about borders, or much of anything except too little or too much rain.

She – a devout Muslim from a devoutly Muslim family in a devoutly Muslim country.

Me – an agnostic some days, an atheist on others, from a country where formal religions often take the form of entertainment.

She – a poet with a poet’s soul and a degree in economics.

Me – a prose writer schooled and employed in academic environments where poets and prose writers often defined themselves with imaginary lines subliminally or overtly supported by prideful indignation and suspicion, which often made for a…never mind, that’s a pitiful comparison.

But this is exactly how we were introduced – she reading my prose on my WordPress blog, and me reading her poetry on her WordPress blog.  Comments brought replies…replies brought more replies…e-mails became more convenient, then longer… photos of each other and our neighborhoods on opposite sides of the world were exchanged.  She lives in an area that when viewed on a map appears to be the end of the line…massive mountains rise in Kashmir, then there’s not much of anything between spots on the map identified as Ngari on the western side and Nagqu to the East.  I live at the end of the line also, with the Pacific ocean on one side and a semi-arid and sparsely populated peninsula on the other.  We share the inconveniences of power outages, finicky internet connections, and the ever-present possibility of natural disasters that could at any time turn those inconveniences into serious problems.

She has a mother who inquires about my well-being, and a nephew that asks her if I’m coming to Pakistan to visit.  I have a few close friends who ask for updates on her progress with her poetic works and her personal well-being, and a wife who is raising the possibility of a trip to Pakistan…crunching the numbers, so it is said these days.  This all just seems to have happened as if our friendship was a foregone conclusion…organically…not meaning effortlessly, but despite the barriers posed by geography, history, governments, ethnicity, gender issues, current events, and the spotty technological ties that have made our friendship possible in the first place.

Can reading the writing of another, and their reading of my writing possibly be the basis for a meaningful friendship?

Have I become an isolated computer nerd, or so socially inept I have to search out friends from afar?  No, I don’t feel so.  She is nobody’s isolated computer nerd and her social skills are attested to by the many “real” friends she has in her life, the compassion and feeling of depth that comes through in her poetry, and an online presence that is enchanting despite an experience with identity theft on another, popular social media site.

I can’t say that I endorse the cultivation of frivolous friendships on social media sites, or any sharing of personal information with any “friend” made using similar methods.  But, I do know that when a recent round of power problems caused a break in our ability to communicate, the cyber silence made me concerned – deeply concerned.  I think that that is one of the most sincere signs of a friendship.  I also think it’s a sign that I need to re-evaluate my prejudices toward social media.

Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be found on her blog on WordPress – do yourself a favor.  I can’t be found by anyone who doesn’t frequent my beach, or read my posts on this blog.  I think we are friends…Inshaa-Allah…Dios quiere…