I saw Ramallah is a poetic evocation of the return to Ramallah after three decades by the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. It describes his return to the place of his birth, to longing and memory.
The narration is lyrical and sad. It is also political, inevitably. As the review in Sunday Business Post says, one wants to quote large chunks of it....it is so unsentimental, moving.
Displacements are always multiple, writes Barghouti. When it happens you become a stranger in your places and to your places at the same time. The displaced person becomes a stranger to his memories. The book is not an obsessional devotion towards the politics of returning but a remembrance of the difficulty of both the return and the suffusion of emotions. It is a reflection of the heartbreak of a dispossessed people, a homeless, landless nation.
Writing, Barghouti is quick to remind us, is a displacement from the normal social contract, from the common roads of love and the common roads of enmity.
Barghouti does not engage in the rhetoric of return all the time, because he says if a person is touched by poetry or art or literature in general, his soul throngs with these displacements and cannot be cured by anything, not even the homeland. Yet, inspite of this, Barghouti the poet is also Barghouti who witnesses, who has witnessed the disintegration and dismemberment of the Palestinian nation. For him, Rabin has taken everything, even the story of our death.
Throughout this poetic encounter, one does not find any emotion suggesting bitterness.
However, the emotions of surprise, affection, nostalgia, melancholy and endless memory find space. Eventually, the return is also a moment of going back, not only in time but in one's own physical state. One finds age in the faces one thought one knew. However, the poet has to leave this land again, a country without a real name now. He feels the pain of seperation again and says
and the distance between my loved ones and me is uglier than a government. He has to leave again.
Barghouti has faint hopes for the future. We do not want to regain the past but regain the future and to push tomorrow into the day after. On his final night in Ramallah, sleep evades the poet. The pillow is the register of our lives. It is the field of memory that has been plowed and fertilized and watered in the darkness that is ours.
This book is not always about politics. It is not simply a dark affair. It is a document of memory, betrayal, desire and that basic of all human urges.......freedom. Similiar travelogues just pale into comparison, considering the poetic worth of this book. The translation by Ahdaf Soueif is wonderful. I will end by quoting this passage.
You question why even the silence in the graveyards is wet. Politics is the number of coffee cups on the table, it is the sudden presence of what you have forgotten, the memories you are afraid to look at too closely, though you look anyway. Staying away from politics is also politics. Politics is nothing and it is everything.
For those who wish to gain a fresh insight into the Palestinian catastrophe, this book is important. But, this book is also important for those who want to understand the questions of longing, belonging, memory and displacement.