KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - With a very rare language aptitude, photographic memory, a high self-esteem that did not affect his scholarly humility in any way and , further and above, his pride about his national identity as a Sudanese. That was Professor Abdallah Altayeb, whose 17th memory his students, lovers and admirers are commemorating nowadays.
For the common man Professor Abdallah Altayeb is that learned sheikh who used to present a simple interpretation of the Holy Koran at half past seven P.M every day, a practice the national radio still keeps regularly to date. All the series of the same program were borrowed and continue to be presented by radios in countries like Chad, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. In this program, listeners enjoy two things: Altayeb’s simple interpretations of the Koran verses, often using the Sudanese vernacular, and the solemn recitation of the verses by the late Sheikh Siddiq Ahmed Hamdoon.
For the casual readers Abdallah Altayeb is that man who had no love lost with modern (or free) verse, and his unswerving faith in traditional poetry.
Tayeb’s support for traditional poetry (the meter, rhyming, rhythms and all that) had forced him very often to go off guard to lambast modern poetry as ‘nothing’. Many poetry lovers would never forget his fiery statement one day that British Poet T.S Eliot is “a menace to Arabic poetry,” in reference to some Sudanese poets infatuation with Elliot and the way his poetry is composed.
It was a word he said and left the rest of the debate for his faithful disciples to complete the rest of the discussion. And they did.
For many language scholars in the Arab World, Abdallah Altayeb is the linguist who wrote a “Guide to the Poetry of the Arabs “, an explanation of the rules and traditions of the Arabic poem that raised eyebrows around the Arab world and made yet a very proud scholar like the Egyptian Taha Huessen to condescend and write the introduction of this rare research. University language students around the Arab world still hold it as reference number one on the technicality and diction of the Arabic poem.
For his British wife Griselda Altayeb, he is ‘Abadlah’, the man she loved and insisted to espouse and live with in the hot weather of Sudan, despite outcries from her community not to do that, though later on her parents visited Sudan found that their daughter had married a very valuable man.
So, she married him against all odds and later on loved his family, his community, the University of Khartoum where he worked and in which she also later on worked.
Foremost, she loved his home village of Altimairab, where the couple made it a habit to spend the Muslim Eid Alfitr festivity every year among the poor farmers and the simple men and women who loved and enjoyed their stay with them..
But Altimairab is not just a farming village. The village and its vicinity of Addamar suburb are now known to be cradles of linguistic genus of sorts: poets, researchers and religious scholars. It could be enough to say that the German traveler Burckhardt had described Addamar of the 18th Century as ‘almost a city’ judging by its cleanliness and orderliness. He also described its khalwa (Koran school) as “almost a university”, when he saw the level of its curricula and its strict academic rules.
Abdallah Atayeb’s amiability, added to his firm care about women, his chastity and his manhood, is thought by his contemporaries when he was a graduate student in London, to have attracted Griselda to him.
They remember that one day he was obliged by some social affair to fly back to Sudan. Before departure he called his fellow Sudanese students and told them to take care of the girl until he would return and, most importantly, not to let anyone sniff around her!
Griselda had throughout her life also reciprocated this jealousy and would not tolerate to see him, or his family members being offended in any way.
And when he in 2001 suffered a jolt that kept him in bed for more than two years before he died, she stood by his side and nursed him. To raise his morale, she used to often fetch one of his books and read or ask somebody to read for him, a move he always reciprocated with joy and smiles.
Altayeb’s success as a language scholar had never robbed him of his high sense of humor and sarcasm. He would often crack a joke even in the most serious moments of his daily work. He once said the title he never liked was ‘professor’, saying the title he liked most was ‘Abdallah’.
May be it was his light heartedness and his vast knowledge of Arabic and its literature that used to cause those big crowds to gather in and around the rooms he was lecturing in.
It was a matter of common sense to guess that it was Altayeb lecturing, or about to lecture, in Room 102, of the Faculty of Arts, University of Khartoum, judging by the heavy hum of the crowd around the place.
Griselda was not contented to simply being the wife of this celebrity. She studied, painted and wrote about the Sudanese folklore, often organizing expos of her own, or when she was invited to.
At about ninety, she still works, looks after her husband’s many publications and leads a settled life with his extended family.
Out of love for him and for what he was doing, she very recently donated a luxury house she owned to the Faculty of Arts, of which he was Dean, before later on becoming Vice Chancellor of the same institution, the University of Khartoum. After the University of Khartoum, he also became the Vice Chancellor of University of Juba in the then South Sudan.
The journey of education had also taken the couple to Morocco where Altayeb was invited by its Monarch, King Alhassan 11, to lecture in its universities and to lecture him and his court on weekly basis.
Then he travelled to Nigeria where he founded the Arabic college of Bayero in the City of Kano.
Beside his masterpiece “A Guide to the Poetry of the Arabs”, he had five published poetry collections and tens of published books on literary criticism. He had a lot of published stories, including simplified Arabic books for young Arabic learners.
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