IN the past few years, I have seen several expatriates emerging on the literary horizon of Jeddah, some of whom had started their creative writing during their stay here.
Is there something distinctly unique about the soil of Jeddah that nourishes the soul, nurtures the inquisitive mind? Is it the proximity to the Holy Places and the serene atmosphere that transforms their outlook of life and compels them to take to serious creative writing? Or is it simply the nostalgic feeling of prolonged separation from their near and dear ones that inspires them for literary pursuits?
Several such questions were haunting my mind when I met Mrs. Renu Mumtaz Farook Uz Zaman, a budding poetess from Bangladesh. Renu's husband Farook Uz Zaman works with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and she joined him in Jeddah in 1982.
Initially, she found the life quite pleasant and exciting. She loved to socialise; being a good cook she took pleasure in entertaining guests. She had a very positive impression about friends and human beings. In short, she was quite happy and contended, with no frustration or deprivation whatsoever.
Asked then as to how she started her literary career and what were the circumstances that evoked the creative impulse, Renu presented a totally different story.
She said that in April 1992, a bewildering incident occurred in her life that shook the very foundation of her belief in human goodness. It was a personal matter that she did not wish to divulge; an exposure to the darker side of human life, a realisation that for petty, temporal achievements one could stoop so low and resort to falsehood and dishonesty. It forced her to seek refuge in solitude for a while in what was to be a painful and agonising journey that stirred her soul.
It was in one such moment of desolation that she discovered her answers to her myriad worries and sorrows. The feelings of detachment and hatred within were replaced by sublime feelings of love, affection and sympathy towards mankind.
In the beginning of her poetic journey, strange, inexplicable words in languages unfamiliar to her came pouring out, words that were a source of agitation as she wondered why inspiration did not come to her in her own language. This was in April 1993. She was in her residence in Toronto, sitting in the dining room overlooking the garden when her eyes fell on a spray of flowers swaying with the wind. Some Bengali lines immediately emerged in her mind's eye and within moments nine lines crystallized, leading her to write nine poems with each of these lines as the title.
Renu's first book Adhare Jale Dip is a collection of 242 poems. Her first audiocassette, Dip Jale Dipnive- recently released- is a collection of nine songs. It is commendable that the songs are her own composition and she sings them herself. Renowned critics attended the launch ceremony of her book and the audiocassette.
Prominent intellectuals of Bangladesh such as Professor Emajuddin Ahmed, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, Professor Monjurrul Islam of the Department of English, prominent poet Asad Chowdhry, and Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhry, deputy leader of the opposition in parliament have expressed their views about her book. Her second collection will be published shortly.
Poetry and philosophy are both means of apprehending and expressing the unchanging phenomenon of eternal truth whose existential aspects have been differently interpreted over the ages and according to individual sensibility. There are at least two broadways of approaching the truth- the intuitive and the rational. Even in the rational way of approaching the truth, there is at the beginning an intuitive moment which is analysed and pursued through all its ramifications in the case of the philosopher, and expressed in sensuous, concrete terms in the case of the artist.
The philosophical vision of her poetry is aptly expressed in her poem Shwarga Shishar Alok Parash Deep.
Renu's attitude towards nature is unique. She links nature with man and compares human associations to natural landscapes. An impassioned admirer of flowers, Renu, in a number of her lyrics, refers to lotus, tuberose, rose and other blooms. She delicately harmonises nature with moods, as can be observed in the following verse.
She has a special manner with things and words, which is one of the vital traits of a genius. Her adoration of beauty is sincere and intense as is evident in the following lines:
Renu has a rare power of painting an accurate picture in a word or phrase. She can create an excellent pictorial effect from an atmosphere often flowering in a lonely world, as in the following lines:
She has a sure ear for music and its rhythmic harmony. Her poetry has a twilight quality, a subtle suggestiveness, along with soft ease, airy beauty and a charming, romantic quality.
Asked about her views about modern poetry, Renu said that there is nothing modern in poetry. Things keep changing fast, only poetry related to nature and love are modern… eternal.