We shall meet again, in Srinagar,

by the gates of the Villa of Peace,

our hands blossoming into fists

till the soldiers return the keys

and disappear. Again we’ll enter

our last world, the first that vanished

–“A Pastoral”, Agha Shahid Ali

 

Born in Kashmir in 1949, Agha Shahid Ali was an English poet who later migrated to US in 1976. Ali’s works are known for their acutely, harmoniously creative blend of multiple traditions, cultures, histories, memories Ali experienced/ lived through during his life. Be it the geographical spaces of America, Kashmir or Delhi he inhabited; the esoteric, religious Sufi and Bhakti traditions of South Asia he inherited; or the poetic traditions of English and Urdu he mastered, Ali’s poetry blended them all, blurred their boundaries, suffused them together. This poetic rendition however could not be translated into an equally fused reality, which is increasingly dividing itself along the lines of countries, religions, cultures and so on. Ali’s work is therefore underpinned by a tinge of yearning, desire, nostalgia for a harmonious, peaceful, diverse, beautiful reality, home, Kashmir. His poem “Farewell”, for example, was a plaintive love letter from a Kashmiri Muslim to a Kashmiri Pandit. The poem lamented the mass exodus of Hindu Pandits after the political turmoil in Kashmir in 1989. “You needed me. You needed to perfect me.” Ali died in 2001.

The modern nation state everywhere perpetuates and thrives on the anxieties to define; from religion and history to geographical borders. Stripping Kashmir of its ambiguous, special status recently to make it a part of India is therefore a logical end of these anxieties. It is these perpetuated dangerous definitions that the poetry of Agha Ali resists against; with its yearning for a much more fluid, syncretic, overlapped, beautiful universe.