Exploring the World and Self, Poetically, Through The Sufi's Garland

I recently met Manav Sachdeva Maasoom at a Chinese-Indian book reading in Manhattan (story) and he presented me with a copy of his beautiful hardback tribute to Emily Dickinson, Antonio Porchia, and Rabindranath Tagore that I did not have a chance to read until a lazy Sunday morning in Haiti.

The Sufi's Garland is the perfect tome for a quiet morning. With the smell of fresh papayas fallen on the ground around me, sipping my strong Haitian coffee, with croissant on the side, I picked up this 104-page book of poetry. Manav, who now works for the U.N. in New York, began to write poems at the age of 11. These poems he wrote, inscribed, and compiled together on a trip of self discovery in Afghanistan a few years back.

2011-03-12-Sufis_Garland_A.jpgMosque in Herat, Afghanistan. Photograph by Manav Sachdeva.

His first poem spoke to me and my work here in Haiti directly:

And when I learned I could not save ... those that never needed to be saved, I lost my fears, my fears of not being, of not being able to save, save enough for myself, save myself ... and served freely.

And when I learned that kindness, that kindness is not to be done to ensure, to ensure you get kindness in return, then I, lost my fears, my fears of being, of being in their shoes someday ... and shared freely.

And when I learned that acts of good, acts of good need not become tokens, tokens that encash as good feelings in return, then I, I lost my fears, my fears of not being, of not being thanked enough, of being unappreciated ... and helped freely.

Afghan Caps. Photograph by Manav Sachdeva.

Only yesterday, as I travelled by jeep from Port-au-Prince to Léogâne, did I see four hungry boys racing alongside our car looking for a dollar. I tried to fall back asleep, hoping they would panhandle the next vehicle. They ran alongside us for over a hundred years as we nosed through bumper-to-bumper traffic, trying to make eye contact, hands outstretched.

I noted that the four boys were barefoot, running along the gravelly road. I almost asked the driver to stop, knowing I had hundreds of dollars in my pocket. But I knew if we stopped four children would become 40 in a moment, and that the children we had committed our resources to were waiting for us at the next stop. As we hit the edge of town, the driver sped up, leaving the children staring at us as we disappeared.

could you spare any change, could you?
no, well have a good afternoon still

pause, unpause, walk on, short pauses
could I, yes, but should I

my father's words prod
"No khairaat for anybody. Get a job!
Earn your shorba and naan!" ringing ...

my father's words returnin', remindin', oh I,
I still, somehow still, manage,
to him lie, and walk on by...

*khairaat in Persian refers to that which is un-earned, free, spare, given of good will by giver

2011-03-12-Sufis_Garland_C.jpg Manav Sachdeva Maasoom with his lovely wife Nigora. Photograph by Manav Sachdeva.

In his book, the author writes of love and longing, of travels and travails. He whispers to his partner, he speaks to his god, he describes nature and existence to his readers.

When in Iran I prayed to Mohammed
Rassol and PEACE be upon him

One asked me straight -- Are you a Muslim?
and I told him, with a date
and water, breaking my fast
I don't think Brahma would've minded

This thinker laments the challenges in translating not only word but wonders:

Transferring of sensibilities across one's languages breathes fresh life into one's poetry. Yet how does one translate context

Manav's poetry captures the warmth of the sun, the calmness of the dark, and the hope of spring. He writes of facing fears, caressing one's lover, and birds in flight. This poet reflects on the path up the mountain of all humanity as we seek an understanding higher than ourselves. Different peoples have described different views of the mountain trail, and yet all people strive for the same mountain top.

Voices in the gullies of Kabul
Incoherent, muffled
Are gods murmuring
On His children's streets

2011-03-12-Sufis_Garland_D.jpgHorse Carriage in Herat. Photograph by Manav Sachdeva.

In many, many movingly romantic poems, he writes one stanza reflecting modern love:

I have measured my relationships in Bollywood rentals/I have always looked at the sky and fallen in a ditch

In another:

I have made a habit of losing lovers and loving losers.

Some of Manav's poems are about politics and perception. I laughed yesterday, in two separate instances, when Haitians told me jokingly that as a white man I breast fed until the age of 10, and that I was loathe to take a shower. I did not fully grasp either comment.

Manav writes:

Am I dressing up when I wash up for the white man. When I see a white man do I see white before man. If so I have not evolved.

Or simply one stanza:

Developed and civilized are sometime antonyms.

I particularly liked his ode to the Indian subcontinent:

Unorganized in shambles economy is crumbles
only yesterday It's coming
the wave

The subcontinent getting larger people and power
only till yesterday its coming
the wave

Sleeping superpower plodding underdog power is shifting
only till yesterday It's coming
the wave

Quietly rising slow tortoise silly hare
only till yesterday It's coming
the wave

Agrarian decades industrial weeks metamorphic lave
Only till yesterday It's coming
the wave

I'm shaking anxiously waiting I can see it
Kicking yesterday It's coming
the wave

Or, on our last administration:

bush doctrine as confusion theory: a theory the practice of which is intended for a result of deliberate confusion ...

I wrote poems in high school and college that allowed me to explore my inner voice. I pursued a narrative on goodness more so than poetry, but admire a man who not only pens but publishes poems in this millennium.

Poetry is not a dead art, and as an artist, Manav Sachdeva Maasoom is as talented as I have encountered. However, the world needs more educated and sensitive people to appreciate poetry. In writing a tribute to Dickinson, Porchia and Tagore, Manav has begun the trek to join them at the summit. Watching him ascend -- one lone being on the mountain side -- is poetry in itself.

She had reached the moment of truth: she was watering the cat and feeding the plant ...

Manav Sachdeva Maasoom holds a Master's from Columbia University in December 2003. In 2005, Manav worked with the U.N. on reintegration of child soldiers, quick impact projects including for women cooperative initiatives, and helping with elections in Liberia. In 2006-07, Manav worked in Kosovo, Former Yugoslavia with the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission and further with UNFPA on changing the norms of masculinity in Kosovo. Since 2007, Manav has been working with UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Democracy Fund, UNDP, and Save the Children Sweden in New York, Malaysia, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, and Canada on preventing violence against women and children, and broadly conflict issues.

The book is available for order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. See the author's Twitter and Facebook pages. Manav Sachdeva Maasoom is represented by the Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency. E-mail. The author may be contacted here.