Bahrain is a small island country situated near the Western shore of the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. The archipelago is connected to Saudi Arabia by a giant bridge called the King Faud Causeway. Home of the ancient Dilmun empire, the region had trade relations with most of Mesapotamia. Currently the country is ruled by Al Khalifa Royal Family. An oil rich nation and a banking hub, the World Bank recognized Bahrain as a high income economy. It is the possible location of the Biblical Garden of Eden. Of late, the region has been a melting pot of dissent since the protests against the Royal Family were crushed.
Bahraini literature is dominated by poetry, like most desert cultures. A good resource on the various aspects of culture can be found here. Although there is a dearth of books in English, I was able to find a few titles. However the more easily source-able of them were not from Bahraini authors. Hence I decided to go for something different this time.
“My Beautiful Bahrain” is a collection of poetry, short stories and essays complied by the British journalist Robin Barratt. I expect the book to give a non-political insight into all aspects of life in Bahrain. The authors are mostly from the Bahrain Writers’ Circle. This should be a fun read and I am looking forward to diving into it.
‘My Beautiful Bahrain‘ is complied with a simple desire to showcase the good aspects of life in Bahrain. The author, Robin Barratt, compares the experience of living here with that in England. He loves Bahrain and feels safe and relaxed here. He also points out that this is one island country with an odd absence of good beaches.
The book starts with an apt poem on the birth of a pearl called Bahrain. Then Maeve Kelynack Skinner talks about her initial impression of the country:
‘I stepped out of the aircraft and was hit by a wave of humidity and the nostalgic smell of tangy sea air mingled with heat and dust and pungent kerosene fumes. The last rays of the setting sun glimpsed through distant palm fronds silhouetted against a turquoise sea, shimmered like liquid gold.’
A Malaysian settled in Bahrain, Skinner calls it ‘the world’s newest and biggest honeypot.’
Farida Serajul Haq tells a beautiful story of homecoming. Rohini Sunderam writes a nice set of poems such as ‘Serenity.’ A few lines from her poem ‘Home Thoughts At Home’ talking about the agony of expats:
‘I kiss, I hold them even tighter
I kiss, I hold them through a muffler
I hold hands, I make a fuss
A show of love that once we shared
Excitement so intense, we cared.
And yet, today we can’t be friends.
Do they sense the gulf between us
The wide Arabian Gulf between us?’
Omar Ahmed, who was just 18 at the time of writing, delivers an effective verse in ‘Land of the Living‘, drawing on Bahraini mythology. Steve Royston, a 30 year Middle East veteran, talks about ‘the warmth and charm for which Bahrainis are renowned‘ as well as the pleasure of eating at places that the locals love. He talks about the prevalent issues:
‘periodic political unrest, infrastructure trying to catch up with population growth, division between rich and poor, an education system in need of an overhaul, pollution and inconsistent industrial safety standards.’
He also highlights the best thing about Bahrain, that is ‘a greater degree of integration between local and expatriate than in many parts of the Middle East.’
Jim Scalise writes about architecture such as the Fort declared Bahrain’s first World Heritage Site by UNESCO, performances at the Bahrain Spring Fair, famous man-made islands of Amwaj, the malls and the burial ensemble, on the list for inclusionas a World Heritage Site.
‘If you want to understand the essence of the Bahraini food culture, all you need to do is to follow my lead and pull up in a car to the tiny aluminium window at any of the bustling roadside grills and raise a hand to order a tikka.’
Zara Zuhair‘s poem talks about the multi-cultural, diverse Bahraini society. Anna Corradini Boreland tells a heartrending anecdotal story in ‘The Baker of Manama’. Eva L. Burns tells a funny story about the mandatory employment offered by the government, the traffic regulation system and a Bahraini man attracted to a really hot woman. While all others complain about driving in Bahrain, Joanne Johns, who moved here to teach English, writes about the help she received during a breakdown, thereby highlighting a positive side of it. Mary Coons takes up the much debated issue of the benefits and the downsides of wearing an abaya or a hijab.
David Hollywood writes about the friendly embrace on meeting. Dilraz Kunnumal writes about growing up in Bahrain. Pooja Rajpal Kasala writes about the adventure that is Bahrain.
Apart of the obvious editing errors, this is a delightful book and duly justified as reading on Bahrain.
Other Options from Bahrain:
The Meeting Point – Lucy Caldwell
Experiences of two women who come with their daughters to live in Bahrain.
QuixotiQ – Ali Al Saeed
A psychological fiction