Dubai Dawoodi Bohras Celebrate World Poetry Day

Khuzaima Mithaiwala of the Dawoodi Bohras of Dubai

World Poetry Day – celebrated each year on 21 March—was established by UNESCO to support poets and poetry around the globe, promote the diversity of cultural expression, and highlight the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

We spoke to Khuzaima Miqdadbhai Mithaiwala, a talented poet from the Dawoodi Bohra community of Dubai, about what poetry means to him.

Khuzaima, how were you first introduced to poetry, and what role has it played in your life?

I was inspired as  a young child by Islamic poetry. It was later in school when I discovered how to read between the lines and learn what was really being said that I began understanding the power of poetry.  Since then poetry has been integral to my understanding of the world. I’ve been in awe of it, joyed by it, terrified often, and at times been introduced to feelings I didn’t think I was even capable of.

How has your faith influenced your poetry?  Are there any particular themes or messages you aim to convey through your work?

I have found my love for poetry has made me more appreciative of my faith. I am amazed at Islamic poetry’s ability to say so much with so few words, and that is something that I have tried to apply to my poetry.

Beyond faith and culture, what are your other sources of inspiration for writing poetry?

My works are often inspired by nature, collective human consciousness, and the grandeur of the universe. These are what drew me most to poems as a kid; I read about profound love, infallible friendship, tiny atoms and stars far away, and they were all packed into these lines that rhymed and amused and made me contemplate how I perceived my own mortality. It could be about anything and everything, and that’s what I try to do as well.

Can you describe your process of writing poetry?

I used to write once a week without fail, even if it was just one stanza.  ‘d force myself to put pen to paper and grind until I had something—anything. I wasn’t looking for perfection but practice. But now I rely on inspiration to strike. Months go by where I don’t write anything, and I do feel sad about that.

What are some of the challenges you face in your writing process, and how do you overcome them?

The one thing I abhor about writing poems is how difficult it can be to know when to stop. I think that is one of my ongoing struggles with the craft. Sometimes you keep writing and exceed what you intended to write. Another problem is that I don’t usually edit my work once I finish. I believe, perhaps foolishly, that it is sort of a betrayal to keep editing once you’re finished. I try to avoid overthinking, making changes, and ruining the poem. But I might show my poem to someone I trust and then make changes based on their constructive criticism.

Is there a specific theme or message you seek to share through your published work?

Although I often don’t seek to convey a fixed message in my poems, I do hope they strike a chord with the reader and that they find meaning that helps them.

What has been the most memorable feedback you’ve received from readers about your poetry?

I write for myself rather than for my poem to be read to an audience, so I’m not particularly looking for a reaction. There are times when people have reached out to me to let me know that they felt something through what they read and that is always a very gratifying sensation.

What are your aspirations as a poet?  Are there new themes or styles you wish to explore?

I want to continue exploring the depths of human experience and emotion through my words. I’m particularly interested in delving into the complexities of human relationships. I would also like to learn more styles and forms of writing poetry.  I usually do free verse and I also rhyme sometimes but I do wish to expand my skill set further.

What poets and poems have deeply influenced you?

I’m multilingual and that has led me to read poems in English, Hindi, Urdu and Arabic. I love reading Williams, Blake and Shakespeare, as well as Imru’ alQays, an ancient pre-Islamic Arabian poet, Mirza Ghalib, a prominent Urdu and Persian poet during the Mughal Empire in India, the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nirala, a pioneer of modern Hindi poetry, and Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali Nobel prize winner. But my favorite poem is Emily Dickinson’s “If I can stop one heart from breaking”.

Please share one of your poems, and tell us about the message you hope it conveys.

This poem is one that is very near to my heart. I wrote this while taking care of my comatose father one night and I kept thinking about words that someone had said to me earlier that day, “you look so old”.  That turned into an introspection of sorts that led to this poem.

This quiet

On this sultry night

This quiet

With so many stars but no light

This quiet

With nothing but a crow taking flight

This quiet

This deafening quiet

Makes me afraid of the coming dawn

Because the dawn,

Brings promise but no respite

And yet this quiet

holds me close, keeps my mind alright,

This quiet

Makes me realize I can fight

This quiet,

And worries, and sorrows with all my might

This quiet

Gathers my tears without judgment or spite

This quiet

Just this endless quiet

That remains in our lives

Always

I may know how to get rid of it,

I may know how it affects me,

I have known this quiet and it, me

I flow as a black kite

On a sky white

This quiet,

Steers me, shapes me, hones me, trains me

I understand,

the truth may not set me free,

Even though I am; with this quiet.

I'm free, so I fear. I fear, so I grow.

I know, I know.

I've grown more than the years I've lived.

I've grown more than the years I've lived.

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