Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Candid Chat with Arab-American Poet Dima Hilal

Dima Hilal, an Arab-american poet creates buzz in media as well as in the literary ambience with her poems, which are the reflection of the humanitarian crisis of Lebanon, Iraq, etc. She is a resident of California now. Her works appear in the publications—San Francisco Chronicle, Orion literary journal, Aramco, The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by Nathalie Handal (Interlink Books, 2001) and Scheherazade’s Legacy: Arab and Arab American Women on Writing, edited by Susan Muaddi Darraj (Praeger, 2004). Hilal gives some insights on her works and leverage of dual cultures on her poetic creation in a candid chat.Excerpts from the interview:

*Your writing is a form of activism. What is your personal view regarding this?

I believe that writing is a very powerful form of activism. Writing can serve to document, record and witness. It has the power to humanize and paint a picture of what would otherwise be forgotten, or worse, remain invisible. It also brings the dialogue away from political ideology to the concrete, human aspects. The conversation can then begin on a much more innate level - the people we speak about aren’t "us" versus "them"; it is not the "other". Rather it is someone’s father, mother, grandson or daughter. I strive to do that in my writing. My poetry is intended to shine the light on a situation by showing the truth, with all of its beauty and pain.·

*Your poems are the reflection of the culture, political, humanitarian situation of your native country, Lebanon? You left Lebanon at an early age. How do you feel the root of your country?

Yes, my work is often inspired by elements of my culture. I was born in Beirut but left my country with my family when I was nearly seven years old. However, Lebanon never fully left me. As an Arab-American, I have always felt as though I had one foot in America and one foot in the Middle East. This in-between state used to feel like a burden to me but I have learned that it is a gift. Through this perspective, I can reach out to both cultures, to criticize and celebrate equally. I think I have retained this link to my native country due to my family. My grandmother grew up with us and because she did not speak English, my sister and I had to maintain a conversational understanding of Arabic. Through her and my parents, we were immersed with these cultural nuances - from eating stuffed grape leaves in our lunch bags at school to wearing turquoise to ward off the evil eye. And this view feels quite natural to me and often works its way into my poetry. Now you know why you often read about orange blossoms, turquoise and the warm Mediterranean wind in my work.·

*Peace Mom creates a buzz in media with her activism. Your poems also tell the stories of mothers like thousand Peace Mom. Do you want to leave a comment on Peace Mom.?

Cindy Sheehan, or Peace Mom, has dedicated her life to preventing the loss of another son or daughter to a senseless war. I recently wrote a poem inspired by a quote I read in the Washington Post of another woman, named Anika Lawal, who recently lost her daughter, a soldier, in Iraq. She said, " I want to know why I’m planning a funeral while George Bush is planning a wedding." Those words haunted me and I wrote a poem in honor of this woman who aches for her little girl and for the child who died barely a woman. This confirmed my belief that if we looked at every civilian and every soldier as someone’s loved one, a precious gem, instead of nameless, faceless individuals, the world would be a truly different place. And that is what Peace Mom represents to me. The courage and the dedication to say, "Enough."

*Please tell me a lot about your professional engagements.

I have had the honor of performing my work in many wonderful venues, from cafes to museums to concert halls. Perhaps the most memorable was reading at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. The architecture and the historical significance of this location was incredibly awe-inspiring for me, both as a poet and as an Arab-American. I have also had the privilege of working on a libretto with a composer in San Francisco. We created together - I would provide the words and he would create the music and we would tie the two together to form a cohesive work. The best place to keep track of my various upcoming publications and performances is on my website,

1 comments:kunal said...Hi,its excellent. I heard about Dima Hilal from my friends earlier, really thanks to you for bringing this interview.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can my Virginity Be Restored?

Though sometimes I am getting bored with daily newspaper stories, yet some news catch my attention. It may be an interview with a litterateur, stories of a sabbatical move, a solar bra, the non-conformists, Big B and Lalu’s blog, personal history of Barrack Obama, etc.

When I was going through HT City, 14 June, 08 issue, the photographs of a woman with three buds of lotus caught my attention. Mostly in other days, the front page of HT City is about Bollywood or Hollywood celebrities or perennial stories of Ash and her hubby. It is about a cosmetic surgery namely revirgination or hymenoplasty.

The twist line of the story is that ‘ A little cosmetic surgery is how young women are erasing their sexual history before marriage.”(Quote from the story)The news adds more “ Dr Devansh from Max Health Care, an expert in hymenoplasty says that the women who have approached him for the surgery do so for reasons of moral satisfaction. One of the patients who approached him asked, Can my virginity be restored?”

Now the point is who will go for a hymen restoration surgery? ----The rich, modern middle class girls or up-to-date girls who are wearing the masks of modernity, who do not believe in traditional marriage, but put their family astrologer’s mobile number in speed dial, who sacrifice aspirations for family’s sake (Does modernity means smoking, drinking, dressing freely)Hello dear my friends (girl), is it important to wear a mask of virginity while men are free from this sexual term? Why virginity for women only?

Do You Believe in God?

When I came back from my home with a shady heart in February, I met a Delhi University Research Scholar in my train journey. He is doing research on Arsenic Contamination in Ground Water. After friendly discussions, he asked me a traditional question, "Do you believe in God?" He carries a Bible with him and most of the times he was reading it.Most of the times in my life, I face this question. I said him, I do not believe in God, but in an invisible power. My answer is quite puzzling, in the middle juncture, a little God believer or not.

He weaved a story to convince me that God creates this world and the Almighty exists. He quoted so many lines from Bible. A line is "A woman who fears to God is to be praised." I told him that I read it several times and familiar to so many similes, images and metaphors. Even I told him that I see supreme God believers who created unlimited infidelity and crime in their life. I said him my mother believes in God and does prayer at home. We, the siblings are not like. We never go to temple, but do some traditional rituals at home yearly. Even I told him that some beliefs including God and other superstitious beliefs depend on one’s upbringing.

If anyone asks me about my religion, I find myself puzzled (from which point of view I am Hindu).I asked him (he is originally a Brahmin from UP) how his family was converted to Christian religion. He told me a funny story. His one of great grandfathers ran away from home due to ideology crisis or (may be his non-conformist nature) and converted to Christianity as missionaries were there in India at that time. As most of Indians converted to Christianity due to temporary impulse. It seems that he will make me a God believer, more a Christ believer immediately. At the same time, by uttering the presence of God, he wanted to cool down my grief. (As I lost my father just before a few days)

Now I put my answer to him." Atheism linked to intelligence""People with higher intelligence quotients are less likely to believe in God because they have questioning their minds, a new study has revealed. Researchers , led by Richard Lynn of Ulster University has found a link between intelligence and atheism –in fact, according to them, university academics are less likely to believe in God than almost anyone else. "Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God," the Daily Telegraph quoted Lynn as saying. (Courtesy: PTI)

I think anyone's belief in God is quite personal. Even whether God exists or not is an age-old conflict between believers and non-believers. But one should not force another to believe in God.If every boy in this world believes in this proverb of Bible (A woman who fears to God is to be praised), I am ready to be single.

Autumn Buff

Amidst the dryness of Delhi, I miss the "Autumn Season" of my little village and its new looks, the green paddy field, the blue river Disang, the hills touching the horizon.
The Kahua blowing in the bank of the river Yamuna couldn’t cool down my passion.
Really it is an ecstasy for me to spend a few days in my little village amidst the magic of autumn season. How is amazing, wonderful, the seasonal delight of the idyllic life???????????
Oh, my little village, still you are in the lapse of nature. No, industrialization, no globalization………….

His memories haunt me

He was the Sun & Samurai. As I tried to forget him, his memories come and create puzzle to my daily life.
He was none, but my brave and courageous father. He was extravagant and luxurious. Even in his saddest days he did not leave his originality. He never sacrificed his luxury for well breed of our siblings.
He joined Indian Navy in 1957 and took VRS after 15 years. He told us splendidly the amazing days of war, his brave stories of war and exotic tales of war & sea so cleverly that I could not guess whether he supported war or not.
He never told me about morality and marriage but said about self-dependency. He was liberal. He welcomed my friends as “Hi comrades”. He was modern, yet never left his roots, social mores and customs. Even he was more modern than my brother who is working in the corporate world.
When I fear for something, My Mom says “You are not your father’s daughter. Be brave my little daughter.”
He always cried for a lost world. His visit to a town is a metaphor for a lost world. He never supported ethnic insurgency. But he never justified this. May be his patriotism? He told sometimes that work culture can solve many deep rooted problems. His watch and radio were his best friends.
After his death, my mind moves with so many enigmas and so many questions. When someone feels pity for me (as I am not getting married till now), I feel that in a patriarchal society, losing her father is the greatest tragedy for a girl. As I could not be a non-conformist.

He is no more, no more.

Winter stanza

Winter is dry, yet sensuous
Nostalgia wraps me
How can I forget The Kingdom of reminiscence?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A dream to visit Taksang monastery

Since my childhood, I have been fascinated by Buddhism, mostly by its outer charm than its spiritual significance as I amn’t totally a religious kind of person. The Buddha Vihar located near our neighboring village attracts my mind and when my mind questioned for it, no one could give me a satisfied answer. I had a friend who is a monk and sometimes I did visit the Vihar with him. But what is surprising to my mind, I was frustrated after visiting the Vihar as I have expected more extraordinary things here. I didn’t feel what I had dreamt earlier. Even I feel a little bit scared when I visit and pray at our local Namghar.

But now after reading and writing a lot on Buddhism travel tour, my old fascination rose up and I am dreaming to visit this monastery located in Paro Valley of Bhutan. As Bhutan is near my state Assam.

Everest from North side

I have to feel the pulse of the place by mentally visiting it as my job is a travel writer. I felt mesmerized when I wrote about Everest Base Camp, from where the mountaineers start their trekking to the highest peak of the world, Mount Everest. The Mt Everest is a fascination for me since my childhood when I read about it in my primary books. Even the story of Edmund Hillary made me a more freak of MT Everest. Though I couldn’t climb the MT Everest yet I have a dream to trek to the Everest Base Camp to have a crystal clear view of it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Assam tourism needs exposure

Only after coming to Delhi I think for the first time in my life that that I live behind the mighty river Brahmaputra. The tributary of Brahmaputra, Disang flows near our house creating a spectacular idyllic setting. Just from the bank fo the river, you see the horizon, the hilly mountains of the Himalayas, the paddy field, etc.

Assam tourism is still lagging behind the proper exposure. River cruising in Assam can be a great oppurtunity as we have all the places of imporatnce near the riverside such as Dibrugarh, Sivagasagar, Majuli River Island, Tejpur, Guwahati, etc. Working as a travel writer for a New Delhi based travel compnay I am mesmerized to enjoy my passion-travel writing. Writings of Kerala and its backwater cruise, culture and heriatge travel of this God’s Own Country always thrill me.

Assam has also a heterogenous culture due to it presence of various linguistic tribes. Even there is always a sizzling mood of art and theatre in Assam. Even the celebration of the festivals has relevance to the seasonal bounties of nature. For an international tourist, tourism in Assam only means Kaziranga and a visit to Kamakhya and its Ambubchai Mela ( Menstruation of Earth in Hindu beliefs). Assam is a home to several wildife sanctuaries which are a home to endangered and rare species and orchids.

Who will introdue the heterogenuity of Assamse culture to the foregin audience? Even most of the nationalcapital(Delhi) dwellers have a little idea about assam toruism. Don’t we need an advertisemnt in the national visual media. If any poor state of India can afford it why not Assam?
Why still we are lacking of tourism developemnt? Does tourism mean only Assam Tourism Department’s participation in an international trade fair, a website on flora and fauna only?