Tuesday, July 12, 2016

67 MOGUL MINIATURES by RAZA ALI HASAN

ANNE MARIE FOWLER Reviews

67 Mogul Miniatures by Raza Ali Hasan 
(Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 2009)


There are four initial reasons that I felt compelled to review this book by a writer that I was not previously familiar with. First, the title drew me immediately as it conjured up an image of my visit to India so many years ago. Second, I was drawn to the cover page for the same reason that I was drawn to the title. Upon opening the book to the contents page, I thought perhaps I was seeing a version of one of my favorite poetic formats: the Pregunta. Although this book does not contain the Pregunta, I already felt so connected to it at this point. Finally, the fact that it was published by well-known and well-respected Autumn House Press made it very clear that some serious poetry was about to be experienced.

And the hype I had created for myself about this book was exactly en point. However, I do admit that this book will require those who are not familiar with many of the terms to have to work, at first, to understand the material. This book should not be passed by simply for lack of knowledge or understanding of another culture. To do so would negate the value of

“67 Mogul Miniatures” is divided into two sections. The first is titled “Shikwa or Complaint”: the second, “Jawab-e-Shikwa or Answer to the Complaint” in the tradition of Muhammed Iqbal, who is mentioned in at least eight poems. In the first section, there is a clear rendering of exasperation with Allah. The poems are numbered, which gives them almost the appearance of being a list of wrongs that have been done to the people by Allah. The exasperation is directly related to world events—the very challenges that humanity faces on a daily basis. One of the more engaging poems clearly highlights the challenge of famine:

            11
           
            It is not easy to draw a still life of a famine.
            Pictured from inside a ribcage of hunger

            it is a fast moving train carrying grain
            elsewhere—where slowness and stillness

            Still have a place in life, where Cezanne’s
            “Still Life with Apples” can still fetch a million.

This image is furthered in a later poem:

            15

            Where the mountain path ends, the wind picks up,
            This is where the precariously balanced cabbage patch

            used to begin. Only yesterday a place for the vagrant
            children to come together and pick cabbage.

            Now plastic bags and other refuse blow in
            from the city’s growing edge.

and although these two reveal the pain experienced, there is yet another that clearly outlines a plea to Allah for his mercy, even if it is just a little mercy shown:

            27

As famine looms ever closer, hear this plea:
lighten the burden of your peasants.

In these strictly measured fiscal years, money managers
have mismanaged the water table in the district of Sylhet.

Just a few grains of rice can be of great lift: a little fire,
a pot full of water, a sleeping family of seven full of water.

The second half of the book, titled “Jawab-e-Shikwa or Answer to the Complaint,” is Allah’s answer. Early on, Allah lets the complainants know that they have been heard: “Iqbal’s paper kite reached the heavens, at last.” The kite, however, scares the angels with “[i]ts mysterious turns and dips.” Allah in his compassion recognizes the pain of the world but clearly outlines how the world has come into its own darkness—through the colonization by the West.

            62

            The last peasant uprising won’t be televised—
            its true worth hidden from the eye.

            Your labored breath kept the cities going—
            the whole world should have been within your grasp.

            Off the land and crowded into cities from Karachi to Manila—
            You will surely bring the revolution to bear.

The beauty of this book is found in its lack of innocence. There is a solemn voice that permeates the work, one that questions value and belief. It celebrates the landscape of the land that the complainants inhabit and calls upon Allah to right the overturned. Despite the voice being solemn in its approach, there is a clear maturity to the work. This book is a must read for those who wish to engage the fine lines between religion and war, famine and mercy, and desire and punishment as a way to re-establish the beauty of the world.

Raza Ali Hasan leaves us with a final poem that encourages readers to action:

            67

            With Iqbal’s sword of mercy, and his shield of reason
            embossed not with Koranic calligraphy

            but with Averro√ęs’s hymn to reason in hammered gold,
            wrench the world out of your oppressor’s hand.

            Remold it, reorient it—hire a firm of architects and engineers
            and at the foot of Koh-e-Rahmat, rebuild Persepolis.

This book of poetry is a difficult one to navigate, though difficult in this context should not be taken as a negative connotation. Instead, its difficulty is found in one’s response to the challenges of the world and how humans sometimes forget to embrace what they can and move on. The difficulty of this book is no more than the difficulty of reading one’s own life and having to remember as a way to reinvent the self.


*****

Anne Marie Fowler’s creative work has been published nationally and internationally. She has also contributed to several encyclopedias on literature and sex workers, as well as one on online learning. Anne Marie currently teaches composition, research, literature, creative writing and mythology. She is working on mastering jewelry making, creating mixed media art that speaks to the creative spirit, and finalizing a book of poetry. She holds a Ph.D. in world literature in English and translation and an M.F.A. in poetry.



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