“Script’s Memory: Excavations in the Neglected Unconscious” is such an inviting title of a book of memories. After an introduction which was written in 2004 as an open letter to Kenzabruro Oe and Gunter Grass, without a big hope that they would read it one day, Malik Al Muttalibi took us to his childhood in Al Musharrah, a village that belongs to Al Omara governorate in the south of Iraq near the marches.
The publication is elegant and respectful, and this is new to Iraqi publications, with artistic drawings by an artist named Abdul-Raheem Yasir.
After the introduction, five chapters take us to Al Muttalibi memories, and give us the opportunity to see through his eyes.
In “Café Instinct”, the first chapter after the introduction, Al Muttalibi describes Al Rasheed Avenue as “the empire of cafes” and tells us about the relation between Dijla and the Avenue. A relation that had been distorted after the “death” of the cafes, as the writer wrote. He told us about the famous 5 cafes, each with its special kind of attendees, most are writers. He got his memories dated to the period of 1959-1969. He describes the space of each café with the names of the known writers, poets, musicians, and other celebrities used to attend them. There were some other kinds of café like that attended mainly by merchants, and that attended mainly, or almost only by the deaf.
In the “Unconscious of the Old Hotel” he tells us about his visit to Baghdad with his father in 1957; in “Establishment of the Trousers” he tells us in a funny way his experience of being the first to wear trousers in his primary school and how the teachers and students responded to that unusual stimulus in Omara 1953.
In “Formulating Dogmas”, Malik Al Muttalibi told us about the Mandaeans-Muslims relations in Al Omara and how mixing was not that easy and touching forbidden. Touching forbidden? I didn’t know that. I got many friends in Baghdad at my school and neighborhood but we played, and ate with each other. Anyway, it seems not the case in Omara in the middle of the last century.
The most symbolic story came from this chapter. Al Muttalibi tells us how he was seeing the Mandaeans baptizing in the River and how he felt that they were strange till one day he was very thirsty at school. At their school there were four water reservoirs to drink from, 3 for the Muslims, and one for the Mandaeans. The three Muslim reservoirs were empty. He was very thirst. He drank from the Mandaean water.
At home he confessed to his father who shouted that nobody should touch Malik only after he would be taken to the river to be de-contaminated and purified.
Malik Al Muttalibi was taken to the river and two young men dipped him down into the water. Then they suddenly took him out and the gathering uttered: “Salawat Ala Mohammed Wa Al Mohammed (=Prays to Mohammed and his people)”. They did that for him seven times then told him that he can go back to his home since he had been purified. Since then he didn’t see baptizing as something strange.
Malik Al Muttalibi ended his 153 pages lovely book by the “Public Dancing” telling the story of how an act of theft turned into an occasion of public dancing between the victim and the thief surrounded by the neighbors.
Thank you Malik Al Muttalibi for this lovable important book.