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On issues that matter …

The Sufi’s Garland April 30, 2013

See where this writer and his writings are located…. on the wings of imagination; the essence of soil; the ephemeral thought; and the omnipresent divine.

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The Sufi’s Garland

I am the fakir with a luxurious flair
I am the student with my heart at sea
I am the poet with no pretense of class
I am the anarchist with no concern of turns

The biggest reward for a poet as an artist and a messenger of the divine perspective is, perhaps when the reader relates not just to the beauty of the words but internalizes the emotion conveyed to reach the poet’s state of mind. The bigger reward, needless to say, is to the reader who is enriched by the elevating experience.

Bestowing just such an experience is Manav Sachdeva Maasoom’s debut rendering ‘The Sufi’s Garland’ in which the author holds a kaleidoscope to show life in a unique dimension of love, pain and hitherto unknown emotions etched against the unlikely backdrop of war ravaged Afghanistan.

Maasoom works at the United Nations in New York. In his role as a poet, however he lets himself free to not only transcend geographical boundaries in thought, but also syntactical boundaries of vocabulary.

The book as Maasoom himself describes “is a handbook for those who care to love.” Contrary to the popular perception he claims that Afghanistan must be seen as a land of love not as a land of terror. It is the land where “poetry still lives and can be used” he says.

The Sufi’s Garland which is also a song offering to Rabindranath Tagore, Antonio Porchia and Emily Dickinson was written during Maasoom’s stay in Kabul, Afghanistan. And it is only in Afghanistan the poet believes “the soil and the people are responsive to poetry in a way that authenticates the soul more than entertains the senses.”
The poet’s actual experience of working in Afghanistan, Liberia and Kosovo has given him the insight needed for this hypnotic rendition. The poems are aphoristic and pithy laden with spiritual effervescence. Some of the poems are rendered in the form of cubic collage. The fine-line between painting and poetry is snapped with an impressionistic brush.

Maasoom has been writing poetry since he was eleven. And that form of expression flows even in this emailed conversation with this writer:

What does the title of the book – The Sufi’s Garland – signify?
Maasoon: I don’t know. I was in Afghanistan and as I was working on finalizing the manuscript and editing, it arrived. It stuck. It is what it is. David Paquoit has written a review of the book asking, “Is the garland for the Sufi or by the Sufi?” I don’t know.

The book is a tribute to Emily Dickinson, Antonio Porchia and Rabindranath Tagore – what is the common thread among them that binds you to them?
Maasoom: The common thread among them that binds is the love for love. The love for going beyond experience to share in the receipt of everyone’s feeling, to share in everyone’s needs that are human. It is Gurudev Tagore’s ‘Love for God’, Antonio Porchia’s ‘Surprise’, Dickinson’s ‘Beauty and Hope’.

What aspect of Afghanistan inspired you to write this book? How did you find spiritual release amidst the ruin and shambles of that country?
Maasoom: One often finds spiritual release among ruin and shambles within one’s life. Only through destroying all that is comfortable in boxes of lives does one arrive at the opening. In Afghanistan, people love and dance and sing and eat bread in a way that is nourishing. I don’t know but it was a homecoming of sorts. Afghanistan inspired me to polish it, compile it, complete it.

Do you use your ability of poetic expression as a release for coping with contemporary social and political realities?
Maasoom: Sometimes. Mostly poetic expression is an expression of a dilemma, a startled moment, a way to address a conundrum, or simply a response to a song in nature. Sometimes these are internal struggles, sometimes social ills affect, always it is love’s enormous ability to stop one in their tracks and cross over.

There is angst, helplessness, acceptance, love and a certain universality of thought in the book – what did you feel the most while writing this book?
Maasoom: All. There is longing in it. I felt as I do daily a longing. A longing for the bliss. A longing for … who one cannot name.

Your academic and professional background belie your artistic side as a poet of such intense sensitivity… how do you reconcile between these two sides of your persona?
Maasoom: One must eat to write. But the academic and professional work in women’s rights and such also requires intense sensitivity. There are moments when one simply lets oneself go and let it write or be in terms of academic/professional work.

Where does poetry come to you from – is it religion, spirituality, romanticism, or the socio-political context of life around you?
Maasoom: Poetry comes from observation and craft. The better the craft, the more prepared one is to subtly, carefully, sharply bring to life what is happening…a moment of anger that was fake as the couple smile across a train platform when they are about to forget getting off at their stop, a bird stopping on your deck asking questions why there is no food out yet for her, mistreatment of another human, God.

In today’s technology-driven world, do you think poetic romanticism can touch people’s lives in a way to bring about transformation?
Maasoom: Poetry is the only thing that pauses. Indeed poetry in all life and all forms – painting, life forms, words – pauses. And in each pause, transformation is possible.

What do you hope readers will take away from Sufi’s Garland?
Maasoom: They will take away what I hope they will – a certain re-imagination of the beloved.

Can you talk about your early orientation and childhood influences that molded your thinking?
Maasoom: My early orientation was towards making beautiful things. Art, craft, toys, words…Nekchand from Chandigarh had made a beautiful garden of broken plates and shards converted into lovely sculptures, Rose Garden in our city, Rakh Bagh…childhood influences were many including prayer-time and listening to father.

Do you see yourself as a spiritual connector; a social commentator/reformer; a conscious observer; or just a man endowed with the artistry of words?
Masoom: Perhaps I don’t see myself as anything. I carry on the work of a lover of humanity and hope it plays these roles as above. I hope to listen better and then draft it out for Him better.

[The Sufi’s Garland, Published by: Roman Books; $24.95 (Hardcover)]

SRIREKHA CHAKRAVARTY

 

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