political and personal
by Peter Strauss
This article by Peter Strauss provides a succinct summary of Shabbir Banoobhai’s writing style and the major themes in his poetry over more than three decades. Dr Peter Strauss,a retired senior lecturer of English at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Durban, is also a respected poet, author and publisher.
Shabbir Banoobhai’s poetry is spiritual, political and personal. With these three interwoven themes, the personal poems often have a political dimension and the political, a spiritual. Readers of his poetry underestimate the extent to which social and political issues influence his work. But it is the mystical poetry which is most extraordinary.
Of necessity, he shared the fate of the larger
black community of South Africans
his poetry reflecting that struggle.
A child of parents who came to South Africa from India, he was born in Durban in 1949, where he lived for most of his life until he moved to Cape Town in 1995. Of necessity, he shared the fate of the larger black community of South Africans, his poetry reflecting that struggle. He has also identified with the victims of oppressive regimes elsewhere, including in the Balkans at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1992, he accompanied (as a reporter for a journal) a journalist-friend to Sarajevo, but was turned back by UNPROFOR at the airport in Sarajevo. One of the poems in his volume inward moon outward sun, titled ‘sarajevo’– for which he received the 2001 Thomas Pringle Award for poetry – records this experience.
his mystical writing has become
more and more clearly a rejection of
exclusive religious thinking
Perhaps influenced by South African society, his mystical writing has become more and more clearly a rejection of exclusive religious thinking. His writing may be found on his website: www.veilsoflight.com.
Ravan Press published his first two books – echoes of my other self in 1980 and shadows of a sun-darkened land in 1984. Then, for fifteen years, Shabbir Banoobhai fell silent. He wrote for a time during this period, but did not publish. In 1999 he brought out, as a private collection, a book of very brief poems and spiritual reflections – wisdom in a jug: reflections of love. In 2001, during Ramadan, he wrote a set of philosophical meditations while carrying on an email conversation about them with a wide circle of friends from a variety of faiths. These were published in 2002 under the title lightmail by Africa Impressions.In the same year the collection inward moon outward sun was published by University of Natal Press. And in 2004, Wits University Press published a new volume of his poetry: book of songs.
the perceptive reader is always aware
of their subtlety, humanity and warmth
What is particularly striking about his poetry is its complete sincerity. He is able to use the big words – words and concepts which many poets would hesitate to use because they seem to have lost their newness. Yet, Banoobhai is able to restore not just the freshness of words, but something like their full resonance – the fullness of their meaning. This requires an unusual technical and emotional solidity as well as wholeness of purpose, both a lack of ostentation and a lack of hesitation. At the same time, the perceptive reader is always aware of their subtlety, humanity and warmth.
© Peter Strauss. All rights reserved.