[This is an excerpt from the journal on which my essay on Agha Shahid Ali is based. Shahid was under treatment for cancer at the time when it was written.]
May 5, 2001
Strange irony that Shahid only recently got his United States citizenship – just a couple of months ago. He was excited when they asked him the standard question: ‘Would you be willing to bear arms against your former country?’
It delighted him that they could not see the absurdity of asking this of a man with a malignant brain tumour. He clapped his hands and cried: ‘Yes, of course, I would!’
He was hugely entertained by the thought of himself as a bearer-of-arms.
[Shahid succumbed to his cancer on December 8, 2001. He is buried in Northampton Massachusetts.]
7 thoughts on “Agha Shahid Ali Journals – ‘Bearer of Arms’”
Amitav, I’ve read all your books, and think you’re the finest writer alive. I have special affection for the Shadow Lines, and I thank River of Smoke for wanting to know more about China. That has set off an obsession that’ll keep me occupied for some time. But the first thing I’ve ever read by you was your essay on Agha Shahid Ali, ‘I Am At the Ghat of the Only World.’ We read it as part of English in school, as you would know. It affected me profoundly, and I’m sure many others. So many schoolchildren all over India, know Agha Shahid Ali because you wrote that piece, and I’m sure that comforts you. Thanks for everything you’ve ever written.
Thanks very much Akshay – it’s wonderful to know of your response to that essay.
I teach English in a college in Assam and I take your essay on Agha Shahid Ali for students. An excellent piece to let us know of the man that Shahid was and your compassionate and sensitive writing. “National poet but not a nationalist poet” :this line put me on a journey of discovering Agha Shahid Ali. Sir, with your closeness to him and your craft, you can help all of us in knowing ‘writing’ and responding to surroundings. Thank you so much and looking forward to more from you.
Dear Mr. Gosh
By writing, ‘I Am At the Ghat of the Only World’, you have taken the responsibility of placing “Aga Shahid Ali” before world. Besides a poet, he was “My mamu” – my mother’s cousin. So I had much affection with him. I often find myself, sitting before him and he reciting his best couplets in that melancholic mood which he used to feel while talking of our homeland.
I always though of writing an obituary for mamu but I was never able to do so. The reason being that my emotions come between me and my writing. With the result, beads of tears start rolling down on my cheeks. I miss him a lot!
After reading your essay, I found that you have done my job. Being a helpless spectator, I always read your essay whenever I feel like writing for him. It gives me solace.
God bless you Amitav!
Thank you Shahid – this means a lot to me.
This was ironical that i could not know Aga shahid Ali , a legend from my own locale . but thanks to ur sincere efforts that i got a chance to know the poet in him . after reading the writ-up the ghat of the only world i was touched to my core to see his depth and ur craftsmanship to put in words the life of a legend so economically …. dear sir i felt handicapped on certain occasions regarding the content oh his poetic lines , could u help me somehow . i ll feel blessed if u can .
When I was a student at UCI (University of California at Irvine) and reading The Half-Inch Himalayas, I mentioned to my instructor that I wished I could talk with Agha Shahid Ali about his poetry, and my instructor said, “Well, call him,” and I did. To my surprise and joy, he answered the phone and we talked for something like two hours! This was back in 1987, I believe. We talked of the power and importance of a post card, of the “exquisite-ness of cloth” and what that means, and why, of loss and ancestors, and cultures, where I was from, where he was from, of Begum Akhtar, and his mother. I hope he is wrapped in his mother’s arms, and she in his. Such beauty from someone so young.