I trekked a desert that will have flourished 
I climbed a mountain that will have aged
I came looking for you
They no longer visit your shrine
You will have perished long ago
I came to seek your advice
and blessing
They say you are still alive
in the hearts of pilgrims
but I came to see your flesh
to know why they will have called you
the sultan of lovers

A Poet Never Born Wrote a Letter to Ibnul Farid

A Poet Never Born is a work of fiction that is too real. Inspired by a story of love between a princess and a poet who lived 600 years apart in Cairo. Not so much is known of princess Jamila Fazail Hanim, the daughter of Khedive Ismail Pasha. She wrote poetry that no one read. To Cairo’s collective memory, She restored Omar Ibnul Farid, the Sultan of Lovers’ shrine and built hers next to but was never buried in it.

This is love and absence that transcended centuries from Ibnul Farid’s spiritual ecstasy, his sensual letters of love and worship and his demise, to Jamila Hanim’s fighting for love that wasn’t accepted to many, including her family, who tried everything to keep her from the public.

A Poet Never Born recreates sceneries of a poet, whose words we will otherwise have read,  meeting Ibnul Farid over, and over. I used parts of a poem I wrote as a text-prompt to AI powered Midjourney to create distant past we haven’t seen.

It’s an ode to a woman whose shrine remains empty and higher then her idol who passed 600 years before she was born. Whose words she read for solace when she knew no one else will.

I whispered a poem you will have written
to a woman I loved
through a secret door I put
between your shrine
and mine

I’m grateful to Apeksha Kumar who texted me few years ago: “Do you like to visit an abandoned princess’ shrine?”

Writing this story was an expression of love for Cairo’s Gabanat Al Mamalik (The Desert of Mamluks or otherwise called City of the Dead); a stretch of desert surrounging a hill in what was then the eastern desert of Cairo. It was once full of minarets and domes below which our beloved were buried: royals, poets, nobles and thieves alike. You can walk through the cemeteries of Gabanat and find marble tombstones, engraved with gold that ask for the prayers of passerbys, next to others that had decayed over centuries with no names, but once had a loving family walk out of their way to say a prayer to. It intrigues me how a small sretch of what was a desert once has the remains of so many people of different lives across a millennium, including my late grandmother.

As I believe it to be an act of fate, this story was chosen to be shown in the palace of Jamila Fazail’s brother Sultan Hussein Kamel. I took it as princess Jamila’s allowing me to write in her name decades after her death.

It’s important to me to share this story at times where this sacred land is facing erasure by our government to make way for new roads. A part of their solution, proposed among silenced opposition, is to transfer the remains of loyals in a special enclosed cemetary, while the rest of remains would be transfered outside of Cairo. A Poet Never Born is inspired by a transcending love that can only happen in the desert of Mamlukes.