A few years ago, I don’t know exactly when, my essay on the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali (which is posted here) was included in a textbook that is read by millions of schoolchildren in India. Since then I’ve received many letters and messages about Shahid through my website. One of the most touching of these was sent to me a few days ago by Shreya Jain, a Delhi teenager. Her message included two poems dedicated to Shahid. My correspondence with Shreya is posted below:
Good day Mr. Ghosh
I am a class 11 student in Delhi,in our supplementary reader we had your chapter,The ghat of the only world.
I would like to say that,that chapter changed my whole life,my whole thought process.
Especially the line from Shahid’s poem, “There is nothing left to forgive,you wont forgive me.”
I as a person used to only write romantic poetry or a little on breakup,but after reading his poetry i have completely changed,the way you encapsulated his life,the read was so emotional,his personality,his aura.
Just reading your chapter has left a void in my heart and it aches for his loss,so it is unimaginable what you would went through when he left this world.
Just like James Merill altered his poetry,his path,he has been the same inspiration to me. In his honour I wrote two poems and it would be great if you could read them and give me your honourable feed back.
Dedicated to Agha Shahid Ali,Hush the loved one has to leave ,always.
The loved one has to leave,always
Just as I thought it was my last breath,
The last sigh I could ever make
You awoke me,
You fueled life into me.
Forgave me,for something unforgivable.
You shaped me,
Into something you always dreamt of.
Brought me back from the land of the dead,
But for how long?
The loved one has to leave,hush.
The loved one has to leave,always.
The last drop of blood I dropped,
The last one you soaked into you.
Polished me,shaped me,
Into something you had always dreamt of.
This paradise on earth,
Has been ruined.
Now even I have no origin.
Don’t stoke me with life now,
Don’t revive what has been lost by you,
Don’t try to connrct the broken bonds.
It has been too late for me too.
Hush,the loved one has to leave.
Hush,the loved one has to leave always.
Say your farewell,
For I am leaving this world,
The abandoned paradise.
To another world.
Hopefully with something to cherish,
Something above to rise.
The loved one is leaving,hush.
Hush,the loved one has to leave always.
The second one is,
Dedicated to Agha Shahid Ali,for you would live always in my memory,my history.
I put out a hand
I put out a hand,
An archive of thoughts.
Something has been lost,
And something is already forgotten.
The windows don’t open.
And sky a crimson red.
It’s a place far away,
A land with things unsaid.
I don’t find what I’m reaching out for.
I put out a hand.
Trying to clasp,grasp,
Of whatever is left,
Of something left to hold on.
And then comes the storm,
Wind,leaves and tears all around,
Taking away everything,anything left.
Everything is finished.
Come hold my hand,
A hand i had put out.
Let’s search together,
The archive of thoughts,
What is lost.
All the other hands that have reached out.
these were the poems i have written for him,I may have not personaly known him,but your essay have made him invariably close to my heart.
His poems have made a deep impact on me,and somehow messaging you makes me feel closer to him.
I hope you liked the poems.
Waiting your reply anxiously
Thank you very much for this wonderful and touching letter. I liked the directness of your poems: they show a lot of promise. I know Shahid would have had a great deal to say about them. He was an extremely generous teacher and a very supportive and sympathetic critic.
Would you mind if I posted your letter and your poems on my blog? Do let me know.
And in the meanwhile, keep writing!
With my best wishes
Dear Mr. Ghosh,
It is indeed an honour to get a reply from you,frankly I thought you would not reply to a 17 year old.
It would be without an aorta of doubt a privilege for my letter and poems to be featured on your blog.
I wish Agha Shahid Ali would have been here to teach and support me,but we do not always get what we want.I hope he is in a better place,with much more to offer than he could ever get in this world.
Thank you Shreya. I will post your letters and poems soon.
Thank you so much sir,I just wanted to ask another thing,do have an idea why exactly Shahid changed his mind about going to Kashmir just before his death?
It quite intrigued me actually.
It’s interesting that you ask that. In the last phase of his life Shahid felt very much rooted in America, which was only natural since he had lived in the US a long time and was moreover, a deeply and widely loved figure in American literary circles. A few months before he died he took US citizenship. He once told me a funny story about his citizenship interview. At one point the interviewer asked him whether he would be willing to take up arms against his former country if it ever became necessary. This was of course an absurd question, not only because Shahid was the gentlest and most peaceable of people, but also because he was terminally ill at the time. ‘So what did you say?’ I asked. Shahid burst into laughter: ‘What could I say?’ I gave him a big smile and said: ‘Oh yes!’
On another occasion he mentioned to me that he wanted to be buried near Emily Dickinson, who was one of the poets he most loved. She is buried in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Shahid’s grave is just a short distance away, in Northampton.
All the best
4 thoughts on “Two poems for Agha Shahid Ali: his grave in Northampton”
Dear Mr. Ghosh,
I have gone through your views about Agha Shahid Ali and i am very much touched.
Thank you Sir.
Dear Mr. Ghosh,
It is great to see the poems of Shreya and your motivating comments.
I would like to say something which I had wanted to tell you for a long time. When I read ‘Circle of Reason’ I was a bit confused initially with so many travels. When I read ‘In an Anitique Land,’ i was finding it difficult to imagine things initially. Now I ‘live’ the events in your novels, it is like I had a dream the previous night and they happen the next day. The books were an honest portrayal of life and events. My travel and stay in KSA is like re-reading your novels…. I’ve pasted Nabeel’s remarks on the wall of my kitchen: “It must make you think of all the people you left at home . . . when you put that kettle on the stove with just enough water for yourself” . A good book can change your life, my friend and mentor, Dr. Kennedy says. Your books have really really changed my life. Thankyou so much Sir.
Thanks you ever so much for this letter. For writers there’s nothing more wonderful than to know that their work has been read with such care and attention!
My first encounter with Agha Shahid was that I was at the funeral party , one of our relative had died and we were there to eat and give them hope for the future. I still remember at midnight my heart beat was so fast all of a sudden and I thought this is my end and my father was there and he was shocked and I was telling my father that I will leave from here to go my real home and I want to take last breath there and he agreed we will leave in the early morning and Hand on my heart , I saw a book which was recently translated by Shafi Shauq AGha shahid’s poems into kashmiri language and I read those poems from heart on that night and I dont believe , to be honest whether God saved me on that day or Shahid’s poems and I also write poems and I know I will make him proud one day…………………..