By Mubasshir Mushtaq
"Mahmoud Darwish, the internationally renowned poet, was a man of pain and poems. Darwish was part of the Arab Exodus of 1948. If his forced exile signified pain his poems stood for Palestine."
Mahmoud Darwish, the "sightless vagrant" finally got a place, a grave to declare as his own. All through his life he lived the life of a gypsy who finally found his resting place, Do gaz zameen (Two yards underground), in Ramallah. He was an important pillar of Palestinian Dream. Like the late Edward Said, Darwish employed his pen to shape the Palestinian Dream. The former chose prose while the latter stuck to poetry.
Darwish, 67, who passed away following heart surgery in a Houston hospital on August 9, must have been aware of a word called death. It is an inescapable noun which puts a full stop to a short as well as a long sentence called life. Darwish knew this pretty well. In a recent poem titled 'The Dice Thrower' Darwish saw death knocking on his doorstep.
"To Life I say: Go slow, wait for me until the drunkenness dries in my glass.
I have no role in what I was or who I will be.
It is chance and chance has no name.
I call the doctor 10 minutes before the death, 10 minutes are sufficient to live by chance."
Mahmoud Darwish, the internationally renowned poet, was a man of pain and poems. Darwish was part of the Arab Exodus of 1948. If his forced exile signified pain his poems stood for Palestine. When he was stripped of an Israeli passport in 1971, he penned a poem called 'Passport' in which he challenged the idea of passport:
Stripped of my name and identity?On a soil I nourished with my own hands?
All the hearts of the people are my identitySo take away my passport!
Mahmoud Darwish was an epitome of dispossession, subjugation, and exile. In his poetry Palestine was a "metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile."
Israel always saw Darwish as an enemy but Darwish was not against the Jews. He was against the State's policy towards fellow Palestinians. In an interview with Susan Sachs he had made it abundantly clear:
"The accusation is that I hate Jews. It's not comfortable that they show me as a devil and an enemy of Israel. I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don't hate Jews. (New York Times, March 7, 2000).
A cursory glance through Darwish's poem reveals that he wrote poems for Palestine but it had universal appeal. His poetry infiltrated Israel but yet he was not allowed to set foot in Israel for almost 30 years!
His love for fellow human beings reflects in the following extract of his speech:
"I will continue to humanise even the enemy... The first teacher who taught me Hebrew was a Jew. The first love affair in my life was with a Jewish girl. The first judge who sent me to prison was a Jewish woman. So from the beginning, I didn't see Jews as devils or angels but as human beings…These poems take the side of love not war."
His poem 'Identity Card' chillingly summed up the complications of being a Palestinian in Occupied Palestine. It warns of hunger as well as anger; the only weapon of the dispossessed:
I have a name without a title
Record on the top of the first page:
I do not hate people
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food
Beware..Beware..Of my hunger
And my anger!
His poetic brevity did what a book can't do. Sample the following couplet:
A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved For my clothing is drenched with his blood.
To writers all across the world, he communicated the pain of his writing:
Writing is a puppy biting nothingness Writing wounds without a trace of blood.
People find love in life but Darwish was an exception. He found love in death; in meeting with his beloved land:
I am the lover and the land is the beloved.
The man who used his pen to 'cultivate hope' is gone but he kept hope alive in the form of bitter sarcasm:
The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty.
Darwish, the man who talked about identity all through his life, went prepared. I am not Mine was the title of one of his poems.
Even if I spell it (my name) wrong on the coffin – Is mine..
Darwish can now claim to be an owner. At least of his name if not his land.