Saturday, July 30, 2016

“The Barista”

I wrote this piece (a diary entry) as a part of an assignment for The University of Iowa's International Writing Program 2016. 

The assignment's brief was 

"Whitman's choice to address the war from the hospitals, for example, from the bedsides of the wounded and through letters to their family members, is unexpected in the history of chronicling war. This lens constructs a different picture of war, with lingering consequences, delayed timelines, and intimacy standing in counterpoint to dispatches from the battlefield. Think of a place that at first may not seem to be related to a contemporary conflict or or a traumatic event from the past, but which might be used to reveal something important about that conflict. Perhaps if you describe that conflict or traumatic event from the viewpoint of that place, you will find that new thoughts about the conflict or event come to you. Perhaps if you compare this place to the site of the conflict or event, you will find new ways to describe what the conflict or event means to you and what you think it should mean to the world."

This is what I wrote:

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA, May 7, 2015.—Began my day with a visit to the Indooroopilly Uniting Church. Spent over two hours in the community centre at the church where the hall is converted into a PlayCafe on Thursdays. It's where I meet many mothers and their toddlers over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Sometimes, I even volunteer to look after the kids and set up the toys in the play areait's fun!

Today, I met a woman in her late thirtieswouldn't have guessed her age to be a day over 20, though. She walked up to me and introduced herself. Her name is Zoya. Wore tight black jeans and tight long-sleeved black t-shirt. She asked me if I wanted some coffee or teatold her I'd like a cappuccino and a chocolate muffin. She smil'd and walk'd towards the counter to place my order. I usually place my orders myself but this time I let her do it for me. She walked towards me with two cups and a muffin and took the seat next to mine. Talk'd with her. She is from Iran and seeking asylum in Australia. Her family was being persecuted by some top people in Iran, she said. They fled Tehran, took a flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. From there, they paid a people-smuggler and took a boat to Australia. Nine days at sea. The boat was intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy near Darwin. Spent six months in the detention centre there before they were moved to Brisbane. Her son is in the ninth grade in high school. Her husband's looking for jobany job. Is desperate. Used to be an accountant back in Tehran. She volunteers as barista at PlayCafe so she can learn to speak English. Church is helping her with the process of asylum. She comes to church everydaybecame Christian two months ago and prays regularly. I ask'd her about her husband. He hates religion, she said. She can't go back to Iran. She wants to stay in Australia. It's now her home.

About this assignment:

This is a true story. However, I have changed the name of the person to protect her identity. I looked at some of Whitman's prose such as “Down At The Front” and “After First Fredericksburg” and wanted to attempt a diary entry using some elements of his style from the 1860s.

The 'unusual place' I have chosen for this assignment is a church. While religion or its misinterpretation has often been the cause of conflict, there also several examples throughout history where religious institutions have helped victims of conflict by providing them with food, shelter, care, aid and support irrespective of the victims' religious beliefs or nationalities. The Uniting Church in Australia is an example. It provides support to refugees and asylum seekers and helps them assimilate into Australian society and campaigns against the detention of refugee children in offshore detention centres.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

My poem, Kashmir, for International Writing Program 2016

My poem, 'Kashmir' as a part of the International Writing Program 2016 conducted by The University of Iowa, USA, in response to readings of some of Walt Whitman's poems written during the American Civil War. I also learned that Whitman was America's first war journalist.

“How you threw off 
the costumes of peace
with indifferent hand,”
Whitman wrote in 'Drum-taps'.

A young man in Kashmir
Sits on his bed
Bent over a book
Of war and peace:
A collection of verses.

He looks out of the window:
At the tall mountains
The guardians of the valley,
At the placid lake
The soul of the place.

He closes his eyes,
Surrenders to memory
A day in the valley
Of protests and rallies
Of defiance and violence.

Then came the policemen
With their pellet guns
To diffuse the mobsters,
angry stone-pelters,
protestors, spectators.

In the line of fire:
A child of five
A pellet strikes his eye
He falls to the ground,
Lets out a weak cry.

A shroud of gloom
Covers the valley
As costumes of peace
Lie muddied and torn
Spirits, broken and worn.

A young man in Kashmir
Sits on his bed
Seethes with anger
Looks at his brother
Sleeping in peace.

A child of five
In a world of dreams
A child of five
Who'll never see.

- Eisha

How I created this poem:

I read some of Walt Whitman's poetry after the first IWP session and came across this line, " you threw off the costumes of peace with indifferent hand," in the poem, Drum-taps. The first thing that came to my mind was the visual of a man taking off his cloak with the symbol of peace on it and revealing that he is a soldier with a gun. The imagery was so powerful, I wanted to use that line and situation in a poem.

These last few days, Kashmir has been the focus of news in both India and Pakistan. Since 1948, both countries have laid claim over Kashmir and the state has been divided into three parts which are controlled by India, Pakistan and China. It's a beautiful valley surrounded by the Himalayas and has been often referred to as 'heaven on earth' in Persian and Indian texts. Since 1989, Kashmir has seen a rise in militancy and conflict. Some militant outfits want accession to Pakistan. Others demand an independent Kashmir. The once-peaceful state has now become a hotbed of terror. Bombings, suicide attacks, mob violence and curfews are common. The armies try to curb militancy aggressively. As often is the case in conflict zones, the innocent people – men, women and children – who only want to eke out a living, are the ones who suffer the most. Intermittently, there is peace in Kashmir and it becomes a favourable destination for tourists who soak in the valley's unique culture and take in its breathtaking beauty.

Recently, there were mass demonstrations in the state after the Indian Army killed one of the militant commandos. Mobs of stone-pelters attacked the policemen at the rallies. The police retaliated using non-lethal pellet guns. The indiscriminate firing of pellets to diffuse the mob caused injuries to hundreds of people. Many children were hurt and blinded.

I did not know Whitman was a journalist till I joined this course. I am a journalist and I also work with organizations that educate people in conflict zones. This is my attempt to describe the recent events in Kashmir in the form of a poem. The constraints were to use not more than six words in a line and use Whitman's phrase in the poem.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Tale of the Apostrophe

I participated in the first session of the International Writing Program conducted by the University of Iowa (USA) where we are discussed Walt Whitman's Civil War Poetry: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster. While the theme was about poetry, conflict and tragedy, Prof Ed Folsom had this to say about the apostrophe:

"The know we think of the apostrophe as that little mark of punctuation that signifies something missing - that signifies absence. So in contractions, there are missing letters, and that little mark acknowledges that there are missing pieces here. The interesting thing is that we call it an apostrophe because of the association with the rhetorical term "apostrophe." An apostrophe was when, in classical rhetoric, you would turn away from the people you were speaking, and for rhetorical effect, you would speak to someone who is not there - you would speak to the dead, let's say. If the dead were here, this is what we would say to them, and then you might even turn and, as if you were facing the dead, you would offer an apostrophe. Whitman took that notion, that rhetorical notion of apostrophe, and he built an entire poetry out of it, right? We know from his early poetry that he loved the idea that he could address people who were not there - you and me."