Saturday, March 26, 2011

Not So Random Anymore

My new book, The Randomist, is a collection of memories, tales and reflections based on my own personal experiences as a Bahraini young man and a writer, combining cultural and social commentary with personal anecdotes. These include columns, essays and blog posts.

It was supposed to be launched around springtime, but due to the current instability in my country, and around the region, it’s put on hold for now. I am even considering adding a few more bits about the recent events that my country has witnessed since February 14.

What’s fascinating is how different these writings sound now, some of them even relevant, directly or indirectly, to this current unrest, while others now paint an image of a country that was and never will be. I’m looking at it now with completely different eyes.

I had received my mockup sample a few weeks ago. It looked pretty good. Hard cover, dust jacket with 240 pages. The cover features an illustration by my good friend artist Mariam Haji and is designed by myself.

But there were also a few glitches that need to be ironed out, the biggest of which is the size of the font, which is way too small for a hardcover book. So that’s a technical issue that needs to be corrected. Apart from that, I’m happy with the look and feel of the book. And with it’s content as well. Again, some editing here and there gotta be done before the final copy is printed.

I still hope that the book will come out before the end of the year, probably even later in summer. But I wonder what it will mean to me, to my Bahraini readers, and how will others perceive it now.

It doesn’t seem that random anymore.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Fearless Words

For years I’ve wondered why our literature was merely limited to stories of folklore, tradition and culture. In spite of the rich political history of this little island, you will find it rather hard to find any piece of fiction that tackles the many crucial periods that Bahrianis have had to go through.

Perhaps the only such period that has been touched upon, mostly in our books and silverscreen, is the time of British colonialism.

As a teenager I, and my entire generation, have lived through a significant time of instability in Bahrain, back in the early 1990s. Our country was turning upside down, yet none of us truly grasped the gravity of that situation.

Many people around me were affected, but somehow it didn’t really hit me. I personally didn’t understand it, didn’t have a clue.

Still over the years, I often wondered why no one ever wrote about it. In our history books, our novels, our poetry. It was as if none of it had occurred. A big part of it was because we were all still scared of talking about it. It was taboo.

The few mentions of it in some political books were either banned or censored. But as a fiction writer, my main concern was its nonexistence in local pop and modern culture. I personally hesitated a great deal about introducing these elements in my work. In fact, one other writer warned me that I risked writing about it, I might end up being exiled!

But I found that you can be political in your fiction without talking about politics. An English literature University professor from Canada who reviewed my short stories, explained to me that he found that many of my stories had political undertones, which helped him get a better understanding of contemporary Bahrain.

Twenty years later after those events in the early 90s, we are facing another historic moment. But a lot has changed since then. Unlike back then, everything is out in the open nowadays. Nothing can be hidden and everyone has access one way or the other, to information.

But it was in the way that the events unfolded since Feb 14 (and still continue to do so) that broke down so many barriers, perhaps the biggest of them: fear.

What will this mean for Bahraini art and literature? Will we suddenly see a shift in tone and context? Will artists and writers feel more emboldened by these events to let loose in expressing themselves?

Some will argue that is already the case. The fact that many artists have appeared regularly at (Pearl Roundabout) is a strong statement. Many of them have created new artwork on the spot, inspired by the movement and recent events; from traditional paintings to installations.

Bloggers, writers and journalists are voicing their opinions louder than ever, talking about taboo subjects that no one dared to tackle before, at least not publicly. Things such as social injustice, political reform, government criticism are the topics on every Bahraini’s mind.

But the true testament is yet to come. When the dust settles, will we see this trend asset itself on the longer term? Or will it fizzle and fade?

The momentum will carry it, and undoubtedly, things will never go back as they were in Bahrain. And most certainly, writers will begin telling the stories that have unfolded over these past few weeks, in more than one way.