Dubai: Veteran Emirati poet and writer Mohammad Saleh Al Gurg passed away on Sunday. He was 84 years.
Known for his contribution to the UAE cultural life and media industry, Al Gurg was born in 1936 in Dubai where he studied at Al Falah and Al Ahmadiya schools — Dubai’s two leading schools at the time.
From a very young age, Al Gurg had showed interest in literature and culture and learned a lot from the books in his father’s library. He held several official positions for many years before he retired. He then devoted his time to private business and towards fulfilling his passion for literature and culture. Al Gurg was fluent in English, Persian, Urdu as well as his native Arabic.
He did not publish any poetry book, but published most of his verse in newspapers and magazines. Al Gurg published his own translations of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat from Persian to Arabic in an encyclopaedic collection that also includes the Rubaiyat in English and French. A huge book-launch ceremony was held for this during the first edition of the Dubai International Poetry Festival.
Passionate about literature
Al Gurg, who greatly depended on self-learning, has a library containing 8,000 books, including Kaleela wa Dimna, Al Mustatref, Taj Al Arous and Al Aghani. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who was passionate about literature. Al Gurg used to travel to Egypt to attend literary and intellectual seminars and visit famous libraries.
A believer in the power of words, Al Gurg, a thinker, was born in Dubai near what is now Al Souq Al Kabeer in Bur Dubai. From a very young age, Al Gurg showed an interest in Arabic language and literature, in part sparked by his father’s large collection of books. Saleh Al Gurg was a calligrapher and bookbinder who was fascinated by literature and the power of words.
The first book Al Gurg purchased was the Tour of the Near East by Mohammad Thabet Al Masri (published in 1934). He first read it in the early 1950s and had a few copies of it in his library. The book was brought from Bahrain as books were not easy to buy in Dubai then. Later, in his late teens, Al Gurg travelled to Cairo for two weeks on the first of many trips to Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s, which allowed him to rub shoulders with great Arab writers and intellectuals. The powerful impact of those years can still be felt in him today.
Al Gurg’s first job was in the Imperial Bank of Iran (later renamed the British Bank of the Middle East, now part of HSBC) in the early 1950s. His next job took him to Sharjah where he joined the British Political Agency, the predecessor to the modern-day consulate general, which had not yet moved to its present-day site in Dubai.
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Al Gurg was the passport officer and stayed with the Political Agency for 16 years, interacting with hundreds of people as they applied for travel documents. Because his job was in Sharjah, daily commute from Dubai would have been too difficult. So he stayed in Sharjah during the week and came back to his family for the weekend.
— With inputs from Khitam Al Amir, Staff Writer