Agha Shahid Ali: While I’m on Kashmir again…

23 Oct

…a reposting of one of my oldest posts, with one of the most devastatingly lyrical pieces of his opus.

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Agha Shahid Ali: “I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight”

19 May

The Marty's Cemetery, SrinagarThe Martyrs’ Cemetery, Srinagar (click)

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I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight

Now and in time to be,

                             Wherever green is worn…

                             A terrible beauty is born.

— W. B. Yeats

1

One must wear jeweled ice in dry plains

to will the distant mountains to glass.

The city from where no news can come

Is now so visible in its curfewed nights

that the worst is precise:

                                        From Zero Bridge

a shadow chased by searchlights is running

away to find its body. On the edge

of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,

it shrinks almost into nothing, is

 

nothing by Interrogation gates

so it can slip, unseen, into the cells:

Drippings from a suspended burning tire

Are falling on the back of a prisoner,

the naked boy screaming, “I know nothing.”

2

The shadow slips out, beckons Console Me,

and somehow there, across five hundred miles,

I’m sheened in moonlight, in emptied Srinagar,

but without any assurance for him.

 

On Residency Road, by Mir Pan House,

unheard we speak: “I know those words by heart

(you once said them by chance): In autumn

when the wind blows sheer ice, the chinar leaves

fall in clusters –

                                 one by one, otherwise.”

“Rizwan, it’s you, Rizwan, it’s you,” I cry out

as he steps closer, the sleeves of his phiren torn.

“Each night put Kashmir in your dreams,” he says,

then touches me, his hands crusted with snow,

whispers, “I have been cold a long, long time.”

 

3

“Don’t tell my father I have died,” he says,

and I follow him through blood on the road

and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners

left behind, as they ran from the funeral,

victims of the firing. From windows we hear

grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall

on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,

it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,

the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers.

Kashmir is burning:

 

                                   By that dazzling light

we see men removing statues from temples.

We beg them, “Who will protect us if you leave?”

They don’t answer, they just disappear

on the roads to the plains, clutching the gods.

 

4

I won’t tell your father you have died, Rizwan,

but where has your shadow fallen, like cloth

on the tomb of which saint, or the body

of which unburied boy in the mountains,

bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies

on Himalayan snow?

 

I’ve tied a knot

with green thread at Shah Hamdan, to be

untied only when the atrocities

are stunned by your jeweled return, but no news

escapes the curfew, nothing of your shadow,

and I’m back, five hundred miles, taking off

my ice, the mountains granite again as I see

men coming from those Abodes of Snow

with gods asleep like children in their arms.

 

(for Molvi Abdul Hai)

 

(See whole post “India’s Blood-stained Democracy…” by Mirza Waheed)

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*  “Don’t tell my mother / my beloved brother / my sister….I’m dead” is also a common stock phrase in Balkan epic poetry of guerrilla fighters, kleftes, haiduci.

*  “By that dazzling light we see men removing statues from temples”…”Who will protect us if you leave?”…”men coming from those Abodes of Snow with gods asleep like children in their arms.”

Shahid Ali’s universalist soul was as hurt by the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) from the region as he was by the brutality of the Indian Army against its innocent Muslim majority.  I can only assume that the men with the gods asleep in their arms is a reference to this exodus.  Shahid suffered from a recurrent nightmare, in fact, that the last Hindu had left Kashmir, and he fought that haunting image through the curious fashion of reproducing their distinctive cuisine as meticulously and often as possible — he was an excellent cook; there are now hardly any Hindus left in the tormented region.  “Who will protect us if you leave?,” directed to the departing Hindu murti, is a line that always breaks my heart, and could only come from a poet of as sophisticated a background and from as beautifully Sufi-syncretic a region as Kashmir.

“I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Night” reprinted from The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems by Agha Shahid Ali. English translation copyright © 2009 by Daniel Hall. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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