Tag Archives: Zohra Saeed

The Cactus Blooms

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My publisher, Ex-L-Ence Publishing has a brand new website, from which you can now purchase directly. However, if you prefer to purchase your books on Amazon, there is a link on the page to take you there too.

Here’s an extract from Desert Flower… perhaps it will tempt those who haven’t read it yet to do so.

This time I entered the majlis quietly, slipping through the archway, less than a shadow, less than a breath. My face was properly covered with the niqab drawn across it. I had pinned it in place to make sure my face would not be exposed. After all, this was a foreigner who had come to the house, not another person from the Arabian Gulf, a Khaleeji, which if it were, of course, I wouldn’t have been called. This time my black abaya shrouded my entire body. All that was exposed were my eyes. I could see that the stranger was drinking a small cup of gahwa, our thick, rich coffee, and a small piece of baklawa. The fine pastry stuffed with pistachio nuts that I had the cook make that very day lay untouched on his plate. Eihab’s mother had seen that the servant had provided that.

And now that my frantically beating heart was somewhat stilled I had my voice under control too. I inclined my head slightly in a silent salaam and raised my right hand just a little.

“Have you got your wits about you?” Father asked gruffly.

Read the rest of this entry

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Some day I’ll be a writer

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It started a long time ago. This aching need to write. To have my name attached to a work, such and such title, by Rohini Singha. That was my maiden name. I sometimes thought I’d be mysterious and have a penname. Everyone would wonder, “Who is that writer?” Critics and reviewers would declare, “Once again the mysterious author, Madame X, has captivated her readers with a scintillating tale of intrigue.” I was a great Agatha Christie fan in the days when my dream of being a writer was still limpid in its new-born vision. I was also unclear about what genre of story telling I would pursue. Madame X was the popular appellation for a woman of intrigue.

All this gradually became something of a private joke for me. By the time I’d read more complex, character and philosophy-driven work, the desire to write mysteries gave way to some day writing the great transformational novel. The imaginary nom de plume was replaced in my mind by my own and eventually my married name. It was still something that would happen “some day”. Through the years, although it was never pursued with any intensity, the dream was also never abandoned.

I’d potter away at the writing, late at night. After various domestic and motherly chores were completed, when a particular kind of silence enveloped the house, everyone was asleep and I was still awake. That’s when the draw of pen and paper, a phrase or comment I’d heard earlier in the day, or a look in the eye of a passer-by would nag at my brain. Like a sailor drawn by a siren’s song I’d steer my thoughts in that direction, embark on a tale and let it carry me wherever it wished to go. Oh the magic of those nights when I wasn’t reading another writer’s work!

It’s not to say that I never explored the possibility of publishing. Back then it was an arduous process. No Internet. No Google. I’d submitted manuscripts to publishers and agents and never heard from them. Finally we were in the Internet era. E-publishing was a reality. I submitted yet another story without much hope but with unfailing enthusiasm to an online publisher in the USA. Several months later she emailed me, “I like your story – Desert Flower and will publish it…” I read the message three times. Tears of joy welling up and spilling over.

After all the excitement settled I looked more closely at the publisher’s site. OMG, as they say today. Romance had a broad interpretation, and, although I haven’t read it, I suspect even Fifty Shades of Grey would pale into several shades of white at the list and variety of romance on display. I couldn’t possibly have my real name attached to this! I decided on a penname for Desert Flower – Zohra Saeed. My name, Rohini is Venus, the morning star, and that’s what Zohra means. Saeed, was taken from my old guru and mentor’s first name Saeed.

There’s a whole other story to this. That publisher eventually closed down, the rights reverted to me and Ex-L-Ence agreed to republish it. For those of you who have been following my outbursts of delight, it has done rather well over the last month or so, at one point it even reached #6 on the Kindle store. In the meantime Ex-L-Ence Publishing came into my life and published my collection of poems – Corpoetry – with my real name attached.

Two dreams have come true.
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Desert Flower at #6 on Amazon, UK

Desert Flower blooms!

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As with so much of my writing, a chance remark, a question, a comment, often sets me off and before I know it, usually out comes a poem, sometimes a rant, sometimes a story.

And that’s how I came to write Desert Flower.

I had just started working at the Chronicle Herald, we were based in Dartmouth at the time, when I was surrounded by some colleagues all mildly intrigued by me. I guess I was something of a curiosity. The fact that I was “from away” in itself was strange. India, they had all heard of. But, Bahrain! “Where on earth was that?”

Some colleagues told me they couldn’t comprehend the heat I was talking about. And there I was, in the throes of trying to wrap my mind, my arms and my shawl (worn over my sweater, further fortified by stockings on my feet) around how cold it was and that was the middle of May.

“So, how hot does it really get?” One colleague asked me.

I started to explain it to him and then I thought. ‘I’m a writer. Why don’t I write it down for him.’ So that day over lunch, I started to write. And before I knew it, this romance story, jumped on me, like a devil on my back and every lunch hour for the next two weeks I simply had to bash out this story. Until it was done.

By then it was June. The story had gone galloping off in its own direction, so of course the colleague who’d asked the question never saw this. But I did share it with some of my other colleagues who thoroughly enjoyed it. It was too long to be a short story and too short to be a novella so it lay with me until I returned to Bahrain and shared it with some of my young Bahraini colleagues.

“You have to publish it”, they insisted.

“How do you know about so many of our old traditions? Like the ‘mashata, the dallal…”

“These are being forgotten…”

Finally, I was able to publish it. But that’s why, the opening lines are…

How can I explain that sort of heat to you?

Dry. The air so hot you can hardly breathe. The sun: a high, burning, intense fire in the heavens. You can’t look up to see it. It is shrouded in a heat haze, so that although one is aware of a single heat source, the entire dome above seems like a pulsating radiator reflecting that relentless heat back to the baking earth below.

In such a land nothing lives, save a few daring palms that would cheat the heat, and not let it extract their moisture by thickening their trunks and shredding their leaves, or scrub trees, those tenacious acacias – gnarled and thorny, husbanding their water and sap, even their chlorophyll into the tiniest imaginable leaflets – extracting from the unforgiving environment more cleverly than Shylock, life. In this inexorably cruel environment, is it any wonder that trust is a precious commodity, almost as valuable as water?

And love? It is a rare jewel. It lives as the cactus flower, bright, showy and flamboyant, but only for a brief while. It is a thumbing of the nose, from that plump succulent stem with its spiny leaves, at the heat and wasteland around it.

Such was the love that I had found so very long ago on a tiny island, just east of Saudi Arabia, called Bahr’ein, because of its two seas, the salty one that flowed around it and the sweet water sea that lay hidden both underground and beneath the seabed. So much like us, we who call ourselves Bahraini, with our salty and crusty exteriors hiding the sweet softness beneath.”

You can read the rest at any of the links provided at my publisher’s page here: http://www.ex-l-ence.com/Desert-Flower.php

As for the pen name? Ah, that’s another story.

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