By Said bin Rashid al Kalbani, the first Inspector General of Oman –
The first part of a series translated by Khalid Mohammed Al Balushi –
Retrieving the Tale
Many of us see nothing in our lives that merits documentation. If we do, we tend to delay it as a project requiring further time or further maturity. No wonder we see but a few people who take it a duty unto themselves to narrate their life stories for the succeeding generations, explaining to them as they do the path they trod, the dreams they harboured and the obstacles they faced. Our reluctance to document our lives comes across as ironic in the face of the fact that we do, indeed, narrate thousands of times to our sons and friends. We talk about our past, what we did and what we said, how we discovered ourselves in its terms, how it was different from the present.
We cherish our past, relive its sweetness and vivacity, despite the fact that our present may glow with pleasure and comfort. Our past is but a school from which we learn patience and perseverance.
I understand my tale of birth, childhood and work is no different from that of my peers. Our childhood, though hidden behind the mountains of the past, hasn’t left our hearts. It manifests itself as yearning, as a spiritual journey into our deepest souls. Those, sons, friends, peers, relatives who heard our story find it worthy of being transformed into words, written on the page; some might not see it so. I, nonetheless, decided to go by the well-intentioned advice of my loved ones.
Before setting a word on the page, I sat back and pondered for a considerable period of time: what should I write? What is it in my life that deserves to be written about? Which details are cumbersome and, thus likely to cause boredom and which are stimulating, thus likely to grip the reader’s attention? Settling on a particular course was no easy matter, as what one thinks too ordinary to mention others might think too exceptional to omit. Our reflections about our own selves vary from those of others.
Whatever I narrate to you is not an autobiography as such, but rather memory of a generation which lived between two distinctive periods, the pre-Renaissance Oman and the post-Renaissance Oman. We are talking about a generation whose childhood was so different from that of our children; places have changed and so have times and details.
Once settled, I began to dig into my mind. Retrieving the past is not an easy task, especially if one’s life brims with all manner of events that crisscross many decades. But it is the steadfastness of my well-wishers that has galvanised me to go ahead on life’s path, and it is the same steadfastness that urges me now to retrieve that path. This retrieval is bound to be reductive, though. Years and years have accumulated; retrieving them is akin to entering a dark cave. But I shall endeavour to do so in the hope to find a torch that will brighten that cave.
As I enter the cave and happily live my past moments, I see myself surrounded with jewels I thought I had forgotten: one story leads to another, no sooner this page ends than my pen invades the other. I decided to let the pen take its natural course, not hindered by any methodology or ideology.
I conclude this introduction with the hope that the current generation would consider our legacy with an open mind and an appreciative heart.
Indians in Dawn’s Light
From A Man from the Empty Quarter (Beirut 1994) By Saif Al Rahbi (1956- )
This moment rolled upon itself
Like ruins of a decayed body,
I can’t glance at the morning’s face (It has lagged behind.)
Before the window,
Out flow Indians
Carrying Buddha’s coffin
Washed in the Ganga,
Waiting like me
For another day
But with peace and a sacred death.
Strangers, without shadows or faces,
The pain of search for bread and song.
Soon they’ll rest from the funeral
In the neighbouring tavern
Where a dancer wriggles, feeding her bosom
With an imaginary lover,
They dream till the end.