Today I tell a friend about the Sealey Challenge. This year, this whole long year — since when Ismail Mama was still alive and Shahida Phupo was still alive and Simarik was still alive — I have been preparing quietly, for the Sealey Challenge. I have been buying slim and beautiful books of poetry, here and there, sometimes with careful research beforehand and sometimes with the kind of abandon with which one scoops up a slab of dark chocolate at the store. The word that comes is indulgent. Also delicious. Also lustful.
But the dark chocolate analogy works in another way too. Because at least for me anyway, there is also in this kind of book-buying, a sense of freedom that feels very particular to being an adult. It has been some twenty-three years now that I have been a grown-up, if your definition of grown-up entails — among all the other things — the ability to buy however-heck-as-many books as you want, whenever you want, as often as you want. And yet, I am still unable to walk out of a bookstore, arms laden, without feeling a little like I have gotten away with something.
When I was a kid in Dubai, and we were broke, and my mother was the kind of mother (partly she was forced to be, I know) who would not let me sleep over at my friends’ houses because she said that afterwards I came home “wanting things”—when all of that was happening, Dubai was very much a place where the only way to get your hands on English books was to pay ludicrously exorbitant prices for them at the one bookstore in town, which was all the way on the other side of the city (in Jumeirah, where all the rich white folks had their villas and their palm trees and their weekly coffee-mornings for the Petroleum Wives Club—and yes, I kid you not, there was a Petroleum Wives Club, which might as well have been called the British Petroleum Wives Club...), and my mother didn’t drive, and my father wouldn’t drive... So we would go book-shopping at Magrudy’s maybe once in six months, and each time I was allowed maybe two books. (How did I survive you ask? The summers saved me, because summers we went to Karachi and Islamabad, where the second-hand bookstores were plentiful, cheap, and so well-stocked that the shelves always groaned and the stacks always teetered. Karachi and Islamabad, where I always had money too—wads of delightfully grubby hundred-rupee notes from a phalanx of aunts and uncles and older cousins, because it was eid or I had just missed eid, because it was my birthday or it would be soon enough, because I was someone’s niece, someone’s daughter, someone’s granddaughter, and I’d be gone again soon...)
I still remember this one time in Dubai. We went to Magrudy’s and I managed, with some wheedling, to get my mother to buy me not one but two titles from the extra-expensive and super-newly released Nancy Drew “Files” series. We came home and I went straight to my room to assume the position for the rest of the afternoon: flat on my stomach across my single bed, fan running overhead, and Casey’s Top 40 in the air. Four hours later, I emerged from my room to announce that I had finished both books. And I remember in that moment my mother — looking up from whatever three dozen things she must have been doing in that miniature inferno of a kitchen (a pot of akni or biryani or haleem simmering, the smell of onions fried softly to crisp, julienned ginger and bright green rings of capsicum...) — I remember the expression of sheer desperation on her face.
“Go read them again,” she said, through clenched teeth.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[giovedì 08 luglio 2021 ore 22:07:11] [¶]
Those of you who know me—who know—know too by now, what tends to happen in July and early August, to the clock of my days.
Already today, there is this from the Poetry Foundation—a poem for next week.
Inside of it, the idea of time and returning, of belief and gods, of memory and want.
For by now
I know it is because they never die, but live
unknown among us.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[giovedì 01 luglio 2021 ore 11:07:03] [¶]