Different Dialogues : | Dr. Shihab Ghanem

In conversation with Dr. Shihab Ghanem – Emirati Poet and Poetry Translator, Dubai, U.A.E.

Educational Qualification: Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering from Aberdeen (Scotland) in 1964, and a Master of Engineering degree in Water Resources Development from Roorkee University (India) in 1975 and a Ph.D. in Economics from Cardiff (Wales) in 1989.

Before I spoke to Dr. Shihab Ghanem about the interview — in a very informal setting of our drawing room, the Emirati poet had just recited a favourite poem of his. We were a small group; for us, the poem Bakhbookh, broke the barriers of a foreign language, because the poet had instantly reinforced the Arabic content of Bakhbookh by translating it into English. On our enthusiastic requests, he recited a few more verses, drawing them from his memory. The spontaneous backward and forward exploration of meanings converted the evening into a string of melodies.

Meet Dr. Shihab Ghanem. He is a leading poet of the U.A.E and the foremost translator of Indian poetry into Arabic. To his credit, he has more than ten anthologies of poetry in the Arabic language. He has also published more than twenty-two collections of translated poems from Arabic into English, and from English, or, other foreign languages (through English) into Arabic. His favourite English poets include Shakespeare and Auden.

A widely traveled man, some of the countries Dr. Shihab Ghanem has visited on cultural basis are England (Cambridge Annual Literary Seminar), Kuwait (Al Babateen Seminar + Al Qurain Seminar + Invitation by Ministry of Culture to visit Cultural Institutions), Tunis (Al Babateen Seminar), Algeria (Al Babateen Seminar), India (Cultural visit to Kerala by Ministry of Tourism), Egypt (Translation Seminar), Saudi Arabia (Al Janadiriyah Seminar more than once), Bahrain (Poetry Seminar).

Dr. Shihab Ghanem comes from a very educated background. Not only were his maternal uncles knowledgeable, his father also imbibed in studies. In 1936, his father, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghanem became the first graduate in the Arabian Peninsula receiving his degree from American University of Beirut.

Dr. Shihab Ghanem is a recipient of numerous high-ranking awards and a well-respected figure on the poetry and literary forums. Some of his poems have been turned into songs by many singers, including, Sami Yousuf, Osama Safi and Dr. Nizar Ghanem (his brother) and Ahmed Qasem.

Always moving with his constant companions: the quill and books, Dr. Shihab Ghanem has continuously worked on literary projects. He says, he will slow down the pace of his work – I doubt if he really can! Poetry runs in his blood.

‘Who are the other favourite poets whose poetry you like?’ I asked him. He said, ‘I respect my father M.A. Ghanem, Al Mutanabi, Ahmed Shawqi for their verse.’

Shihab and I first met when I cut out a clipping from a local newspaper in Dubai which mentioned about him. I reached him; it was more than a few years ago.

At our first meeting, we talked about poetry and the harmonious cross-culture links between UAE and India. Apparently we sat up late talking over our first lunch at the Capital Club. During lunch, he read my poems and here I could not stop feeling happy that he liked them! There was a split-second of silence before the idea sank in my head when he said, ‘I can translate a couple of your English poems into the Arabic for my forthcoming books.’ What followed quickly was that Shihab’s translations of many of my poems were also readily accepted by reputed Arabic journals and newspapers.

In time to come, Dr.Shihab Ghanam translated 40 poems of mine for our coffee table book: An Indian Ode To The Emirates. The book celebrated the 40th anniversary of UAE’s union in 2011.

Shihab’s links with India go a long way back. He remembers to tell me with fond pride, ‘My maternal grandfather, Mohammed Ali Lokman, was a friend of Mahatma Gandhi.’

Dr. Shihab Ghanem, himself, inspired, obtained a Master of Engineering degree from Roorkee University – India, in 1975. Additionally, he has travelled to India which has given him special dimension of the country and the Indians.

The Indian community residing in Dubai is fond of Shihab. The ‘Indian connection’ started many years back when Indians began interacting with him on matters of literary themes. A poetry that takes on the labour of such bonds, builds bridges of deep affection. This has been the case with the bard.

Dr. Shihab Ghanem’s poetic nature develops to be enthusiastic – composing and translating poems is an identification of what he truly is.

The story of Dr. Shihab Ghanem’s ‘Indian connection’ is reinforced with the fact that the bard received the Tagore Peace Award in Kolkata-India, in 2013. He is the first and only Arab to receive the award. Isn’t that something!

Moreover, the Dubai Kairali Kalakendram (together with Kamala Das Surayya and Yousuf Ali Ketchery) honoured him in 1996 for his role. In 2010, he was honoured by Kerala Sahitya Akademi.

Then I have found a sketch of Shihab with a list of more awards…and I will do my best to put the awards in a chronological order. On my request, here is the list which I got from the poet, himself:

Translation Award, 2014, Al-Owais Creativity Award, Dubai, UAE.
Honoured by Al-Ithnainiyah of Abdul Maqsood Khojah, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 2013.
The Poetry Award for Culture & Humanism, 2013, World Poetry Society Intercontinental, Chennai, India.
Gala Award, 2013, Gulf Arts & Leadership Academy, UAE.
Translation Award, 2012, Al-Owais Creativity Award, Dubai, UAE.
Soka Gakkai International, Peace & Culture Award, 2012.
Honoured by House of Poetry of Yemen which named the 6 months cycle 2010-2011 by the name of Shihab Ghanem.
Honoured by Hayel Saeed Foundation, 2010, Taiz, Yemen.
Honoured by Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 2010.
Sharjah Government Book Award, 2007, Sharjah, UAE.
Sharjah Government Book Award, 2003 (Shared with Slovak Ambassador), Sharjah, UAE.
Al Owais Prize for Scientific Research, 1998, Dubai, UAE.
Book of Verse Prize, 1996, Abha Literary Club, Saudi Arabia.
Honoured by Dubai Kairali Kalakendram (together with Kamala Das Surayya and Yousuf Ali Ketchery), 1996.
Rashid Award for Scienfific Excellence, 1989, Dubai, UAE.
1st Prize for Poetry in UAE, 1984, Sharjah Dept. of Culture.
British Council English Essay Prize, 1959, Aden.
Ministry of Education Arabic Essay Prize, 1958, Aden.

Dr. Shihab Ghanem’s speech reveals the great unity he has with God. Naturally, his inner vision brings together a wider life in his verse. In my observation: in our poetic endeavors, our mutual experience was of tolerance towards our meditative beliefs.

Someone has said… many a times, poets complete a circle which is left half-drawn. Wider knowledge of poets would lead us to believe in the phrase. The phrase could mean that poetry matures humanism; poets gain in stature: goodness, grace and harmony.

Shihab! I wish you continue drawing ‘full circles’ with your rhythmic verses. My friend! The platform is already established for you.

Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A.Several incidents, I treat them as turning points in my life. Reading the Quran for the first time. Getting married and becoming a father. Going away to study in UK and India. Even the process of composing poems and subsequently seeing them in published form is in a way like being the turning point.

Q 2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A.I would avoid all the mistakes I have made in my life. I would focus on one specialization in my studies and learn some basic useful skills.

Q 3. What are your future dreams?
A.My dream is that the world becomes more peaceful, and that Palestine: the last occupied country in the world be liberated so that the Middle-East becomes stable and our children and grand-children and all the Arabs can then focus on education, economic, social and political development.

Extended & Enlarged Version of Dr. Shihab Ghanem’s interview – Emirati Poet and Poetry Translator, Dubai, U.A.E.

1.In your view, what is most important in life? Accordingly, name three aspects, important in life.
A. The most important thing in life is to know the purpose of life. As a believer in God the purpose to me is to serve and worship Him. Not just through the rituals of prayer, etc, but also through trying to be good in all ones actions, words and also thoughts. Through giving rather than taking, or at least through give and take. Through leaving this world, as far as one’s existence is concerned, a better place than one found it, even by a very tiny bit.

2. If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?
A. I would be teaching or volunteering for benevolent work.

3. What motivates you to achieve your goal?
A. Pleasing Allah. Seeking knowledge. Feeding myself and family. Striving to spread high ideals like justice, freedom, love and beauty. Spreading knowledge and creative work of beauty and value, both my own or that of others.

4. How do you handle stress and pressure?
A. Through remembering Allah and reading the Quran. Also through reading, writing and translating poetry. And through chatting with those I love such as my granddaughter, or with poets, intellectuals and friends. And through looking at beautiful green areas and trees, beaches and serene places.

5. Which of your qualities would you want to pass down to your child/children?
A. Perseverance and hard-work and forgiveness.

6. Who is your favourite author? Which book of your favourite author have you enjoyed the best?
A. The most important book in my life is definitely the Glorous Quran.

7. What are you pursuing currently, by the way of a light hobby, or by the way of a serious goal?
A. I do a little bit of walking, mainly for exercise.

8. In the last 1 year, is your particular goal advancing? Which is that goal/dream?
A. I have this year completed writing my 55th book and I am working on a few more books then I might stop writing books. But I think I will continue to write poems and translate some as long as I have the ability. My writing nowadays is less in quantity than it used to be a few years ago.

For more information on Dr. Shihab Ghanem, click on to www.shihabghanem.blogspot.com/and http://www.shihabghanem.com

Geeta Chhabra

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