Ali’s K-concerns

by Mir Liyaqat Nazir

Oped--Mir-Liyakat-NazirBrought up in the trilingual and tri-cultural environment, the late celebrated poet of the valley, Agha Shahid Ali remains Kashmiri to the core of his heart. And he has dedicated his poetic voice in singing the sordid tales of his homeland in the foreign lands. His poetry is like a canvas on which he draws an imaginary of Kashmir albeit bruised, besieged but its mesmerizing landscape and unique culture remains an eternal alter ego for him.

The most noticeable point which remains discernible and reality about Ali’s poetry is his hyphenated identity as Ali used to call himself Kashmiri-American-Kashmiri Poet. In his magnum opus work The Country without a Post office, Ali opens up in the prologue with these lines:

Let me cry out in that void…
I write on that void: Kashmir,
Kaschmir, Cashmere, Qashmir, Cashmir……?

It was these memories and haunted feelings which proved like a driving force to this exilic soul and his nostalgic expressions. The above description of Kashmir needs a Freudian or Marxian scholar to examine the origin and nature of Ali’s ethnic neurosis and socio-political position. In this paragraph of merely forty-two odd words, Kashmir figures eighteen times.

Amita Gosh in The Ghat of the Other World remarks, that for Ali, “Kashmir became a vortex of images circling around a single point of stillness: the idea of death. In this figuring of his homeland, he himself became one of the images that were spinning around the dark point of stillness—both Shahid and Shaheed, witness and martyr—his destiny inextricably linked with Kashmir’s, each prefigured by the other.”

His poetry swirls around insecurity and obsessions like memory, death, history, family ancestors, and nostalgia for a past of which he was very proud of. Therefore all his volumes of poetry remain embedded with the poetic expressions of displacement, exile and longing to come back to the place of belonging, the valley of Kashmir.

Ali can be easily put in the club of other regional poets of the world like the Derek Walcott of the Caribbean and the Mahmoud Darwish of Palestine, whose poetry is surcharged with the political overtones and is being used as a tool for the public mobilization in their homelands.

The poems in The Country without a Post Office were written in the background of ongoing conflict and reflect the longing aspiration and the cultural ethos of the people of this Himalayan state. This horrific and haunting volume establishes Ali as a seminal voice in the Kashmiri Diaspora writing in English.

In ‘I dream I am the only Passenger on Flight 423 to Srinagar’, Ali invokes the spirit of Shiekh Noor-ud-din who sits beside him as the plane touches down.

In the collection, The Half-Inch Himalayas, Ali visits his homeland again but this time he sees the world through new eyes. In the opening poem the “Postcard from Kashmir” the very neat and clean home shrinks into the six-inch mailbox.

It’s not only the political turmoil which he has projected but at the same time has also glorified the aesthetics of Kashmiri culture. Ali had a perennial fascination for the Kashmiri food, as Amitav Ghosh explains in his tribute to the poet: “He had a special passion for the food of his region, one variant of it in particular: Kashmiri food in the Pandit style.”

However, it is undoubtedly The Country without a Post Office that rediscovered his Kashmir connection and helped him to paint an unbiased image of the plight of the people of the vale before the world. Ali was one of the outstanding sons of Kashmir who too suffered at every stage of his life.

{Currently doing his PhD from Pune University, the author is a student of resistance literature.}

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