Poetry is a powerful weapon to instill hope and optimism, says Dr. Ghanem


Saudi Gazette report

Dr. Shihab Ghanem, a renowned Arab poet who loves Indian poetry passionately and contributed immensely to introducing it to the Arab world, had a fruitful interactive session with expatriate poets, writers and media persons. The four-hour session, titled “With a loving heart with Dr. Ghanem,” was organized by Goodwill Global Initiative (GGI) at Seasons Restaurant auditorium in Jeddah recently. Throughout the session, Ghanem delved deep into the vast ocean of his poetic and literary works, consisting of over 60 books, that he uses as an effective weapon to foster the values of humanity, peace, and tolerance, apart from a positive note of optimism in a world of turmoil.

Ghanem said he has full conviction that poetry should be employed to instill feelings of confidence and optimism. He said that even in his personal life, he found refuge in poetry to keep his spirits up with a positive note of optimism in hours of distress, citing the example of the poem “The Waves.”

“This is one of my most favorite poems that has been translated into at least 18 foreign languages. I wrote it when I faced the harshest time of my life during the political turmoil in South Yemen. At that time I was a permanent secretary at a ministry in the rank of a deputy minister.”

“The turbulent situation forced me to leave Aden for Abu Dhabi, leaving behind my wife and our new born baby for several months in North Yemen. The poem that I wrote after landing in Abu Dhabi in 1972 delivers a strong message of optimism even in the midst of such hard situations. It instilled a huge amount of hope, peace of mind and freedom from fear in me, my wife and all those around us,” he said while asserting his role as a humanist poet in disseminating lofty ideals of peace, harmony and tolerance. “When you are in desperate situation, poetry would come as a big blessing with lending a helping hand and instilling much needed hope and optimism.”

Ghanem used poetry as a strong weapon to defend the faith of Islam. “I have a strong faith in God ever since my childhood and hence I dedicated more than 50 poems to the spiritual aspect of life, focusing on God and the Prophet (peace be upon him). The biggest section of my poetry revolves around love and spirituality,” he said pointing out that his exemplary model in this respect is Ali Ahmad Bakatheer, who strongly defended the Islamic faith through many of his poems.

Ghanem also shared his fantastic experience of using poetry for humanistic purposes, promoting peace, and building bridges among nations and peoples. “The Poetic Heart: Connecting Humanity” symposium is a landmark initiative launched by me in this regard. This is an annual event to bring poets from across the world, with an objective of fostering peace, harmony, fraternity and tolerance. “Poetic Heart’ is my baby and I started it with the help of the Gulf chapter of Soka Gakkai International (value-creating society), of which the 8th edition was held in Dubai in February this year.

Ghanem said that he is extremely happy to write in Arabic because it is the language, which has always been alive and was not changed much thanks to the Holy Qur’an. “The language of Qur’an is so much beautiful and vibrant.”

He advised young writers and poets to work hard to develop and refine their talent. “One should be a good poet or writer if he has talent plus strenuous efforts to develop it or otherwise he would remain a minor or mediocre poet. He has to read a lot of poetry and embrace culture and multifaceted knowledge especially acquired through experiences from extensive travel in addition to a command of language,” he said, adding that his visit to nearly 55 countries has contributed immensely for much exposure to variety of experiences and learning.

A UAE citizen living in Dubai, Ghanem was born in Aden in 1940. He obtained a double degree in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering from Aberdeen, UK, in 1964, and a master of engineering degree in water resources development from Roorkee University of India in 1975 and a Ph.D. in Economics from Wales (Cardiff), UK, in 1989. He received the honorary doctorate (Literature) from Soka University in Tokyo in 2015.

Ghanem is a famous translator, who translated hundreds of great poems of world-renowned poets into Arabic and English. He nurtured a special interest in Indian literature, especially in Malayalam poems. “My relationship with India started since my college days. The most beautiful part of my student life in India was that I was married one day before I went to Roorkee. So my wife did not have a honeymoon but instead had to swing into hectic copying down of notes of lectures that I had missed,” he said. Ghanem started developing a special relationship with Keralites when he was honored along with the late Indian poet Kamala Surayya and lyricist and music director Yousafali Kecheri at a function in Dubai in 1996.

Subsequently, he translated Kamala Surayya’s Ya Allah, an anthology of 40 poems on her experiments with reverting to Islam, into Arabic with the name of Raneen Al-Surayya (Surayya’s melodies). His first English book on Indian literature was “Poems from Kerala.” He also translated poems of eminent Keralite poets such as Satchidanandan, Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan, Sugatha Kumari, Chemmanam Chacko, ONV Kurup, KG Shankara Pillai, Yousafali Kecheri, Ayypa Panicker, Balachandran Chullikkad and many others. An anthology of Ghanem’s poems was translated by a number of Malayali writers and it was edited by Satchidanandan. His translation into Arabic include “DyavaDashakam,” a poem of famous Indian Hindu religious leader and philosopher Sri Narayana Guru.

At a book fair in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Ghanem’s major books are launched. These include a collection of works of 60 poets, consisting of over 100 poems from Guru and a teenage poet Rabeka, who was honored at the last Sharjah International Book Fair.

Well-known writers and cultural figures such as Musafir, Gopi Nedungadi, P.M Mayinkutty, Abdullah Mukkanni, K.T Aboobacker, Jamaluddin, Hashim Kozhikode, and Sameer Malappuram were among those who attended the interactive session, in which GGI President Dr. Ismail Maritheri and General Secretary Hassan Cheruppa were the moderators. The young poets - Aruvi Mongam and Sakeena Omasseri - presented their books to Dr. Ghanem.

The event organizers included Hassan Siddeeque Babu, Jaleel Kannamangalam, Kabeer Kondotty, Sadiqali Thuvvur, APA Ghafour, Abdurahman Kalambrattil, Gafour Kondotty, Mansoor Wandoor, and Musthafa Peruvallur. Earlier, Musthafa Vakkaloor welcomed the gathering while Ishaq Poondoli proposed the vote of thanks.