I am thrashing, twisting, stretching but thoroughly immersing myself into North Africa. My research is about the conflict in Western Sahara, so it's mostly Morocco but I'm pretty much soaking up the region-text, music, pictures, videos are not enough.
My back aches as I sit, chained and glued to the computer, my eyes glazing over as I attempt to sift through thirty-six years of a dispute that involves so many people and so much politics. I attempt to make sense of the words that seem so simple on paper but translate to so much complexity when it comes to peoples and nations.
This is a region I am drawn to for reasons so many that I don't bother to enumerate them. People find it intriguing that being in India, I am so obsessed with Raï music and why I would choose a topic like this, so irrelevant in this part of the world and so much less contributive to South Asian International Relations, which desperately needs theorisation as it is. With the recent Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, the relevance of North Africa cannot be overrated. Authoritarianism in the region that straddles the Middle East and Africa was a ticking bomb.
How can I explain what I feel when I see a black and white patterned wall motif that instantly transports me to some Moroccan monument? Or how even the names of controversial personalities and tortured places sound so lyrical- Houari Boumedienne, El Ouali Mustapha Sayed, Marrakech, Smara, Saguia el-Hamra, Rabat, and of course, Ma' al-'Aynayn, the almost mythical leader of the "Blue Men" (PLEASE read 'Desert by J.M.G. Clézio) And how can I even BEGIN to explain how I feel nestled within the notes of a Rachid Taha song, how I can surround myself with the dreamy notes of 'Valencia' and put myself to sleep, the language clashing with the city, state, subcontinent I am from and yet feeling so at home, nurtured and loved?
I look away from the computer, step outside my swirling thoughts of rising desert sands, of midnight bonfires with flames swaying to the sound of Mariem Hassan's voice and accompanying guitar, of The Alchemist shrouded in black astride his horse as he gallops up to the seeking Santiago, mystery in his apperance and pure wisdom in his eyes, of Moroccan palaces with ornate details ceiling to floor, speaking of grace and beauty made by mortal humans with divine art in their hands, of Cheb Khaled singing the Maoual to 'Hada Raykoum' and enchanting with his soaring voice, of Rachid Taha's rampaging 'Barra Barra' beats and Cheb Mami's wistful 'Khalouni'. I look down at the tiny room, the papers strewn around, the books and feel my soul resize itself. But sometimes, I let it transcend the physical and let myself live the dream. I get up on my bed, grab my invisible mic and sing, to the minarets and to the desert, to the sea and to the palace, to crowds of adoring fans, in a language I cannot speak.