Correspondence With a Poet
September 6, 2019
Dear Ejaz Rahim,
I am a lazy reader, lazier than I was. Age, I suspect, has something to do with this.
These days, here in New York, I go back and forth between two books. One is a novel about slavery in America, “its unabsolved original sin”. The other is an old book by Richard Feynman, the famous physics Nobel Laureate. I had read it a long time ago. I’m re-reading it. It’s a hilarious read. “If a single book can shatter the stereotype of the stuffy scientist, this may be the one”, and as someone said, “it makes you laugh out loud and scratch your head at the same time”.
And when I need a break from reading any of the two books, I browse the third one, The Best of Ejaz Rahim, a book of verse. I’m sure you would recognize it in the picture, above.
Today, while casually flipping through it, I came upon a poem titled Dear Maulana Sahib, on page 171. The page was dog-eared, which meant that I must have seen it before, liked it, and book-marked it to come back to it later.
And I’m glad I did! It made me smile and scratch my head at the same time.
In the poem, you address the Maulana, the Muslim minister of religion, and question his interpretation of the animal sacrifice. You address the Maulana deferentially, but I discern a hint of an underlying taunt, or perhaps I like to think there is. That’s what made me smile. But the questions you raise are profound and would make anyone scratch their head.
Here is the poem, some parts of it:
Dear Maulana Sahib,
After extolling the sacrifice
Of cows, goats, and lambs
In emulation of Prophet Abraham’s
Historic act, you reminded
The congregation to also excise
Evils of cruelty, oppression
Extortion, violence, rape, and rapine
You may well ignore
The dread in their eyes
As they are driven
To the abattoirs
By pulling wool on your own
But to devalue their sacrifice
Is a strange obituary
And likening them to evil
Sprinkling salt on injury
September 7, 2019
Thanks for your letter. I hope you are preserving Letters that fall in the category of making the reader smile and simultaneously scratch his head. This letter captures the human spirit evaluating itself in the hallways of life’s abattoir, haunted by a sense of declining strength. But the books come to the rescue as measuring rods but also as steel spikes to stoke the coal-fire in the chimney. This letter of yours is worthy of publication as a short racy essay in itself in some future collection of essays and reminiscences that you may like to publish. Please consider.
Are you also a science man? Your enjoyment of the famous physicist’s book seems to so suggest; he is no grist for common mills. I also think the “original sin “comment about America’s record of slavery is very sharp. For writers, every book is a remnant of some original sin or the other. I feel honored on your thumbs-up for the animal sacrifice lines from my pen which you quote in your letter.
I hope you have a good, productive stay. I understand that our other pen- friend Dr. Abdullah Sadiq is also visiting Canada currently. He sent me a piece about Qatar today which warms the very cockles of one’s heart to find the tiny state’s devotion to modernity with tradition and wellness reflected through public art.
September 13, 2019
Thank you, Ejaz Rahim Sahib, for your comments, which are always generous and encouraging.
By the way, The Khawaja Khizar story also triggered a call from Dr. Amjad this morning from Ohio (our first telephone conversation). As I have said before — and I don’t know who said it first — “whether it’s to shower you with praise, or to give you some constructive criticism; the simple engagement with another person is what makes writing wonderful.”
In other news, I was in the Hamptons, NY, the other day at a friend’s place, lying under the willows in a corner of the lawn, reading something and watching the broken clouds floating against the blue sky. It reminded me of the imagery painted in one of your poems I had read some time ago.
In ancient epics
Returning from battle
Some go leaning
Others are dragged along
Out of sheer exhaustion
Many are seen trailing behind
In silent soliloquy …”
September 13, 2019
Thank you, sir, for the update and the wonderful quote on human engagement. I guess that could be an apt definition of literature itself: the joy of engagement!
You do amaze me by quoting from my verse every now and then… Nothing bolsters one up more than the thought of writing something that is appreciated. I can recall this poem about clouds although I don't remember the book in which these lines occur or the year of its birth.
I am glad that you received a call from our Man in Toledo. He, like you, is quick in appreciating what strikes him as worthy of praise. Like you again, he possesses an exceptional memory.
Wishing you a happy and productive stay out there. The house and lawn of your friend’s house are wonderful.
Regards. Ejaz Rahim