Category Archives: Essays

On life support


By Anjan Muhury

This post is written by an old schoolmate and friend, Anjan who belonged to a time when we dreamed impossible dreams. He is one of our crazier school friends who has plumbed life and experiences to their limit. Today he is a “Beacon of hope for better hearing” in Long Beach California where he provides professional audiological services to the community. You can read more about him on his website: Jay’s Hearing Aid Centre. And you can ask him any questions with regard to hearing and hearing loss right here on Fictionpals, and he says he’d be happy to answer them.

I was slowly floating down and down in the ocean. The light blue ocean slowly became darker and darker as the sunlight became less and less. Voices seem to fade in my mind, and thoughts became incoherent, disjointed as the futility of trying to fight back caused me to relax my body, and assist my downward journey into darkness. The pressure of the ocean water increased steadily, and gave me a feeling of complacency, and a couldn’t care less, slow mental process of silence began to build a cocoon around me as a last fight against death….

I wasn’t even looking for anything. It did not matter anymore. I heard a bottled cry. Maybe a whale around nearby. I turned and saw what looked like fishing line dangling and swaying with the currents. Another cry. Funny that sounded like a muted piano. For a quick moment I even paused to think and waited for another sound.I saw the fishing line drift closer and I woke up to a final reality. Maybe I could clutch it and pull myself to the top. I wrapped my toes around the hook and bait and propelled myself upward.

Then I was in the midst of bubbles, thousands of bubbles, accompanied by gurgling sounds. I saw a dark shadow below me and realized that it was a whale shadowing me. Again millions of bubbles. I took a chance and opened my mouth and felt the popping of some bubbles in my mouth. I swallowed them and felt fresh energy coursing through my body. Again, more bubbles, and again I got to swallow some more air. I felt raw energy in my hands and legs.

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Lest we forget

A painting by my friend Serena Stevens

A painting by my friend Serena Stevens may she rest in peace she battled cancer as valiantly as any soldier

November is a month to remember. Loved ones lost to all kinds of battles… on the front in war, of course, but there are other battles that some folk wage against disease – that dreaded, insidious, cancer; stroke victims, who wage a daily battle with bodies unwilling and unable to respond to the simplest of their wills; so many other ailments and conditions that render folk dealing with pain on a sub-chronic daily basis, the list is a long one. This November I’d like to remember them all.

I can’t name them, but they are all my heroes.

You and you and you, who see

Life ebbing by in slow degrees

For whom there was a time, I know

When nothing ever went so slow

Today your speech is locked behind

An uncooperative mind.

And you, why half your body can’t

Respond to anything you want.

And then there’s one who cannot turn

For pain that through his body burns

And there’s another one who, while

Her spirit breaks, yet she can smile.

Some have lost their limbs to bombs

And still they somehow all limp on

We know not who has been in war

But this we know, and know for sure

There are brave soldiers everywhere

Who need to know that we do care

For them, our poppies red

We wear and still a tear or two we’ll shed.

Fight on you brave immortal souls

The day will come, you’ll reach your goal.

And for those who are thinking of loved ones lost in war I have this to say in remembrance of ‘Poppy Day’.

The famous poem by John McCrae is reproduced below:


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

With so many wars that have been fought since that poem was written, I’d like to change it around a bit

Forget that quarrel with our foe

‘twill only lead to e’er more woe.

And who is foe may in the end

Turn ‘round and some day be a friend.

The only faith, that we need keep

Is, to try and end each day in peace.


Let the poppies, sweetly blow

Lest we forget those laid below

And should our leaders want a fight,

And rant and rave about what’s right,

Let’s hide the guns and send them in

To face each other in the ring.

Note: This post was first published a year ago. I have reworked it for the reasons above.

5 tips for writing a memoir …


… And how I scored

The other day someone asked me if I had any tips for writing a biography or a memoir. That was a tall order. I must confess I am working on one but can no way see myself as any kind of an expert on the subject. My method, quite honestly was to plunge on. Get the story down and then work it into a somewhat linear narrative thereafter.

Why didn’t I do what I usually do, Google it? The main reason was because I didn’t want to be bogged down by external strictures, by what a regular biography should look like. I wanted the person’s own story and own voice to come through.

The memoir I am working on is almost done. But, after the question was posed I decided to see whether my method was nuts, or did it work?

I came upon an old article from AuthorHouse that suggests the following tips:

Tip #1

Have a deep interest in your subject. Don’t pick a biography subject just because you think there’s a market for that book, or because that person is currently in the spotlight. Pick someone you’re dying to know more about.

In other words, ask yourself, “If no one but me ever reads this book (or if, for whatever reason, the book is never completed), would the research itself be its own reward?”

I for one am glad to say an unequivocal YES! I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of getting to know my subject. We’ve had many laughs, tears, frustrations. But, overall it has been an amazing experience for me.


Be organized. If you’re a thorough researcher, you might interview hundreds of people and review thousands of documents. Simply dumping all those records, transcripts, photographs and notes into a folder with your subject’s name is NOT the way to go. Use a system that works for you.

Oh dear! Nope. I wasn’t that organised, but I wasn’t a total wreck either. I did/ do have separate folders. Fortunately, since we decided to keep it as a memoir, I didn’t need to interview a whole host of people so I didn’t have to check and counter-check with others who would, perhaps have given different versions of the same account, a la Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet.


You don’t necessarily need a new subject—just a new angle. Just because your person of interest has already been written about before (perhaps many times), it doesn’t mean there’s no place for your biography.

This didn’t apply to me or the subject, because the story is unique and there aren’t that many accounts of the person’s life for us to worry about. Besides, it is very much an authorised memoir.

Tip #4

Don’t delay, especially with interviews! Once you’ve decided that you want to write about a particular person, get started as soon as possible. Why? Because interview subjects will, unfortunately, pass away eventually. Waiting a year, a month, or even a week could result in the loss of an eyewitness or a close friend of your subject.

Again, this didn’t apply… thank God! But we had got the bulk of the story down fairly quickly. In spite of a hectic schedule, we met twice a week. My subject is a very focused individual and after a few preliminaries, we wasted no time. I am very impressed by his prodigious memory and tremendous sense of story-telling. I felt I was there, witnessing each event he talked about. That’s why sometimes we’d both end up laughing or emotionally drained.

Tip #5

Be thorough. Because, after everything you also have to write the book!  Follow leads, pursue hunches, and research your subject exhaustively—but don’t forget to write the book! At some point, you have to make a conscious decision to stop digging and start typing.

As you do your research, you might be able to fine-tune the scope of your project, which will narrow the parameters of your research.

My method was to write along. As soon as I had finished the interview sessions I would transcribe the session and keep that in a separate folder. The next day, or sometimes, that very night, I’d get into trying to “write the story” as a story.

This worked to some extent, because, after a very thorough (and I may add: sharp) review by the editor, major chunks of the book had to be moved around and rewritten. Some parts had been repeated and some were inconsistent.

To the above AuthorHouse tips, I’d add a sixth…


Get a good editor. Preferably someone who is not associated or emotionally connected with your subject.

This was a great help for me. Because, although on reading my editor’s comments I was initially devastated, when I returned to fixing the manuscript, I found that perhaps the emotional distance had helped to bring clarity. We are always far too close to our own work – especially long pieces – to see the errors.

And that’s about the size of it. I’m sure there are many other resources for writing a biography or memoir, but if this helps even one fellow writer, I feel I will have done something today.

Vengeance Wears Black…


41ztQAFKyyL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_…And poor time management goes around in rags, tattered in the attention that a book as action-packed as this one rightfully deserves.

In spite of all the swirling minutiae of daily commitments – from an event in the offing, to freelance work, household chores, to inane queries with regard to said event – I couldn’t pull myself away from Seumas Gallacher’s Vengeance Wears Black and yet I constantly had to; dangling participles notwithstanding.

The book haunts one through its deft handling of the personal interplay and commitment of the main characters to each other – all partners in ISP International Security Partners. These include our hero Jack Calder and May Ling his wife – and the team Mr. Brains Jules Townsend and Malky McGuire: friend and colleague.

The bloody explosive action kicks off and kicks one in the stomach right from the get-go. I wonder if this is a typical Seumas Gallacher opener – having read the Violin Man’s Legacy a little over a year ago. The opening scene in that earlier book is a real stomach-churner.

Vengeance Wears Black starts with a tense human trafficking operation in Krakow that goes horribly wrong. It then leaps across to London where another eruptive incident brings our main players together. This time a Gurkha colleague smothers a grenade with his body thus saving his friends from ISP – a band of tough action-hardened SAS men and one woman; who then carry out a carefully planned, meticulous operation that not only quells the violent turf wars raging between Asian triad gangs and Eastern European mobsters, but also avenges the death of the man who saved their lives.

Seumas Gallacher’s book takes the reader on a nail-biting ride from east to west, from unimaginable debauchery and corruption to uplifting moments of friendship and care. I, for one, was glad of these little hiatuses in the action as they allowed me to get to know the main players, become involved in their fates, and follow the detailed planning that goes into such a far reaching operation.

This isn’t a genre I usually read, so I was surprised by how much I was drawn into it. I had read the earlier book so I knew the background of the characters but, being a stand-alone novel, it is not necessary to read it to follow the action or the connections.

These books would make a superb movie or TV series and I’m sure one of these days someone is going to discover them. Then we’ll see Mr. Gallacher’s name in lights, with our hero Jack Calder blazoned across the posters a la Jason Bourne/Matt Damon.

The problem with my character


By now I’ve indulged the fiction (and poetry) part of my writing bug for several years. Along the way I’ve attended workshops and talks by other writers. Among the pet peeves that many writers share is the character, or sometimes more than one character, that decides he or she has a different story to tell. One friend had a minor character in one story demand that he have a bigger role to play ‘next time’. The poor author had to create another whole new book before the character would shut up.

Here we are as authors, going through checklists that include the character’s name, where he or she lives, their loves, phobias and hates. Hitting Google, like one possessed to ensure that the ‘time’ in which we frame our story and character are properly represented. We consider issues like, “What would destroy your character?” And after agonising over this, reducing ourselves to tears, (because said character has now taken residence in our hearts), we need to think about, “How does your character feel about his or her father/ mother, does he/she need friends, defining strengths, whether a team player or a loner…” A plethora of other considerations come into play.

Just when we think we have the character kind of settled in a general sort of way, they look at us, (for me it’s usually in the dead of night, when I think okay it’s time for bed), or nudge us.

“Not now, dear,” Character whispers, “I don’t like my reaction to that incident.”

“I’ll fix it tomorrow,” I say heaving a sigh and hitting the power button on the computer.

“No. You’ll forget.”

“I won’t,” I declare aloud and hope my husband doesn’t get up and ask me whom I’m talking to.

So I’m brushing my teeth and doing other pre-bed do-dahs, when it sneaks up behind me and looks at me in the mirror. “It won’t take long, just a little tweak, you can’t do this to me, that’s not me, please…”

I sigh. “Okay, okay…”

It’s back to the computer. Re-read the paragraph, re-read the chapter, go back to the beginning of the story… Fix. Change. Juggle. “Hmmm, Character was right, it is better this way.”

Now the character is quiet. He’s gone to sleep, but I need to quieten my mind. So I go off to this website I’m trying to manage and see if something else can be changed. In the process I send an email to the friend who’s helping me get the website together. By now it’s 2:30a.m. I manage to wake up at 8:30am six hours’ sleep is good enough.

What does my friend say when he emails me back, “Don’t you ever sleep?”

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks…?


This piece was written by my cousin, Dr. Chand Sahai who had sent it to me several months ago. It first appeared in Housecalls, an In-house magazine for Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories.

Or can you?

I don’t know what possessed me: something evil and Machiavellian no doubt. I registered for the three day Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) course. So what? Someone might comment, in the States doctors do this course every two years, it is a must. Okay, but here in India ? And at the tail end of one’s professional life, you know when you have grey hair, wrinkles, pain in the joints and don’t like divulging your real age (except when one is the army chief and wants to carry on being one, so you say you are younger)?

Anyway, one fine Sunday in December last year I get this routine e-mail in my inbox over which I cast a cursory glance and am about to hit the delete button, when it dawns on me that the course in question is to be held in my backyard, that is in the hospital where I have worked for the past quarter of a century. The sheer convenience of it was so tempting and yet… The only reason I was a mite hesitant was that I would be in the company of babes: post graduate students, residents and others in the green category. Be brave doc, I told myself, at least or at last something has sparked interest in your dull mundane routine and your grey cells haven’t given up on you altogether. Who knows I might even be able to give Alzheimers the miss.

So before better sense could prevail allowing me to change my mind I went down to the Intensive Care office, handed them a cheque (the best things in life are not free, no matter what the song says) and was about to leave when the secretary said “Wait, please take your course materials and instructions with you”. I was handed a red book, about 8½ by 11½ inches (and yes I actually measured), had the stamp of the American Heart Association and it was all of 183 pages (including the bibliography and glossary) and I had about a month to read those pages, which also had several algorithms which were to be mugged up to the spinal level that is remembering the steps without thinking. As for the instructions, please be on time, appear for the pre-course test online and bring the results with you and wear loose fitting comfortable clothes (avoid tight jeans, saris and the like), the last flummoxed me for a second then I had it, we needed to be comfortable if proper chest compressions could be carried out.

I have to admit that the fear of showing up as a half-wit in front of those kids, who would be with me during the course, had me studying much harder than I did for all those professional examinations. Imagine how mortifying it would be were I to fail to make the grade while the kal ka chhokras (yesterday’s kids) passed with flying colours. So I literally burnt the midnight oil staying up and trying to learn new and not so new facts, awake way beyond my normal bedtime of 10pm, and then I made the ghastly discovery that my memory wasn’t what I thought it was: there were big holes in it, so large that an armoured tank could probably roll right through the gaps in the neurons in the prefrontal lobe and the hippocampus. So what could I do to shrink the sieve size of the wire mesh surrounding my ability to cram and increase the retaining power of what was left of my brain, so that every time I read a paragraph in the red book it didn’t feel as if I was seeing all those words for the first time. After putting in a lot of thought, two things occurred to me. One that I needed to remember facts and figures for just three days (the time of the ACLS course plus the examination) and second that whatever I retained happened to be the pages I had read the previous day or night.

I managed to get through one reading of the red book, including trying to decipher all those ECGs that were to be deciphered within 10 seconds (so that one could decide like Hamlet in his soliloquy, with the necessary substitutions, to shock or not to shock). Of course if one were to just do the BLS or basic life support then the AED or automated external defibrillator, intelligent machine that it is will take over from undependable, unreliable humans with short attention spans and shorter retentive powers, and let you know if the rhythm is shockable or not.

So the night before the start of the ACLS course I sat for the online test, where the instruction before you began was to save and print your results (something one certainly wanted to forget as soon as possible). The next 10 or 15 minutes I felt I was on a rollercoaster ride definitely of the against gravity type, the questions came on fast and the verdict too (correct or not) till at the end one was out of breath. The result was not too good actually wasn’t that bad either, but certainly ACLS was going require more attention and energy than what I normally expend during any normal workday.

I dressed in ‘loose fitting comfortable’ clothes, and as I got out of the car hoped that no one was looking in my direction for I was feeling as uncomfortable as someone with his or her head on the guillotine. All ignored me; thankfully, everyone was busy swotting at the last moment. The hall had life-sized dummies, all white and inert, laid down on the floor, that was a shock; I somehow had expected them to be on trolleys. The world is meant for the young who are energetic and agile and the older lot should only be the thinkers, pulling strings and planning strategy to be translated into others doing the hard physical work. We would be working in teams (as team leader or team member, one would learn to be proficient in both). The first day we had to clear the BLS, which meant watching a video where an athletic looking gentlemen is shown jogging with a friend and they stop for a breather when suddenly one of them clutches his chest and falls to ground to the horror of his friend and several bystanders, but since it was the USA someone called 911. In the meantime we learned that the old rules of airway, breathing and circulation or ABC had changed to CAB, in other words chest compressions are the ‘in’ thing now after one has ‘cleared the scene’ (is it safe for the rescuer to start rescuing or is there going to be another casualty, for instance in the middle of a busy highway, you might get hit too) next one shakes the shoulder and says “Are you alright?” and look for any breathing/pulse in the neck and then get on your knees (not to pray) but to ‘push hard and fast 100 times/minute. The last one was the most difficult, the only things that I had pushed for the last several years were the buttons on the remote of the TV or the car, and I could not recall when I had knelt on the floor and done chest compression which I counted loudly so that the team member at the head end of the dummy would know when I had done 30 of them so that two breaths could be delivered. I can tell you that I felt quite light-headed and dizzy with the effort and couldn’t help but think that I could have easily replaced that dummy on the floor and given the participants some real-time practice. Then it was repetitions, repetition, lunch, tea, breakfast and an evening ridiculously easy written test. I must confess that the food part was really good but made the post lunch sessions murder, trying to keep awake.

The ACLS was more complicated but basically involved more chest compression and a dummy attached to a machine which measured if your compressions were done correctly (apparently mine were, to my delight), real defibrillators and scenarios like trying to revive an old man against the wishes of his son (one team mate got flustered and shouted ‘security’ when the family member intervened) it turned out that we hadn’t bothered to find out the time frame and in an actual scenario would have been trying to revive a long dead corpse.

There were a lot of laughs, we all learnt a lot, met many doctors from the hospital at close range, sat for a really easy looking but actually a sneaky multiple choice test paper, scraped through and received a certificate. But the question is would I do it again? Not on your life, at least not for another two years, that should give me enough time to join a gym and dye my hair.

3-Citrus Marmalade


IMG_0279“Do it by the book,” she muttered as she stirred the three-citrus marmalade. Determined that today, this time, for once, she was going to follow the recipe exactly. Well, almost exactly.

She never did things by the book and was still disgruntled with that silly question she’d asked some friends, the one about the alarm clock in the opening lines. The writers’ remarks were all sensible and supportive, especially the one about “screaming in the face of the editors,” that brought a smile to her face as she stirred. Read the rest of this entry

Black by Oak


Looking back through my folder and in an attempt to clear it of its clutter I came across this little gem from our philosopher poet Omar Ahmed Alkhulaqi, aka Oak/ OAK. He is now creating his own style of Instagram Verse, if there is such a thing, the appellation is mine.

The following came into existence as part of an exercise at one of the BWC’s (Bahrain Writers’ Circle) Creative Writers’ Workshops. We were all asked to express the word: Black, and this was what our poet created.

“It is the absence of all colour, the abode of secrets in the night. It is the domain and perpetuator of mystery, rooted from the ages by man’s fear of the unknown. Its ambiance resonates from its ambiguity. A frequency of doom that sets in motion the strings of terror, while the mind expands and the senses retaliate, the strings shudder and vibrate. A resonance grinding to sweep away the dusty soul and awaken the inanimate and the forgotten. An instigator of curiosity that leads to questioning, a descent of light into nothigness and the defeaning of sound into silence. It removes security and familiarity and induces a pulse of danger and vulnerability. Like a veil it blinds the eyes unbiased and unmerciful , the senses arise to fight for their survival, the terror smitten rationality struggles with irrationality. All that is grave and evil lies waiting, offering a freedom away from the light of day either to better understanding or tribulation. A menacing darkness that pervades the spirit, announcing its menace with banners of an insulting army whose motto is ‘Woe to the conquered!’.

It is a dream that finds purpose in its existence because of absence in things, taking the shape of unanswered questions and stalked by their immortal King– Death. A dream writhing to and fro, in and about and exciting the senses to the mystique. Black is of danger, freedom, courage, contemplation, vulnerability, sorrow, pain… It is bitter when denounced and sweet when marvelled. It is shadowed by darkness, and there all forsakes you, even your own shadow. For it is a colour that excites many things and is as deep as our peaceful sleep, and above all–indispensable.”

Note: You may find more of this delightful poet’s work on Facebook here:

And on Instagram follow the handle @b.t.oaktree and check out more here:


The swinging 60’s


Before I crossed that threshold – 60 years – I thought I’d be dead by then. In fact I remember as a teenager wondering if I’d ever reach the ‘ripe old age’ of forty. Now, here I am just a few years short of completing the end of yet another decade and I find that life, people and the world at large are still fascinating. One learns something new all the time; it’s so true that I cease to think of it as a cliché.

Then my mind wanders to the semantics of the differences or similarities between a cliché and a truism and I look in the mirror and say ‘focus, woman, focus’. The reality of the additional years land a sharp whack to my solar plexus and comes handily to my assistance. Even so, the topic I wish to write about is life after sixty. Believe me friends, it happens.

Check out the wonderful worldwide uncle or aunty Google and there are stories about people making new beginnings at fifty, sixty, seventy and even older. There’s a tale of a lady who was a chemist who turned to stand-up comedy at 74. Another is a woman who turned to modelling – catwalk no less – in her eighties. Other news items hand out advice on what to do in order to enjoy your ‘sunset’ years.

Whether it’s a conscious decision or something that circumstances or age force upon you, it seems, that come 60, a number of folk out there are doing new and different things. Some of us feel that we’re not needed by the kids quite as much as before. Let’s learn a new language. Others continue to work at their jobs while enjoying their sports. Yet others decide to get back onto that hobbyhorse and start rocking it.

Like my friend David. He’s taken his singing and music to another level. David was always that great party guest who could be relied upon to bring along his guitar and really get a party going. Foot stamping sing-alongs would ensue well into the night.

As often happens to many a hobby that becomes a passion, once it’s offered to the world at large, it can really strike a chord when it finds an audience. And, as anyone who gives in to a passion knows, when you connect with a complete stranger across a crowded room…it’s magic.

Well done David! I’m a fan.

and if you want to find out more about him you can click the link below

The Pearl Divers’ Songs


The following is an excerpt from an essay with poems that was published in Robin Barrat’s More of My Beautiful Bahrain

As gems, pearls hold a particular fascination for me. They come in a myriad shades and colours. When they occur naturally, they are formed by an accident. A tiny grain of sand, a little pebble, enters an oyster shell and irritates the mantle. In response the mantle secretes nacre to cover the irritant and in doing so creates a pearl. What a wonderful thing to do! What a beautiful response to an irritant. Instead of destroying the unwelcome guest, the oyster lovingly encases it to create one of the world’s most prized gems.

I can’t help think, that in some ways that’s a bit like Bahrain.

At one time the area referred to as Bahrain extended as far north as Basra and down to the Omani coast in the south1 its capital being Hajar1 . I had heard of Basra pearls even before I came to the Kingdom. So the mystique and magic of the island where the pearls came from, as well as the fact that this was the place where oil was discovered in the Middle East, added to the aura around Bahrain or as they called it, more accurately in the old days: Bahrein. That being closer to the meaning, two seas.

Long before oil became the mainstay of the region, Bahrain’s main source of income was its pearls. And, if certain sources on the Internet are to be believed, the region, if not the country, was ‘historically where the world’s best pearls came from.

As I understand it, fresh water aquifers beneath the seabed in Bahrain, contribute to the unique quality of Bahraini pearls. What made and continues to make Bahraini pearls particularly precious is the fact that back then the natural pearls of Bahrain were found and collected by ‘breath-hold’ divers. In addition, the pearl-diving season was short, lasting just over four months from June until early September.

The way it was done was that the divers would pinch their noses with a short peg made from the stem of a date palm leaf. They would then be let down on a weighted rope, remain submerged for about a minute, during which time they were able to harvest an average of eight to twelve oysters. These they would put into a bag, tug the rope and they would then be drawn up by the puller – a strong hefty man, who remained on the boat. After a number of dives one lot or divers would return to the boat to rest and recover while another lot were lowered to the oyster beds. Divers were not paid wages, instead they received a share of the profits from the sale of the pearls.

Given the nature of the work, the setting sail and staying away for around four months of the year it is not surprising that a unique and traditional music was developed that was exclusive to the pearl divers. This traditional music, known as fidjeri, is an age-old repertory of vocal music sung by the pearl divers of Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. The Nahham, or pearl diver singers, were backed up by a chorus of singers and clappers accompanied by the mirwas – a small drum – and the jahlah – a clay pot.

At one time Kuwait had, in its sound archives, some of the best collections of recordings of these aboriginal songs and music. These were sadly destroyed in the First Gulf War during what was called the ‘Fires of Kuwait’.2

To quote Bill Badley – an expert on middle eastern music especially as it relates to the Oud – ‘This music, strange and distant as it seems, is the most vivid recollection of the lifestyle of the pearl divers, singing praises to Allah, sometimes erotic poems, sometimes hymns to the sea; and with it we are able to imagine the boats and the annual pearl diving seasons, the rudimentary but elaborate pieces of clothing used by the divers that preceded the modern diving suits by many centuries, and perhaps conjure up images of the pearl divers – their hopes and dreams and their fears of the sea as well as their life, long before the oil economy.’

Water pollution resulting from spilled oil and indiscriminate over-fishing of oysters essentially ruined the once pristine pearl producing waters of the Gulf. Today, pearl diving is practiced only as a hobby. Still, Bahrain remains one of the foremost trading centres for high quality pearls.

While researching the songs of the pearl divers I was so moved by some of the material that I felt I had to write something about them. I have tried to capture the rhythms and movement of the gentle waves of the Arabian Gulf in my poems as well as subtly echo the strong drumbeat that was at the centre of the songs. In one of them I have imagined a mythical old pearl diver grown large and titanic in size beneath the waves rising one night and to his horror discovering the cause of the decline of the pearling trade – ‘cargo ships and oil tankers’, and in another I have asked the world at large and the powers that be in the Kingdom to resurrect the beauty of both pearling and this traditional music.

And here are two poems that are adaptations of the original songs,

Pearl Divers’ morning prayer


Today again I sail out to dive

To the deepest blue of the sea below

Today once again you know I’ll strive

For a pearl, a pearl that I can show.

So heave you rowers heave, I say

Today is that day, today is that day!


O morning sun, come bless our dive

Make fortune smile on us today,

Pardon our sins and bless our lives

In the name of Allah, we do pray.

So heave you rowers heave, I say

Today is that day, today is that day!


Your mercy is unlimited, Lord

And from our sins we’ve turned away,

And so we pray that you afford

A following wind and a clear, calm day.


So heave you rowers heave, I say

Today is that day, today is that day!


Pearl Divers’ evening prayer


From the depth of the sea

I have risen O Lord,

Twice times ten I went down below.

The date palm peg it held my nose

The weights on the rope,

They anchored my toes.


We thank you O Creator

That you have made our lives so easy.

We thank you O Creator

For making a generous sea.


Our riches and hopes and prayers

O Lord, they come from you.

Today we bring good tidings

To our neighbours and families.


The sun, the sea and the wind

O Lord, they sting my hands and skin.

But these are like nothing, O Lord

When we see the pearls within.



1 Manama People & Heritage by A. Karim Al Orrayed

2Reference: David Douglas’ Film ‘Fires of Kuwait’ / Bill Badley Wikipedia