At the end of last month, three writers — Mona Kareem, Deepak Unnikrishnan, and Krupa Ge — talked about translation, transience, the Gulf, belonging, and more:
Unnikrishnan is a writer from Abu Dhabi, who has lived in the US, and is currently teaching at NYUAD. Temporary People, his first book, was the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing and the Hindu Prize.
Krupa Ge is a writer and editor from Madras, the author of Rivers Remember : Lessons and stories from #Chennai Rains, while Mona Kareem is a poet, scholar, and Princeton University’s Translator in Residence for fall 2020. Kareem is the author of three poetry collections, and the trilingual chapbook “Femme Ghosts”; she’s also the translator of Ashraf Fayadh’s Instructions Within.
The talk was wide-ranging and moved between translation, climate apocalypse, language, petrocapitalism, and the nature of Gulf literatures. Kareem said that, “This language barrier that is in the Gulf is much deeper than just language. It’s about class segregation, it’s about ethnic segregation, and it’s about labor, really, and how labor in a place like the Gulf is invisible. It’s everywhere, yet somehow it’s invisible.”
“I’ve been frustrated by the work written in Arabic by Arab writers because I feel this invisibility is never challenged,” she said, later adding: “The Gulf is the most diverse place, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this diversity is celebrated or allowed to flourish.”
Kareem, who was born stateless in Kuwait, said she grew up around many migrants, which meant, she said, “my Arabic is not like my mother’s, not like my father’s, each of us has some kind of other Arabic.”
The talk is available in its entirety on YouTube:
Deepak Unnikrishnan’s Gulf reading list:
First, he read from Andre Naffis-Sahely’s “Vanishing Act.”
The People of Ras al-Khaima, by Anna Zacharias and Jeff Topping
Camels in the Sky, written in Malayalam by V. Muzafer Ahamed and translated to English by P.J. Mathew
The Girl Who Fell to Earth, Sophia al-Maria
The Ambitious Struggle, Yassin Kakande
“Treading Gulf Waters,” Ahmad Makia
“Reading Aspiration in Kerala’s Migrant Photography,” Mohamed Shafeeq Karinkurayil
Murtaza Vali, who’s a writer, curator, and editor, raised in Sharjah. Curated “Crude” at Art Jameel.
Mona Kareem’s Gulf reading list:
Kareem gave her list with the caveat, saying that no one should accept a reading list as though it were given from a state of pure objectivity. “I hope that we become more active readers . . . don’t believe us. We have our own interests and questions.”
She recommended Saudi novelist Badriya al-Bishr, as “it’s really interesting how she’s able to explore the effects of modernity on women’s spaces.”
She also recommended Laila Johani, whose Ignorance has been translated to English.