Long time Bahrain resident Rohini is the author of Corpoetry, a collection of light-hearted verse about corporate life, and Desert Flower, (as Zohra Saeed) a romantic story set in 1930s Bahrain. Her poetry has also been featured extensively in Collections of Poetry and Prose book series, My Beautiful Bahrain, More of My Beautiful Bahrain, Poetic Bahrain, and she currently runs The Bahrain Writers' Circle and The Second Circle poetry group.
Pearl Divers’ poems - Introduction
In Bahrain and other parts of the Arabian Gulf, the Pearl divers went out to sea to look for pearls in the rich oyster beds in and around the gulf. It was a hard life and dangerous, and much lore surrounded the profession and the songs. This traditional music, known as fidjeri, is an age-old repertory of vocal music sung by the pearl divers of Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. The Nahhaam, or pearl diver singers, were backed by a chorus of singers and clappers accompanied by the Mirwas, a small double-sided drum, and the jahlah, a clay pot.
The Sambuk is a kind of Arabian dhow, lulu is the word for pearl in Arabic and Durrat is a particularly highly prized pearl. Muharraq is the second major island of the archipelago that constitutes the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The poem, In A Bay Off Old Muharraq expresses the desire to recall a more friendly less politicised time in Bahrain. Salaam alaikum means ‘peace be upon you.’ Sanginni, Bahri, Adsani , Haddadi, Hasawi, Zumayya, Dan and Mkholfi are all different kinds of songs. In 1972, a film by Kuwaiti Khalid Al Siddiq, titled The Cruel Sea – better known by its Arabic title Bas Ya Bahr - related an artistic representation of the pre-oil life of the pearl divers. It proved to be a masterpiece and tells the story of a crippled old pearl diver who tries to prevent his son from taking up the trade because it is so fraught with danger, but the son is in love with a girl from a wealthy family and needs to make money to marry her. This poem hints at the story and the theme of the film, the sea: treacherous, unmovable, unchanged, eternal and ultimately cruel.
In A Bay Off Old Muharraq
By Rohini Sunderam
In a bay off old Muharraq
Lies an ancient wooden Sambuk
That still goes out on moonless nights
Searching for th’ eternal light
And the master of the Sambuk
Who’s the master of that Sambuk?
A ghost, a wraith, a memory
Singing songs like Fidjeri.
And who is it that sits beside him?
Playing on the double hand drum?
Drumming on the mirwas lightly
While the Sambuk skips so spritely
Across the waves out to the sea
Recalling ancient memory?
Why he too is a distant past
That’s lost forever, lost alas!
And what is it they hope to find
Tossed along by wind and mind?
Why it’s the lulu treasured pearl
Durrat more prized than any girl
And so the divers scythe the waves
Seeking what we all so crave
To bury hatred, soothe the pain
So we can all be one again.
And all who live upon this isle
Wherever he or she may come from
Join together, hug and smile
And truly say, “Salaam alaikum.”
Bas Ya Bahr (The Cruel Sea)
By Rohini Sunderam
Oh marvellous waves of blue and green
You who have let your colours bleed
Inside an oyster’s shell
Forming the nacreous iridescence
That imbues that tiny seed
Of pain, hurt and misery
With a luminescence
Soft as tears
And fluid as satin
The one they call a pearl.
For how many centuries have you sung
Your siren songs to divers
And sent your whispering promises
Hidden inside conch shells
To the pearl merchants
Whose fronded fingers
Flow like tentacles
Ever-reaching out to buy
Possess, to own and enslave
The one that they call: Pearl?
And why oh waves are you so hungry
That you should covet the lone life
Of an old pearl diver
Crippled from so many years
Of plumbing your depths
To seek the oyster beds
Pinching his nose with a date-palm peg
Plunging down into the dim light
The green light of your stygian depths
Seeking the lustrous light of a pearl?
And just as you surrender
That one prize oyster
That holds inside its mealy mouth
The treasured sphere
Spun from anger, hurt and hatred,
Grown large enough
To tempt a merchant, trap a sheikh…
Is that oh sea, oh Bas ya Bahr
When you decide
That this man belongs to me?
By Zohra Saeed
A Short Story - Love blooms in 1930s Bahrain...
1930s Bahrain, oil has just been discovered in the Middle East and Andrew MacInnis from Canada has come to work there. Andrew visits a Bahraini carpet merchant, who does not speak English. The merchant calls for his daughter, Noor, to act as interpreter. Noor is a devout Muslim and as such must not expose her face to men outside of her immediate family. She acts as translator for her father and although he never leaves the two alone, under his very nose, Andrew and Noor get to know each other and fall desperately in love. The lovers secretly plot to run away but the risks are terrible. Noor’s father may send members of the family to hunt them down and kill them. Do they escape? Will Noor have the nerve to follow Andrew’s plan or will centuries of a formidable culture and Noor’s upbringing prevent these two young lovers from following their hearts?