“I write on war because I don’t get sleep at night”: Daaniyal Sayed
On Wednesday, April 5, 2017, the Syrian government used chemical weapons on the people of Idlib, Syria. This was not the first instance of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its own people, having done so previously in August 2013. It is the indiscriminate killing of civilian populations that affects Daaniyal highly, and while talking with TMAC, uses this as an entry point into his poetry on the horrors of War.
Born and brought up in Bombay, Daaniyal’s journey with the spoken and written word began through rap written about partying and love. He still writes poetry about Pyaar (love) and Mohabbat (affection), but only does it to distract himself from the horrors of war, he tells us. In many ways, Daaniyal’s evolution from Rapper to Poet was an evolution of the consciousness and the thoughtfulness, enabling him to become a poet that explores serious issues with his work. What separates Daaniyal from a significant part of the poetry tradition and community in Bombay is that he writes about pyaar and mohabbat when he is trying to get his mind off the horrors of war, unlike his peers, who, according to him, have an almost single minded focus on these things.
Daaniyal’s work oftentimes talks about the horrors of war. His sensitive nature can be traced back to his childhood. His heightened sense of emotive perception is key to his view on war, which he believes is inherently immoral. Pain and suffering is also vital to his view on war, and he recounts viewing a video (warning: graphic content) of a child following the chemical attack on Idlib. The vacant stare of the child, clearly in pain, haunted Daaniyal, who said that “their eyes talk to him.” This was instrumental in prompting him to think about the repercussions of warfare, and his consumption of the iconography of suffering (Susan Sontag, Regarding The Pain of Others) makes him a more conscious person, for his conversations about his work are an implicit recognition that behind the facade of glory and victory lies a world wrought with destruction, with lives torn apart.
This poem was written by Daniyal in response to the attacks in Idlib, Syria. Accompanying the poem was this statement by him:
“P.S — a lot of people ask me, kya ghuma phiraa k Syria, Yemen pe aajata hai tu?
When will you stop writing about it?
I always have the same reply: When will the war stop?”
Daaniyal’s poetry is not just a plea for appeasement, but also a cry against the sanitisation of war. The poem that he presents in response to the horrific attack, one that he recounts in graphic detail, is a cooptation of the horrors of war, and the creation of a second memory by someone who has never stepped foot inside Syria and Yemen. Daaniyal tells TMAC that “When someone innocent dies, I feel my own brother died.” Being a silent spectator, too, is a cooptation of the pornography of killing (Georges Didi-Huberman), and for Daaniyal, even when one person is killed as the result of violence and war, the seven billion people of the world who are standing “in the field” must hang their heads in guilt and shame. We all have the blood of the dead on our hands, and we are complicit in their killing, either by consuming this pornography of killing, or by doing nothing about it. While Daaniyal acknowledges that War is inherently universal, he insists on grounding his poetry in more specific terms. His case in point is Syria and Yemen, two previously prosperous nations ravaged by recent conflict, and he considers that the world is already fighting the Third World War. His poetry is a plea for peace, and for democracy.
Some of Daaniyal’s work also focuses on the war going inside India, in our hinterlands: the war of religion, and of communal polarisation. The politics of beef is central to his, for Daaniyal mentions what he considers “hypocrisy” on part of the Bhartiya Janata Party, India’s ruling Hindu fundamentalist party, who promote beef in the North East, and ban it everywhere else. This is war for Daaniyal, too, but a war of different proportions. He is a proud Indian, but he says that he cannot afford to turn a blind eye towards the politics of polarisation that plagues the subcontinent’s political discourse. His grim view of the current crop of politicians is a clarion call to those who believe in the principles and values of the classical liberal, and the grim view he espouses of politicians being solely utilitarian creatures is supported by a long list of evidence. His poetry, again, serves as an outlet for his sensitive nature, and it is his way of being more than just a silent spectator. Speaking out by writing and performing poetry, is his way of coping with this.
Daaniyal occupies a unique position in the poetry community, not just because of the subject matter of a significant portion of his work, but because of the languages that he chooses to write in. Despite knowing Hindi, Urdu, and English, almost all of his work is exclusively focused on the first two. His lexis and register, when he writes, is simple, yet impactful. He is no Hemingway, choosing instead to follow the path of a war-focused Robert Frost. Throughout his work, Daaniyal is cognisant of rhymes, and leverages the language and his vocabulary to begin a conversation with the reader. His poetry is a portrayal of mediated angst, the manifestation of this second memory that he talks about.
His poetry is no call for violence. When he talks about his work, his focus is almost exclusively on empathising with victims of conflict and violence, lacking signs of hatred. There is a clear sense of disgust at what is happening, but at no point in time does he let the feeling of hatred overpower his work. His poetry is a mediation between the different parts of his conscience, and in its final form, is overwhelming for both the listener and the reader. His representation of war is neither populist, nor inherently political. It is humanist, and pacifist, and for a poetry pundit to politicise it would be a mark of disrespect to the brilliance and conscience of his body of work.