Tag Archives: Bahrain Writers Cicle

Drinker of the Wind

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Untitled design

Some time ago when I was at the ad agency in Bahrain, I worked with some very talented artists and illustrators. One was Linda Strydom – who created the illustrations for Corpoetry and among so many others there was Francis Tiongsen, his brother David Tiongsen who is nothing short of amazing and many others who do so much more than computer graphics. If you check out their portfolios in the links provided you’ll know what I mean.

All that is by the by. Just thought I’d give some friends a plug!

This poem came about because Francis loved horses and at the same time we were doing a brochure for a real estate project created around the theme of horses, in particular the Arab. He’d created some captivating illustrations which then prompted this poem based on an old Bedouin legend.

 

 

 

 

DRINKER OF THE WIND (sharaab alrreh)

He was Erebeh, he was mystery,
The Arab steed that flew
Across the desert sands
Chasing the storm
His hooves thundering a warning
To those who had sinned
He was the first Drinker of the Wind.
His mane was midnight,
His eyes were the stars
The light from his hooves,
Four galaxies that shone from afar.
One look from him, one shake of his head
The other steeds followed wherever he led
He ruled the old dunes,
He ran wild and free
And his sinews were limned
With good honest sweat:
The Drinker of the Wind.
Long was he hunted,
Hard was he sought
And the Bedouin tribes
Over him once had fought
His was a spirit born to be free
A being not to broken, nor ridden was he.
But legends tell us,
One wild winter night
A lone Beddu approached him,
So humble, polite
And our Arab stallion
He pawed the hard dunes
And took unto him a mare
Pale as the moon
Then he left as he came
That dark winter night
Like a vision, a dream,
A mere flicker of light
Never again seen by mere men
For he truly was 
The first Drinker of the Wind.
Some say they saw him
Against the dawn sky
Some say they hear him,
When the wind rumbles by
But the Bedouin know
And their legends declare
The Drinker of the Wind
Can’t be seen anywhere

For he left as he came
On that wild winter night
When the sky was a mantle
As dark as could be
And the wind moved the dune tides
Like waves on the sea.
No moon, not a star
Shone that magical night
When the Drinker of the Wind
Disappeared from all sight
He flew up to the heavens
The night sky took him home
Where, as he was meant to
He still freely roams
The first Drinker of the Wind.

Note: The Arabian Horse – 

And God took a handful of South wind and from it formed a horse, saying: “I create thee, Oh Arabian. To thy forelock, I bind Victory in battle. On thy back, I set a rich spoil And a Treasure in thy loins. I establish thee as one of the Glories of the Earth… I give thee flight without wings.”

— Bedouin Legend

(Byford, et al. Origins of the Arabian Breed)

 

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Galapagalpeng

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A long time ago, when the Bahrain Writers’ Circle’s creative writing workshop was in its infancy and led by Ana Paula Corradini Boreland she set us an exercise to create a world based on an object. I happened to pick up a tiny little green rubber penguin.The following story was the result of that exercise.

Recently a friend, retired Col.Pavan Nair, shared his real-life experiences on expeditions to the Antarctic and this story came to mind. I hope he finds it amusing.

GALAPAGALPENG

The figurine is a green penguin no more than one and half centimetres in height. He has a yellow beak and feet, pink hat, black glasses, a notebook in his ‘hands’ – which are really more like a penguin’s flippers – and a pencil in his ear. Unlike penguins his body is all one colour – a bright leaf green. It’s hard to tell whether he is alive or an artefact collected by the famous Antarctic explorer Captain Richard Byrd, as some folk say they have on occasion seen the tiny creature’s eyes move.

In the late Captain’s log books we have discovered the following account of a strange land to be found somewhere in the coldest part of that ice-bound continent. Captain Byrd, who is said to have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in his 1935 Antarctic exploration, states that that is the year he discovered a place called Galapagalpeng.

Here then is his account in his own words:

“I don’t know how long I was unconscious but when I opened my eyes I found I was in what appeared to be a large hall that seemed to be made completely of ice. The walls were deep glacial ice with pale green striations that were clear as crystal. There was a single light source in the centre of the hall from which emanated a blue-white glow that cast a bright enough light to illuminate the entire hall. It was also the single source of warmth, for when I looked down I realised I had been undressed and no longer had on my several layers of clothing, parka, fur-lined cap and snow goggles. Instead I was in my underwear and vest with my socks on, yet I was comfortably warm.

No sooner had I raised myself and sat up when a high pitched squeaking filled the air and hundreds of tiny green penguins appeared through what I realised were arched doorways that in my supine state I hadn’t noticed before. Some of the penguins had notebooks, others had tiny instruments and they all had on white coats. Then one, who was evidently their leader, stood in front of me and squeaked. I blinked at him and shook my head uncomprehending, as he was certainly addressing me. Then there was a twitter that filled the room very much like laughter. I grinned back. Clearly they were not menacing.

The leader bowed unmistakably at me and held out his flipper hand side up. Assuming that he wished me to do so too I did and he hopped onto my palm indicating that I should raise him so that he could touch my temple. I felt no sense of apprehension and obeyed, my curiosity at these tiny obviously intelligent creatures was more than piqued. I brought him in line with my temple and then to my surprise saw him puff himself up to almost fill my hand and reach out to touch my temple.

He then proceeded to squeak directly into my mind in various pitches until finally he clearly said in plain easily understood English, “Please nod if you understand me.”

I was so surprised I almost dropped him. But I nodded and soon all the other penguins came rushing forward and speaking directly to me in English albeit in highly pitched squeaky voices!

“How do you know…” I had barely said these words that boomed out loudly rattling the hall, and they all said “Shhhhh!”

The leading Galapagalpeng then said directly into my mind, “Our land cannot take loud sounds, please either whisper or just say the words in your mind, we are Galapagalpengs and can communicate mentally when we are in contact with your body, ideally with your temple. Our voices are pitched to not upset the sonic balance of our land. Yours sadly, isn’t.”

So this is what I have learnt about Galapagalpeng and its inhabitants the Galapagalpengs. The one thing I don’t have and which they wouldn’t divulge were the coordinates to mark the exact location of Galapagalpeng in the Antarctic and after enjoying their hospitality for the last six months – the southern hemisphere’s summer – I admit that I am happy I don’t know.

The people – Galapagalpengs: Most of the time they look like tiny green penguins and vary between 1.5 to 3 centimetres when in their native habitat. As adaptable life forms they have learnt to compress their physical molecules at will and do so according to the temperature outside and in order to use as little energy as possible.

Their legends or science claims that they are evolved from regular penguins and still possess their flippers and dense fur, but their feet have become thick yellow fat-encased appendages, as have their mouths or beaks. They have taken on the colour green to reflect the colour of the deep ocean that exists beneath their icy homeland and feel no need for clothes as their privates are well hidden from both the elements and other’s eyes. However, when puffed up to a manageable size they look very like regular Emperor Penguins including displaying the white front and black body, however, I believe they don’t show the yellow patch of fur that one sees on un-evolved penguins.

They eat raw plankton and have learnt, like the whales, to metabolise the plankton in their bodies to meet all their nutritional needs. They eat only when they are hungry which could be once in two or three days, for this all they need to do is visit one of their many subterranean accesses to the deep ocean waters that flow under the ice of their part of the South Pole and help themselves. The Galapagalpengs have never known hunger as such, since at times of natural calamities a single feeding can be made to last longer by shrinking their bodies down even further.

They communicate in what appear to human ears as high-pitched squeaks. Loud sounds can upset the balance of their homeland and crack the ice-mountains in which their cities and homes are built. By capturing radio and telephonic waves that flow past the South Pole, they have learnt almost all the languages of the world and can, if necessary communicate with humans telepathically merely by coming in contact with a part of the human body, but ideally directly via the human temple. They can also communicate telepathically with each other when they form a chain and are in direct contact with another Galapagalpeng.

The Galapagalpengs have learnt to split the water molecule and isolate the hydrogen atom for fission to release power and energy in a safe and controlled manner. This provides them with both light and heat, which are needed all year round. Something that I understand is just being developed in our world. They have done so in such a way as to be able to use a single atom of hydrogen to heat and light their homes; usually just two atoms per home are sufficient for several lifetimes. Atoms are split from the abundance of cold water available under the ice at the South Pole.

They are monogamous by nature usually having only two offspring per couple. These are usually one male and one female. It is looked down on by the society at large to have more as it is seen as a sign of selfishness. In the past when ecological upsets have threatened the balance of their homeland and several Galapagalpengs died, then as a patriotic gesture they have had more children. The female Galapagalpeng has a pregnancy that lasts six months through the darkness of their winter and then the young have enough time to grow during the six months of daylight. The normal lifecycle in human terms is twenty-five years. At the end of their designated lifetime an entire generation of Galapagalpengs wishes the next in line a farewell and then they proceed in an orderly manner to the shoreline. Here they compress themselves down to nothing more than what would appear to be a blob of greeny-brown muck and are washed away by the sea. The ceremony is referred to as “Entering the Sea.”

The young grow at an amazing rate reaching maturity in five human years. It is only at the end of their growing period that they are allowed to and indeed even express the desire to marry. Four intense years are spent learning to use the many instruments that the Galapagalpengs invent to read and decipher the radio waves that they catch from all the different countries around the world as they chatter through the stratosphere above the South Pole. They have learnt to translate all the gibberish and understand it in their economical squeaky language formally called “Galapagalpengalese” or for short “Pengali”.

Their homes: For housing the Galapagalpengs hollow out the ice and create large interconnected burrows each individual family’s home being closed off by a thin glacial sliver of ice. They are quite private so don’t normally rush into each other’s space unless invited. After the babies grow through their six-month infancy and childhood they are given individual spaces within the family home.

As a people they are very respectful of privacy and when they wish to communicate or socialise they merely touch the sliver of ice between their homes and a sound of a frequency undetected by human ear flows through the door. The host Galapagalpeng then melts it to invite the guest in. Large meetings are held in a vast ice hall and each community has at least one of these. The halls, as with most construction in Galapagalpeng, is built by expanding their body mass to determine a required size and employing a controlled beam of atomic energy to carve out the space. Since homes and the large community halls are constructed out of the ice the striations of clear green in the ice form a window as well as screens on which they beam several different programmes, mostly of an educational and informative nature.

Religion: As such they have no belief in an after-life or super power or god. They believe they all come from the elements of the ice and sea and eventually belong back to them. Their guide for morality is social acceptance.

Their Government: The Galapagalpengs do not have any political system. Leaders are chosen according to their expertise on any situation. For instance, on discovering me in a comatose state, they brought in their best biologist to determine what to do with me. She realised that I was warm blooded and mono-molecuvariable – meaning to say I was incapable of adjusting my molecular mass like them- and needed to be moved into a warm place. But when it came to questioning me their leading expert was a Male Inquisitor – meaning one who asks questions in a mild, non-threatening manner. And so on, to each the responsibility according to his or her expertise. There are rarely any disputes or quarrels as they realise that they are a most singular creation and each represents a part of the whole. Crime is unheard of; the extremely rare cases of a Galapagalpeng going against society is dealt with ostracism and the individual is encouraged by the group to annihilate him or her self and Enter the Sea.

Their entertainment & sports: There is one thing they acknowledge from the human race, with much delight, and that is the game of chess. They found a board many years ago washed up on their shores and were able to decipher the pieces and movements. They have created many different sizes of the game and have devised it to fit into their hand-held instruments wherein they may play against the instrument or another player who connects with the system. So, many tournaments and contests are held between communities and halls all in a good-natured spirit.

During their six-month long nights, besides having many entertainments for the females such as carnivals and parties with singing and dancing –as most of the females are carrying their young, the Galapagalpengs also have bouncing matches. In these the best ‘bouncers’ expand themselves to their full height and mass, which can be as large as an Emperor Penguin, and bounce against each other until one knocks the other down. The champion ‘bouncer’ of the year wins a crown of ice.

And here Captain Byrd’s description of Galapagalpeng ends. There is a footnote in his log:

“Just before the beginning of the Long Night, the Galapagalpengs helped me construct a boat built entirely of ice with a raft of rigid seaweed at the centre for the time when the ice would melt as I sailed further north. They were sure that I would find my own kind before the ice-boat melted. They had fed me on fish which some of them had brought from the shore and which I had requested to cook on the heat of an atomically heated plate. They also insisted that I eat seaweed as their biologists had analysed my spittle and decided that I could not get enough nutrients from my own body. And as a farewell they gave me a goodly quantity of this cooked fish and seaweed supplements.

I had made friends with the Inquisitor’s assistant Mr. Weeke a young new graduate who was my constant companion and who wore a pink hat and always carried what appeared to be a notebook in which he inserted tiny dots and dashes. He wished to come with me, and after much discussion with the elders they decided that he could be spared in the full knowledge that he may never return. He has been a wonderful companion these many years and has never given me any trouble. He is able to sit still and observe all around him without appearing to move, so much so that visitors seem to think he is an artefact. He has also learnt to eat tiny quantities of fresh uncooked fish, preferring sardines or tuna with only sea brine to salt it.

I pray that some day he will find his way back to Galapagalpeng.”

Lest we forget

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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

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.

Of cows, Indian cities and a story that’s yet to be told

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This is a children’s story that I wrote a very long time ago. I have been trying to find a publisher, ideally in India, who’d be willing to publish it as a stand alone. It’s not very long and I’m sure that with the right illustrator it would be a delightful read for children all around the globe. It’s not a traditional folk tale but has been narrated as if it were.

Here are the opening paragraphs… Tell me what you think. What’s more, ask your children or grandchildren what they think. Would they want to know more about this story?

WHY THERE ARE COWS IN INDIAN CITIES

As anyone who has been to India may have noticed, even in large cities like Bombay or Mumbai as they now call it, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata in fact all over India, in cities and towns there are cows in the streets.

The cows are everywhere: on the roads, standing on pavements, nuzzling their heads in garbage heaps, lying on the side of the road, chewing cud. Sometimes they just stand and blink at the passing traffic. Sometimes they walk across the road. And, when they do that all the traffic comes to a respectful stop. And sometimes they just stand and stare at passersby with a look to remind them of something that happened a very long time ago.

Now, as every boy and girl, man and woman, has sometimes wondered, you too might ask, ‘why are there so many cows in big cities in India?’ And you might think, shouldn’t they all be in the villages and out in the fields? And shouldn’t they eat something other than scraps and straw and old paper? They should. But Indian cows are very clever and adaptable.

What’s more, many years ago they did only stay in and around the villages and never even so much as wanted to go to the cities. But, those were the days when there was only one cowherd for all the cows and buffaloes in India. His name was Govinda.

Govinda was a young man with a merry twinkle in his eye and a ready song at his lips. Sometimes he played a flute, and it was the most beautiful sound as it danced lightly like a butterfly over the cows and buffaloes as they ate grass, or sat and chewed the cud or slept. All the cows and buffaloes loved Govinda and he loved them.

The cows and buffaloes spoke to Govinda in a language quite different from ours. Whenever they needed him they would lower their heads and call out, “Gooooovinnnnndaaaa!” And he would come running as fast as he could, hopping, skipping and jumping over the backs of the cows if necessary. He could run very fast, there were some who said he could run almost as fast as the wind.

Govinda and his cows wandered wherever their fancy took them. If the cows wanted juicy green grass, Govinda would run ahead, pluck out a stalk, chew it from the roots to test if it was juicy enough and then he’d call the cows to follow him. When they moved in the direction they were called, the enormous herds looked like a great monsoon storm that was changing direction.

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The Relationship Bazaar

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I was greeted this morning with a Whatsapp message that was really moving and expressed in an almost Gibran-like ‘voice’. It was written in Hindi, and another friend, whose Hindi has fallen into disuse, couldn’t read it as fluently as he would have liked to. So I made a quick and hasty translation.

But, as with a lot of poetry, once something starts buzzing in your head, until you sit down and actually write it it won’t leave you. So, of course I did just that, and here it is:

The Relationship Bazaar

As I was walking in the marketplace

My feet stopped at the Relationship Bazaar.

I looked around and saw it filled

With kinship on sale for near and far

 

Relationships of every kind

Were offered everywhere

‘Relationships for sale’ they cried

‘Come buy a few to spare’

 

Each seller had a lively trade

And I walked up to one

‘Aha!’ he cried, ‘What will you buy?

I have everything under the sun!’

 

With trembling lips I asked the seller

‘How much and what’s for sale?’

With a flourish he said

‘Most everything and some beyond the pale.’

 

‘What would you like? What will you buy?

I have a wondrous range

Special ties with a son, or father

I have all good, some strange.’

 

‘Choose from a sister or a brother

Dear shopper what’s your choice?

Humanity or the love of mother

Faith? Pray, where is your voice?’

 

‘Come, come,’ he cajoled me,

‘Come, come, don’t hesitate!

Ask for something, anything

Your silence on me grates.’

 

With fear and sorrow in my voice

And with a great unease

I sighed and asked him, whispering

‘Do you have friendship, please?’

 

He stopped mid-sale, he stopped and stared

As if I’d lost my mind

Then tearfully he turned and said

‘Ah that is hard to find.

 

‘For friendship is the relationship

On which the world depends

It’s not for sale, it has no price

No price that can be named

 

For friendship is worth everything

This earth and then some more

It is a pure and selfless thing

And this you can be sure

 

The day that friendship’s offered

For a price and put on sale

Why then my dear, dear shopper

The world it will have failed

 

This globe will be uprooted

And lose its orbit quite

The day that friendship’s offered

And can be quoted for a price.

First Catch

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I remember the jade green turbulence

Of the river Beas up in the Kullu valley

The summer I turned twelve and discovered rainbow trout.

When papa showed us how to bait the hook

And cast way out and stand on the rocky river bank

Making sure we didn’t stand in it as he did, knee deep in the water.

But on the side, waiting for the tug on the line

On my forefinger held against an already taut string.

Not for us the expensively bought silver flies

Imported from the UK because they didn’t make them here

And children learning to fish could so easily lose them

The Beas is a hungry river and runs almost as quick as thought.

And yet, we learnt to feel the fish as it nibbled squirmy worm

Painstakingly threaded onto the hook

Papa did that because the hooks might hurt our soft girls’ hands.

Stand still and quiet not a word, not a breath

The fish can hear us and will swim away

Instead look at the pines and the deodar silver green

Climbing silently up the Himalayan hillside smirking at us.

We watched them in the hush of nothing but the rushing river

And learnt to feel each breeze, listen to the birds

And the crickets in the growing evening light

And pay no heed to the insect that’s biting my thigh

A stern look from papa because I scratched

And then that creeping thrill when I first felt that other nibble

The one at the end of the line, different from the impatient tug of the river

The rainbow trout was having his last meal.

Tug, tug and reel it in, not all at once but slow

In the excitement I could wait no longer and pulled it all

Rod, line and fish arching over my head in a kaleidoscopic glitter

It caught the setting sun as it flew overhead scattering

Beas water clear as diamonds that came showering down on me

The trout landed on the grass behind

I ran to catch it

Papa at my heels – when did he reel in his line?

Now he was near me so that I wouldn’t try to get my trout off the hook.

Our first catch of the day was all of six inches long

And it was mine.

Palpitating gills and wide eyes.

We put it in a bucket of Beas water to keep it fresh

Later mama fried it along with the others we caught

Right there on the riverside in a pan on the primus stove

Everyone had a bit of my trout

The best fish I ever tasted, salted with success.

Note: The Beas is a river in the northern part of India that rises in the Himalayas and flows for some 470 km (290 miles) to the Sutlej River in the Indian state of Punjab.

Kullu, where my father took us on several fishing holidays, is located on the banks of the Beas River in the Kullu Valley. This valley, formed by the Beas, lies between two cities – Manali and Largi – and is famous for its majestic hills covered with Pine and Deodar Forest. Today, The Kullu valley promotes itself as a popular destination for trout fishing.  It is also the starting point of several trek routes into the Himalayas, white water rafting on the Beas river is also becoming popular. Back in the early 1960’s it was relatively undiscovered and as far as I recall, there weren’t any suitable hotels and so we camped in tents higher up the hill and walked down to the river every day in order to fish.