book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

The veiled suite: the collected poems

Agha Shahid Ali

Ali, Agha Shahid (1949-2001); Donald Hall (intro);

The veiled suite: the collected poems

W.W. Norton 2009 / Penguin India 2010, 393 pages

ISBN 0393068048, 9780393068047

topics: |  poetry | india | english

Agha came to me first through his superb translations of Faiz.  His own
poems arrived later, floating on anthologies like AK Mehrotra's
Twelve Modern Indian Poets or Pritish Nandy's strangertime.

compared to faiz, who can be lyrically romantic and fierce with rage - all
at the same time, Agha is very toned down, avoiding all kinds of conflict.
as a poet, Agha is unequivovally romantic, singing of loss and longing, the
sadness of dawn after the song has ended, and the chandeliers go dim.  his
poetry belongs to the lover; in the words of Mehrotra:
     Ali's poems seem to be whispered to himself, and to read them is as if
     to overhear.

Shahid's poetry wafts in the ghazal, flows on the jhelum of srinagar
under the zero bridge and onto the Dal, recites Ghalib in the bylanes of
old delhi.  His entire presence is imbued with an Indian-ness that
transcends political divides.

He finds no use for the poetry of protest, for the raised voice.  Living in
such troubled times, he finds arguments futile.

At one point he talks to Amitabh Ghosh about the divisive forces in the

	Suddenly he broke off and reached for my hand. “I wish all this had
	not happened,” he said. “This dividing of the country, the divisions
	between people – Hindu, Muslim, Muslim, Hindu – you can’t imagine how
	much I hate it. It makes me sick. What I say is: why can’t you be
	happy with the cuisines and the clothes and the music and all these
	wonderful things?” He paused and added softly, “At least here we have
	been able to make a space where we can all come together because of
	the good things.”      - from "The Ghat Of The Only World",

These forces he brings to his poetry as well - the sensibility is as much
the Urdu of Faiz as the English of James Merrill:

	it can be said that no other Indian poet writing in English came
	close to attempting what was Shahid's great achievement - the
	elaboration of a poetic voice that was representative of the
	subcontinent's own mixed history. - Amitava Kumar, little india

this is a lovingly edited volume, and it definitely belongs on any poetry
lover's shelf.  my only carp would be that while this book is titled
"collected poems", and claims to "collect the life's work" of Agha, it
misses his earliest work, published in India, the volumes Bone Sculptures
(1972) and In memory of Begum Akhtar (1979).  Though many of these poems
were re-published in later volumes (some with considerable re-work - see
butcher below), i find many of them - e.g. learning Urdu, or
Taxidermist - quite powerful.  They deserve their own space.

To read some of these early poems, see our page on strangertime.

 *** Incidentally, I am seriously searching for these two volumes - if any
	kind soul has a copy they can loan or share, i would be happy to hear
	from you!!


The Veiled Suite p.23

Make me now your veil then see if you can veil
yourself from me. Where is he not from? Which vale
of tears? Am I awake? There is little sense
of whether I am his - or he is my - veil.
For, after the night is fog, who'll unveil
whom? Either he knows he is one with the night
or is unaware he's an agent of night –
nothing else is possible (who is whose veil?)
when he, random assassin sent by the sea,
is putting, and with no sense of urgency,

the final touches on – whose last fantasy?
Where isn't he from? He's brought sky from Vail,
Colorado, and the Ganges from Varanasi
in a clay urn (his heart measures like the sea).
He's brought the desert too. It's deep in his eyes
when he says: "I want you to be mine alone, see."
What hasn't he planned? For music Debussy,
then a song from New Orleans in the Crescent's
time nearing Penn Station. What's of the essence?
Not time, not time, no, not time. I can foresee
he will lead each night from night into night.
I ask, "Can you promise me this much tonight:

that when you divide what remains of this night
it will be like a prophet once parted the sea.
But no one must die! For however this night
has been summoned, I, your mortal every night,
must become your veil… and I must lift your veil
when just one thing's left to consider: the night."

What arrangements haven’t you made for tonight!
I am to hand you a knife from behind the veil
now rising quickly from your just-lit incense.
I'm still alive, alive to learn from your eyes
that I am become your veil and I am all you see.
				for Patricia O’Neill

Agha started a collaboration with artist izhar patkin
in 1999, just before his cancer was detected.  Izhar paints on transparent
curtains (veils), and the poem, "Veiled Suite", Agha's last poem, was
written for this collaborative project.

Postcard from Kashmir : Agha Shahid Ali : 1

Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a near four by six inches.

I always loved neatness.  Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.

This is home.  And this is the closest
I'll ever be to home.  When I return,
the colors wn't be so brilliant.

the Jhelum's waters so clean,
so ultramarine.  My love
so overexposed.

And my memory will be a little
out of focus, in it
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.

A Lost Memory of Delhi

I am not born
it is 1948 and the bus turns
onto a road without name

There on his bicycle
my father
He is younger than I

At Okhla where I get off
I pass my parents
strolling by the Jamuna River

My mother is a recent bride
her sari a blaze of brocade
Silverdust parts her hair

She doesn’t see me
The bells of her anklets are distant
like the sound of china from teashop being lit up with lanterns

And the stars are coming out
ringing with tongues of glass
They go into the house

Always faded in photographs
In the family album
but lit up now

with the oil lamp
I saw broken in the attic.

I want to tell them I am their son
older, much older than they are
I knock, keep knocking

but for them the night is quiet
this the night of my being
they don’t they won’t

hear me they won’t hear
my knocking drowning out
the tongues of stars.

The Jama Masjid butcher / A butcher p.47

	You can gain an insight into Shahid's poetic process by comparing the
	original (left) and how it is converted into a more nuanced episode.
	In the new version on the right, appearing in HiH and now in VS, the
	butcher seems more cultured, earlier the exchange of Ghalib phrases
	was muted, now a new poet (Mir) is added, and they are filling in
	each other's lines.  However, the butcher's trade was more raw in the
	original, as in "the warm january morning hanging on an iron hook".
	I am sure Shahid wrestled with this omission, deciding in the end
	that it didn't go with the subtle mood of the new complex.

 --earlier version ?1975--		       --edited--
Urdu, bloody at his lips                In this lane
and fingertips, in this                 near Jama Masjid,
soiled lane of Jama Masjid,
                                        where he wraps kilos of meat
is still fine, polished                 in sheets of paper.
smooth by the generations.
                                        the ink of the news
He doesn’t smile but                    stains his knuckles.
accepts my money
with a rare delicacy                    the script is wet
                                        in his palms: Urdu.
as he hacks the rib of History.
His courtesy grazes                     bloody at his fingertips,
                                        is still fine on his lips,
my well-fed skin
                                        the language polished smooth
(he hangs this warm January morning     by knives
on the iron hook of prayer).
                                        on knives. He hacks
We establish the bond of phrases,       the festival goats,
dressed in the couplets of Ghalib.
                                        throws their skin to dogs.
His life is this moment,                I smile and quote
a century’s careful image.
                                        a Ghalib line; he completes
                                        the couplet, smiles,

                                        quotes a Mir line.  I complete
                                        the couplet.

                                        He wraps my kilo of ribs
                                        I give him the money.  The change

                                        clutters on our moment of courtesy
                                        our phrases snapping in mid-syllable.

                                        Ghalib's ghazal's left unrhymed.

Prayer Rug (p.40)

Those intervals
between the day’s
five calls to prayer

the women of the house
pulling thick threads
through vegetables

rosaries of ginger
of rustling peppers
in autumn drying for winter

in those intervals this rug
part of Grandma’s dowry

so the Devil’s shadow
would not desecrate
Mecca scarlet-woven

with minarets of gold
but then the sunset
call to prayer

the servants
their straw mats unrolled
praying or in the garden

in summer on grass
the children wanting
the prayers to end

the women’s foreheads
touching Abraham’s
silk stone of sacrifice

black stone descended
from Heaven
the pilgrims in white circling it

this year my grandmother
also a pilgrim
in Mecca she weeps

as the stone is unveiled
she weeps holding on
to the pillars
		(for Begum Zafar Ali)

In memory of Begum Akhtar 53

		(d. 30 October 1974)


Your death in every paper,
boxed in the black and white
of photographs, obituaries,

the sky warm, blue, ordinary,
no hint of calamity,

no room for sobs,
even between the lines.

I wish to talk of the end of the world.


Do your fingers still scale the hungry
Bhairavi, or simply the muddy shroud?

Ghazal, that death-sustaining widow,
sobs in dingy archives, hooked to you.
She wears her grief, a moon-soaked white,
corners the sky into disbelief.

You've finally polished catastrophe,
the note you seasoned with decades
of Ghalib, Mir, Faiz:

I innovate on a note-less raga.


Exiling you to cold mud,
your coffin, stupid and white,
astounds by its ignorance.

It wears its blank pride,
defleshing the nomad's echo.
I follow you to the earth's claw,

shouldering time's shadow.
This is history's bitter arrogance,
this moment of the bone's freedom.


One cannot cross-examine the dead,

but I've taken the circumstantial evidence,
your records, pictures, tapes,
and offered a careless testimony.

I wish to summon you in defence,
but the grave's damp and cold, now when
Malhar longs to stitch the rain,

wrap you in its notes: you elude
completely. The rain doesn't speak,
and life, once again, closes in,

reasserting this earth where the air
meets in a season of grief.

		(for Saleem Kidwai)

The Jogger on Riverside Drive, 5:00 A.M., p.68

The dark scissors of his legs
cut the moon’s

raw silk, highways of wind
torn into lanes, his feet

pushing down the shadow
whose patterns he becomes

while trucks, one by one,
pass him by,

headlights pouring
from his pace, his eyes

cracked as the Hudson
wraps street lamps

in its rippled blue shells,
the summer’s thin, thin veins

bursting with dawn,
he, now suddenly free,

from the air, from himself,
his heart beating far, far

behind him

In Search of Evanescence - When on Route 80 in Ohio p.123

When on Route 80 in Ohio
I came across an exit
to Calcutta

the temptation to write a poem
led me past the exit
so I could say

India always exists
off the turnpikes
of America

so I could say
I did take the exit
and crossed Howrah

and even mention the Ganges
as it continued its sobbing
under the bridge

so when i paid my toll
i saw trains rush by
one after one

on their roofs old passengers
each ready to surrender
his bones for tickets

so that i heard
the sun's percussion
on tamarind leaves

heard the empty cans of children
filling only with the shadows
of leaves

that behind the unloading trucks
were the voices of vendors
bargaining over women

so when the trees
let down their tresses
the monsoon oiled and braided them

and when the wind again parted them
this was the temptation
to end the poem this way:

the warm rains have left
many dead on the pavements

the signs to route 80
all have disappeared

and now the road is a river
polished silver by cars

the cars are urns
carrying ashes to the sea

A pastoral 196

       on the wall the dense ivy of executions
	       —Zbigniew Herbert

by Agha Shahid Ali
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

in our absence from the broken city.
We’ll tear our shirts for tourniquets
and bind the open thorns, warm the ivy
into roses. Quick, by the pomegranate—
the bird will say—Humankind can bear
everything. No need to stop the ear

to stories rumored in branches: We’ll hear
our gardener’s voice, the way we did
as children, clear under trees he’d planted:
“It’s true, my death, at the mosque entrance,
in the massacre, when the Call to Prayer
opened the floodgates”—Quick, follow the silence—

“and dawn rushed into everyone’s eyes.”
Will we follow the horned lark, pry
open the back gate into the poplar groves,
go past the search post into the cemetery,
the dust still uneasy on hurried graves
with no names, like all new ones in the city?

“It’s true” (we’ll hear our gardener
again). “That bird is silent all winter.
Its voice returns in spring, a plaintive cry.
That’s when it saw the mountain falcon
rip open, in mid-air, the blue magpie,
then carry it, limp from the talons.”

Pluck the blood: My words will echo thus
at sunset, by the ivy, but to what purpose?
In the drawer of the cedar stand,
white in the verandah, we’ll find letters:
When the post offices died, the mailman
knew we’d return to answer them. Better

if he’d let them speed to death,
blacked out by Autumn’s Press Trust
not like this, taking away our breath,
holding it with love’s anonymous
scripts: “See how your world has cracked.
Why aren’t you here? Where are you? Come back.

Is history deaf there, across the oceans?”
Quick, the bird will say. And we’ll try
the keys, with the first one open the door
into the drawing room. Mirror after mirror,
textiled by dust, will blind us to our return
as we light oil lamps. The glass map of our country,

still on the wall, will tear us to lace—
We’ll go past our ancestors, up the staircase,
holding their wills against our hearts. Their wish
was we return—forever!—and inherit(Quick, the bird
will say) that to which we belong, not like this—
to get news of our death after the world’s.

			(for Suvir Kaul) 

After the August Wedding in Lahore, Pakistan 239

we all---Save the couple!---returned to pain,
some in Massachusetts, some in Kashmir
where, wet by turns, Order's dry campaign
had glued petals with bullets to each pane---
Sarajevo Roses! A gift to glass,
that city's name. What else breaks? A lover's pain!
But happiness? Must it, too, bring pain?
Question I may ask because of a night ---
by ice-sculptures, all my words sylvanite
under one gaze that filled my glass with pain.
That thirst haunts as does the fevered dancing,
flames dying among orchids flown in from Sing-

apore! Sing then, not of the promising
but the Promised End. Of what final pain,
what image of that horror can I sing?
To be forgotten the most menacing!
Those "Houseboat Days in the Vale of Kashmir,"
for instance, in '29: Did they sing
just of love then, or was love witnessing
its departure for other thirsts--- the glass
of Dal Lake ruffled half by "Satin Glass,"
that chandeliered boat barely focusing
on emptiness--- last half of any night?
In Lahore the chanteuse crooned "Stop the Night"---

the groom's request--after the banquet. Night,
that Empress, is here, your bride. She will sing!
Her limbs break like chrysanthemums. O Night,
what hints have been passed in the sky tonight?
The stars so quiet, what galaxies of pain
leave them unable to prophesy this night?
With a rending encore, she closed the night.
There was, like this, long ago in Kashmir,
a moment --- after a concert --- outside Kashmir
Book Shop that left me stranded, by midnight,
in a hotel mirror. Would someone glass
me in ---from what? Filled, I emptied my glass,
lured by a stranger's eyes into their glass.
There, nothing melted, as in Lahore's night:
Heat had brought sweat to the lip of my glass
but sculptures kept iced their aberrant glass.
To be forgotten my most menacing
image of the End --- expelled from the glass
of someone's eyes as if no full-length glass
had held us, safe, from political storms? Pain,
then, becomes love's thirst--- the ultimate pain
to lose a stranger! O, to have said, glass
in hand, "Where Thou art---that---is Home---/Cashmere---
or Calvary---the same"! In the Casmir
and Poison and Brut air, my rare Cashmere
thrown off, the stranger knew my arms are glass,
that banished from Eden (on earth: Kashmir)
into the care of storms (it rains in Kashmir,
in Lahore, and here in Amherst tonight),
in each new body I would drown Kashmir.
A brigadier says, The boys of Kashmir
break so quickly, we make their bodies sing,
on the rack, till no song is left to sing.
"Butterflies pause/On their passage Cashmere---"
And happiness: must it only bring pain?

The century is ending. It is pain
from which love departs into all new pain:
Freedom's terrible thirst, flooding Kashmir,
is bringing love to its tomented glass.
Stranger, who will inherit the last night
of the past? Of what shall I not sing, and sing?
			(for Shafaq Husain)

Barcelona Airport 284

	Are you carrying anything that could 
	be dangerous for the other passengers?

O just my heart     first terrorist
(a flame dies by dawn     in every shade)

Crescent-lit     it fits the profile
on your screen

in blood’s mansions      (candle that burned
till its flame died      in blue corridors)

it’s relit each time     it tries to exit
this body for another’s     in another century

(Andalusia was      but to be missed)

Last week I went     to the Pyrenees
and then came here     for the year’s farewell
to your city

In your custom of countdowns
as the gongs were struck     I gulped each grape
(the heart skipped     its beats wildly):

Ten . . . Seven      the Year whirled in
to castanets     to strings DRUMS Two


So what white         will the heart wear
till the soul is     its own blood-filled crystal
ruby refuge        for a fugitive angel?

His wings waxed silver      to track the Atlantic
he won’t –- like      any body -– let

the soul go      So delete my emerald beats
(in each color all night      a candle burns)

Hit ENTER     the Mediterranean
this minute is     uncut sapphire

And your Catalan sky?     Behold how to hide
one must . . . like God     spend all one’s blue.
				(for Rafiq Kathwari)

About this poem, Amitav Ghosh has written:

      Shahid was himself no mean practioner of repartee. On one famous
      occasion, at Barcelona airport, he was stopped by a security guard just
      as he was about to board a plane. The guard, a woman, asked: “What do
      you do?”

      “I'm a poet”, Shahid answered.

      “What were you doing in Spain?”

      “Writing poetry.”

      No matter what the question, Shahid worked poetry into his
      answer. Finally, the exasperated woman asked: “Are you carrying
      anything that could be dangerous to the other passengers?”At this
      Shahid clapped a hand to his chest and cried: “Only my heart.”

      This was one of his great Wildean moments...
      	   from "The Ghat Of The Only World",

Ghazal p.293

	Feel the patient’s heart
	Pounding—oh please, this once—
		—James Merrill

I'll do what I must if I'm bold in real time.
A refugee, I'll be paroled in real time.

Cool evidence clawed off like shirts of hell-fire?
A former existence untold in real time ...

The one you would choose: Were you led then by him?
What longing, O Yaar, is controlled in real time?

Each syllable sucked under waves of our earth—
The funeral love comes to hold in real time!

They left him alive so that he could be lonely—
The god of small things is not consoled in real time.

Please afterwards empty my pockets of keys—
It’s hell in the city of gold in real time.

God’s angels again are—for Satan!—forlorn.
Salvation was bought but sin sold in real time.

And who is the terrorist, who the victim?
We’ll know if the country is polled in real time.

“Behind a door marked DANGER” are being unwound
the prayers my friend had enscrolled in real time.

The throat of the rearview and sliding down it
the Street of Farewell’s now unrolled in real time.

I heard the incessant dissolving of silk—
I felt my heart growing so old in real time.

Her heart must be ash where her body lies burned.
What hope lets your hands rake the cold in real time?

Now Friend, the Belovèd has stolen your words—
Read slowly: The plot will unfold in real time.
				(for Daniel Hall)

[Yaar: Hindi for friend]

Ghazal (By exiles) 297

	"Where should we go after the last frontiers,
	where should the birds fly after the last sky?"
		-- Mahmoud Darwish

In Jerusalem a dead phone's dialed by exiles.
You learn your strange fate: you were exiled by exiles.

You open the heart to list unborn galaxies.
Don't shut that folder when Earth is filed by exiles.

Before Night passes over the wheat of Egypt,
let stones be leavened, the bread torn wild by exiles.

Crucified Mansoor was alone with the Alone:
God's loneliness -- just His -- compiled by exiles.

By the Hudson lies Kashmir, brought from Palestine --
It shawls the piano, Bach beguiled by exiles.

Tell me who's tonight the Physician of Sick Pearls?
Only you as you sit, Desert child, by exiles.

Match Majnoon (he kneels to pray on a wine-stained rug)
or prayer will be nothing, distempered mild by exiles.

"Even things that are true can be proved." Even they?
Swear not by Art but, dear Oscar Wilde, by exiles.

Don't weep, we'll drown out the Calls to Prayer, O Saqi --
I'll raise my glass before wine is defiled by exiles.

Was -- after the last sky -- this the fashion of fire:
autumn's mist pressed to ashes styled by exiles?

If my enemy's alone and his arms are empty,
give him my heart silk-wrapped like a child by exiles.

Will you, Beloved Stranger, ever witness Shahid --
two destinies at last reconciled by exiles?

	Mansoor: Mansoor al-Hallaj, a great mystic who was crucified for
		 saying "I am the truth"
	Majnoon: lit. "possessed" or "mad" - sacrificing everything for love

Eleven Stars Over Andalusia I: On our last evening on this land

I On our last evening on this land

On our last evening on this land we chop our days
from our young trees, count the ribs we’ll take with us
and the ribs we’ll leave behind… On the last evening
we bid nothing farewell, nor find the time to end…
Everything remains as it is, it is the place that changes our dreams
and its visitors. Suddenly we’re incapable of irony,
this land will now host atoms of dust… Here, on our last evening,
we look closely at the mountains besieging the clouds: a conquest…
          and a counter-conquest,
and an old time handing this new time the keys to our doors.
So enter our houses, conquerors, and drink the wine
of our mellifluous Mouwashah. We are the night at midnight,
and no horseman will bring dawn from the sanctuary of the last Call to
Our tea is green and hot; drink it. Our pistachios are fresh; eat them.
The beds are of green cedar, fall on them,
following this long siege, lie down on the feathers of
our dreams. The sheets are crisp, perfumes are ready by the door, and there are plenty of mirrors:
enter them so we may exit completely. Soon we will search
in the margins of your history, in distant countries,
for what was once our history. And in the end we will ask ourselves:
Was Andalusia here or there? On the land…or in the poem?

	Mouwashah: characteristic form of Andalusian poetry, recited and
		sung. Still performed through-out the Arab world.

Violins by Mahmmoud Darwish / Agha Shahid Ali 311

Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia

Violins weep for a time that does not return
Violins weep for a homeland that might return

Violins set fire to the woods of that deep deep darkness
Violins tear the horizon and smell my blood in the vein

Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia

Violins are horses on a phantom string of moaning water
Violins are the ebb and flow of a field of wild lilacs

Violins are monsters touched by the nail of a woman now distant
Violins are an army, building and filling a tomb made of marble
  and Nahawund

Violins are the anarchy of hearts driven mad by the wind in a dancer’s foot
Violins are flocks of birds fleeing a torn banner

Violins are complaints of silk creased in the lover’s night
Violins are the distant sound of wine falling on a previous desire

Violins follow me everywhere in vengeance
Violins seek me out to kill me wherever they find me

Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia
Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia

     * Nahawund: One of the classical Arabic musical modes.

Not All, Only a Few Return (after Ghalib) 349

	Just a few return from dust, disguised as roses.
	What hopes the earth forever covers, what faces?

	I too could recall moonlit roofs, those nights of wine -
	But Time has shelved them now in Memory's dimmed places

	She has left forever, let blood flow from my eyes
	till my eyes are lamps lit for love's darkest places.

	All is his - Sleep, Peace, Night - when on his arm your hair
	shines to make him the god whom nothing effaces.

	With wine, the palm's lines, believe me, rush to Life's stream -
	Look, here's my hand, and here the red glass it raises.		 [not in ghalib?]

	See me! Beaten by sorrow, man is numbed to pain.
	Grief has become the pain only pain erases.

	World, should Ghalib keep weeping you will see a flood
	drown your terraced cities, your marble palaces.

original by ghalib (in devanagari)

	सब कहां कुछ लालह-ओ-गुल में नुमायां हो गईं
	ख़ाक में कया सूरतें होंगी कि पिनहां हो गईं

	याद थीं हम को भी रनगारनग बज़म-आराइयां
	लेकिन अब नक़श-ओ-निगार-ए ताक़-ए निसयां हो गईं


	जू-ए ख़ूं आंखों से बहने दो कि है शाम-ए फ़िराक़
	मैं यह समझूंगा कि शम`एं दो फ़ुरोज़ां हो गईं

	इन परीज़ादों से लेंगे ख़ुलद में हम इनतिक़ाम
	क़ुदरत-ए हक़ से यिही हूरें अगर वां हो गईं

	नीनद उस की है दिमाग़ उस का है रातें उस की हैं
	तेरी ज़ुलफ़ें जिस के बाज़ू पर परेशां हो गईं

	मैं चमन में कया गया गोया दबिसतां खुल गया
	बुलबुलें सुन कर मिरे नाले ग़ज़ल-ख़वां हो गईं

	वह निगाहें कयूं हुई जाती हैं या रब दिल के पार
	जो मिरी कोताही-ए क़िसमत से मिज़हगां हो गईं

	बसकि रोका मैं ने और सीने में उभरीं पै ब पै
	मेरी आहें बख़यह-ए चाक-ए गरेबां हो गईं

	वां गया भी मैं तो उन की गालियों का कया जवाब
	याद थीं जितनी दु`आएं सरफ़-ए दरबां हो गईं

	जां-फ़िज़ा है बादह जिस के हाथ में जाम आ गया
	सब लकीरें हाथ की गोया रग-ए जां हो गईं

	हम मुवहहिद हैं हमारा केश है तरक-ए रुसूम
	मिललतें जब मिट गईं अजज़ा-ए ईमां हो गईं

	रनज से ख़ू-गर हुआ इनसां तो मिट जाता है रनज
	मुशकिलें मुझ पर पड़ीं इतनी कि आसां हो गईं

	यूं ही गर रोता रहा ग़ालिब तो अय अहल-ए जहां
	देखना इन बसतियों को तुम कि वीरां हो गईं

Of light (ghazal) 363

At dawn you leave.  The river wears its skin of light
And I trace love's loss to the origin of light.

"I swallow down goodbyes I won't get to use."
At grief's speed she waves from a palanquin of light.

My book's been burned?  Send me the ashes, so I can say:
I've been sent the phoenix in a coffin of light.

From history tears learn a slanted understanding
of the human face torn by blood's bulletin of light.

It was a temporal thought.  Well, it has vanished.
Will Prometheus commit the mortal sin of light?

She said, "My name is icicles coming down from it ... "
Did I leave it, somewhere, in a margin of light?
When I go off alone, as if listening for God,
there's absolutely nothing I can win of light.

Now everything's left to the imagination --
a djinn has deprived even Aladdin of light.

We’ll see Manhattan, a bride in diamonds, one day
Abashed to remind her sweet man, Brooklyn, of light.

In Arabic (372)

A language of loss? I have some business in Arabic.
Love letters: a calligraphy pitiless in Arabic.

At an exhibit of miniatures, what Kashmiri hairs!
Each paisley inked into a golden tress in Arabic.

This much fuss about a language I don't know? So one day
perfume from a dress may let you digress in Arabic.

A "Guide for the Perplexed" was written–believe me–
by Cordoba's Jew–Maimonides–in Arabic.

Majnoon, by stopped caravans, rips his collars, cries "Laila!"
Pain translated is O! much more–not less–in Arabic.

Writes Shammas: Memory, no longer confused, now is a homeland–
his two languages a Hebrew caress in Arabic.

When Lorca died, they left the balconies open and saw:
On the sea his qasidas stitched seamless in Arabic.

Ah, bisexual Heaven: wide-eyed houris and immortal youths!
To your each desire the say Yes! O Yes! in Arabic.

For that excess of sibilance, the last Apocalypse,
so pressing those three forms of S in Arabic.

I too, O Amichai, saw everything, just like you did–
In Death. In Hebrew. And (please let me stress) in Arabic.

They ask me to tell them what Shahid means: Listen, listen:
It means "The Beloved" in Persian, "witness" in Arabic.


	      Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar
      	                   —Laurence Hope

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket” — to gem — “Me to adorn — How tell” — tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates —
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar —
All the archangels — their wings frozen — fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open — for God — the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I'm a mere sinner, I'm no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I'll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love — you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.


Foreword                                                                   15
The Veiled Suite                                                           23

The Half-Inch Himalayas

   Postcard from Kashmir                                                   29
   A Lost Memory of Delhi                                                  30
   A Dream of Glass Bangles                                                32
   Snowmen                                                                 34
   Cracked Portraits                                                       35
   Story of a Silence                                                      38
   Prayer Rug                                                              40
   The Dacca Gauzes                                                        42
   The Season of the Plains                                                44
   A Monsoon Note on Old Age                                               46
   A Butcher                                                               47
   The Fate of the Astrologer Sitting on the Pavement Outside              49
            the Delhi Railway Station
   After Seeing Kozintsev's King Lear in Delhi                             50
   Chandni Chowk, Delhi                                                    51
   Cremation                                                               52
   In Memory of Begum Akhtar                                               53
   Homage to Faiz Ahmed Faiz                                               56
   A Wrong Turn                                                            60
   Vacating an Apartment                                                   61
   The Previous Occupant                                                   63
   Leaving Your City                                                       65
   Philadelphia, 2:00 A.M.                                                 67
   The Jogger on Riverside Drive, 5:00 A.M.				     68
   Flight from Houston in January                                          69
   Stationery                                                              71
   Survivor                                                                72
   I Dream it is afternoon when i return to Delhi                          74
   A Call                                                                  76
   The Tiger at 4:00 A.M.                                                  77
   In the Mountains                                                        79
   Houses                                                                  81

A Walk Through the Yellow Pages

   Bell Telephone Hours                                                    85
     Has anyone heard from you lately?                                     85
     Call long distance: the next best thing to being there                86
     It's getting late. Do your friends know where you are?                87
     Reach out and touch someone far away.                                 88
     Use your phone for all it's worth Today, talk
          is cheap. Call somebody                                          89
   Advertisement (Found Poem)                                              90
   Language Games                                                          92
   Poets on Bathroom Walls                                                 95
   Christmas, 1980s                                                        96
   An Interview with Red Riding Hood, Now No Longer Little                 98
   The Wolf's Postscript to "Little Red Riding Hood"                      100
   Hansel's Game                                                          102

A Nostalgist's Map of America

   Eurydice                                                               107
   Beyond the Ash Rains                                                   110
   A Rehearsal of Loss                                                    112
   Crucifixion                                                            113
   Leaving Sonora                                                         116
   I Dream I Return to Tucson in the Monsoons                             117
   A Nostalgist's Map of America                                          118
   In Search of Evanescence                                               121
     Students of mist                                                     121
     It was a year of brilliant water                                     121
     When on Route 80 in Ohio                                             123
     Someone wants me to live                                             125
     From the Faraway Nearby---                                           127
     In Pennsylvania seven years ago                                      128
     We must always have a place                                          129
     You                                                                  130
     The way she had -- in her rushes-- of resonance---                   131
     Shahid, you never                                                    133
     ``Phil was afraid of being forgotten.''                              135
   The Keeper of the Dead Hotel                                           136
   From Another Desert                                                    139
     Cries Majnoon:                                                       139
     In the grief of broken stone                                         140
     Each statue will be broken                                           141
     There again is memory                                                141
     Cries Majnoon:                                                       142
     His blood shines                                                     143
     Who now weeps                                                        144
     Majnoon was again sighted                                            145
     Majnoon                                                              145
     In prison Majnoon weeps for Satan:                                   147
     The prisoners know they've been                                      148
     Ambushed in century after century by                                 148
             the police of God
     The dead are here. Listen to survivors                               149
   No                                                                     151
   Resume                                                                 152
   Notes on the Sea's Existence                                           154
   Medusa                                                                 156
   The Youngest of the Graeae                                             158
   Desert Landscape                                                       160
   I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror                                      161
   Snow on the Desert                                                     164

   [in this long poem, the lines that stand out are from
     leftbehind times]

			in New Delhi one night
		as Begum Akhtar sang, the lights went out.

		It was perhaps during the Bangladesh War,
		perhaps there were sirens,

			air-raid warnings.
		But the audience, hushed, did not stir.

		The microphone was dead, but she went on
		singing, and her voice

			was coming from far
		away, as if she had already died.

		And just before the lights did flood her
		again, melting the frost
			of her diamond
		into rays, it was, like this turning dark

		of fog, a moment when only a lost sea
		can be heard…

The Country without a Post Office

   The Blessed Word: A Prologue                                           171
   Farewell                                                               175

	At a certain point I lost track of you.
	You needed me. You needed to perfect me:
	In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
	Your history gets in the way of my memory.
	I am everything you lost. Your perfect enemy.
	Your memory gets in the way of my memory…
	There is nothing to forgive. You won’t forgive me.
	I hid my pain even from myself’; I revealed my pain only to myself.
	There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.
	If only somehow you could have been mine,
	what would not have been possible in the world?

   I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight                               178
   The Last Saffron                                                       181
   I Dream I Am the Only Passenger on Flight 423 to Srinagar              184
   "Some Vision of the World Cashmere"                                    188
   "Lo, A Tint Cashmere! / Lo, A Rose"                                    190
   Ghazal                                                                 193
   Dear Shahid                                                            194
   A Pastoral                                                             196
   Return to Harmony 3                                                    199
   The Country Without a Post Office                                      202
   The Floating Post Office                                               207
   The Correspondent                                                      209
   A Fate's Brief Memoir                                                  211
   At the Museum                                                          217
   A History of Paisley                                                   218
   A Footnote to History                                                  221
   Son et Lumiere at Shalimar Garden                                      223
   Ghazal                                                                 225
   First Day of Spring                                                    227
   Ghazal                                                                 228
   Death Row                                                              229
   The City of Daughters                                                  230
   Muharram in Srinagar, 1992                                             234
   Hans Christian Ostro                                                   236
   A Villanelle                                                           238
   After the August Wedding in Lahore, Pakistan                           239

Rooms Are Never Finished

   Lenox Hill                                                             247
   From Amherst to Kashmir                                                250
     Karbala: A History of the ``House of Sorrow''                        250
     Zainab's Lament in Damascus                                          253
     Summers of Translation                                               255
     Above the Cities                                                     259
     Memory                                                               263
     New Delhi Airport                                                    264
     Film Bhajan Found on a 78 RPM                                        266
     Srinagar Airport                                                     267
     God                                                                  269
     Ghalib's Ghazal                                                      270
     The Fourth Day                                                       272
     By the Waters of the Sind                                            276
   Rooms Are Never Finished                                               279
   Ghazal                                                                 282
   Barcelona Airport                                                      284
   A Secular Comedy                                                       286
     Heaven                                                               286
     Earth                                                                287
     Hell                                                                 288
   The Nature of Temporal Order                                           291
   Ghazal (I'll do what I must if I'm bold in real time)                  293
   On Hearing a Lover Not Seen for Twenty                                 295
   Years Has Attempted Suicide
   Suicide Note                                                           296
   Ghazal (by exiles)                                                     297
   The Purse-Seiner Atlantis                                              299
   Eleven Stars Over Andalusia                                            301
		   by Mahmoud Darwish; tran. Agha Shahid Ali w Ahmed Dallal
     On our last evening on this land                                     301
     How can I write above the clouds?                                    302
     There is a sky beyond the sky for me                                 303
     I am one of the kings of the end                                     304
     One day I will sit on the pavement                                   305
     Truth has two faces and the snow is black                            306
     Who am I after the night of the estranged?                           307
     O water, be a string to my guitar                                    308
     In the exodus I love you more                                        309
     I want from love only the beginning                                  310
     Violins                                                              311
   I Dream I Am at the Ghat of the Only World                             313
	A night of ghazals comes to an end.  The singer
	departs through her chosen mirror, her one diamond
	cut on her countless necks.  I, as ever, linger

	till chandeliers dim to the blue of Samarkhand
	domes and I've again lost everyone.  Which mirror
	opened for JM's descent to the skeletoned

	dark?  Will I know the waiting boat?
	I always move in my heart between sad countries.

[Amitabha Ghosh refers to this title:
His apartment was a spacious and airy split-level, on the seventh floor of
a newly-renovated building. There was a cavernous study on the top floor
and a wide terrace that provided a magnificent view of the Manhattan
skyline, across the East River. Shahid loved this view of the Brooklyn
waterfront slipping, like a ghat, into the East River, under the glittering
lights of Manhattan.

	 We’ll see Manhattan, a bride in diamonds, one day
	 Abashed to remind her sweet man, Brooklyn, of light.   ]

Call Me Ishmael Tonight

			(a book of ghazals)
   I Have Loved                                                           326
   For You                                                                327
   Of It All                                                              329
   Of Fire                                                                331
   Things                                                                 333
   Shines                                                                 335
   My Word                                                                337
   From The Start                                                         339
   Angels                                                                 341
   Of Water                                                               343
   As Ever                                                                345
   Land                                                                   347
   Not All, Only A Few Return                                             349
   Water                                                                  350
   Of Snow                                                                351
   Air                                                                    352
   About Me                                                               353
   In Marble                                                              355
   Bones                                                                  357
   In                                                                     359
   Beyond English                                                         361
   Of Light                                                               363
   Stars                                                                  365
   For Time                                                               366
   God                                                                    368
   Forever                                                                369
   After You                                                              371
   In Arabic                                                              372
   Tonight                                                                374
   Existed                                                                376

Notes, Biographical Note, Index

Amitabha Ghosh on Shahid

		 from "The Ghat Of The Only World", Outlook magazine

I knew Shahid’s work long before I met him. His 1997 Collection, The Country
Without a Post Office, had made a powerful impression on me. His voice was
like none I had ever heard before, at once lyrical and fiercely disciplined,
engaged and yet deeply inward. Not for him, the mock-casual almost-prose of
so much contemporary poetry: his was a voice that was not ashamed to speak in
a bardic register. I knew of no one else who would even conceive of
publishing a line like: ‘Mad heart, be brave.’

Shahid had a sorcerer’s ability to transmute the mundane into the
magical. Once I accompanied Iqbal, his brother, and Hena, his sister, on a
trip to fetch him home from hospital. This was on May 21st: by that time he
had already been through several unsuccessful operations. Now he was back in
hospital to undergo a surgical procedure that was intended to relieve the
pressure on his brain. His head was shaved and the shape of the tumour was
visible upon his bare scalp, its edges outlined by metal sutures. When it was
time to leave the ward a blue-uniformed hospital escort arrived with a
wheelchair. Shahid waved him away, declaring that he was strong enough to
walk out of the hospital on his own. But he was groggier than he had thought
and his knees buckled after no more than a few steps. Iqbal went running off
to bring back the wheelchair while the rest of us stood in the corridor,
holding him upright. At that moment, leaning against the cheerless hospital
wall, a kind of rapture descended on Shahid. When the hospital orderly
returned with the wheelchair Shahid gave him a beaming smile and asked where
he was from. Ecuador, the man said and Shahid clapped his hands gleefully
together. “Spanish!” he cried, at the top of his voice. “I always wanted to
learn Spanish. Just to read Lorca.”

At this the tired, slack-shouldered orderly came suddenly to life. “Lorca?
Did you say Lorca?” He quoted a few lines, to Shahid’s great delight. “Ah!
‘La Cinque de la Tarde’,” Shahid cried, rolling the syllables gleefully
around his tongue. “How I love those words. ‘La Cinque de la Tarde’!” That
was how we made our way through the hospital’s crowded lobby: with Shahid and
the orderly in the vanguard, one quoting snatches of Spanish poetry and the
other breaking in from time to time with exultant cries of, "La Cinque de la
Tarde, La Cinque de la Tarde…”

Shahid’s gregariousness had no limit: there was never an evening when there
wasn’t a party in his living room. ... against the background
of the songs and voices and that were always echoing out of his apartment,
even the ringing of the doorbell had an oddly musical sound. Suddenly, Shahid
would appear, flinging open the door, releasing a great cloud of heeng into
the frosty New York air.

The journey from the foyer of Shahid’s building’s to his door was a voyage
between continents: on the way up the rich fragrance of rogan josh and haak
would invade the dour, grey interior of the elevator; against the background
of the songs and voices and that were always echoing out of his apartment,
even the ringing of the doorbell had an oddly musical sound. Suddenly, Shahid
would appear, flinging open the door, releasing a great cloud of heeng into
the frosty New York air.  “Oh, how nice,” he would cry, clapping his hands,
“how nice that you’ve come to see your little Moslem!”

Invariably, there’d be some half-dozen or more people gathered inside –
poets, students, writers, relatives – and in the kitchen someone would always
be cooking or making tea. Almost to the very end, even as his life was being
consumed by his disease, he was the centre of a perpetual carnival, an
endless mela of talk, laughter, food and of course, poetry.

The epicure Shahid

No matter how many people there were, Shahid was never so distracted as to
lose track of the progress of the evening’s meal. From time to time he would
interrupt himself to shout directions to whoever was in the kitchen: “yes,
now, add the dahi now.” Even when his eyesight was failing, he could tell,
from the smell alone, exactly which stage the rogan josh had reached. And
when things went exactly as they should, he would sniff the air and cry out
loud: “Ah! Khana ka kya mehek hai!”

Shahid was legendary for his prowess in the kitchen, frequently spending days
over the planning and preparation of a dinner party. It was through one such
party, given while he was in Arizona, that he met James Merrill, the poet who
was to radically alter the direction of his poetry.

Shahid placed great store on authenticity and exactitude in cooking and would
tolerate no deviation from traditional methods and recipes: for those who
took short cuts, he had only pity. He had a special passion for the food of
his region, one variant of it in particular: ‘Kashmiri food in the Pandit
style’. I asked him once why this was so important to him and he explained
that it was because of a recurrent dream, in which all the Pandits had
vanished from the valley of Kashmir and their food had become extinct. This
was a nightmare that haunted him and he returned to it again and again, in
his conversation and his poetry.

Kashmir days

[Agha's family] were Shia, who are a minority amongst the Muslims of
Kashmir. Shahid liked to tell a story about the origins of his family: the
line was founded, he used to say, by two brothers who came to Kashmir from
Central Asia. The brothers had been trained as hakims, specializing in Yunani
medicine, and they arrived in Kashmir with nothing but their knowledge of
medical lore: they were so poor that they had to share a single cloak between
them. But it so happened that the then Maharajah of Kashmir was suffering
from terrible stomach pains, ‘some kind of colic’. Learning that all the
kingdom’s doctors had failed to cure the ailing ruler, the two brothers
decided to try their hand.  They gave the Maharajah a concoction that went
through the royal intestines like a plunger through a tube, bringing sudden
and explosive relief. Delighted with his cure, the grateful potentate
appointed the brothers his court physicians: thus began the family’s

“So you see,” Shahid would comment, in bringing the story to its
conclusion. “My family’s fortunes were founded on a fart.”

By Shahid’s account, his great-grandfather was the first Kashmiri Muslim to
matriculate. The story went that to sit for the examination, he had had to
travel all the way from Srinagar to Rawalpindi in a tonga. Later, he too
became an official at the court of the Maharajah of Kashmir. He had special
charge of education, and took the initiative to educate his
daughter. Shahid’s grandmother was thus one of the first educated women in
Kashmir. She passed the matriculation examination, took several other
degrees,  and in time became the Inspector of Women’s School’s. She could
quote poetry in four languages: English, Urdu, Farsi and Kashmiri. Shahid’s
father, Agha Ashraf Ali, continued the family tradition of public service in
education. He taught at Jamia Millia University in New Delhi and went on to
become the principal of the Teacher’s College in Srinagar. In 1961, he
enrolled at Ball State Teacher’s College, in Muncie, Indiana, to do a PhD in
Comparative Education. Shahid was twelve when the family moved to the US and
for the next three years he attended school in Muncie. Later the family moved
back to Srinagar and that was where Shahid completed his schooling. But it
was because of his early experience, I suspect, that Shahid was able to take
America so completely in his stride when he arrived in Pennsylvania as a
graduate student.

Kashmir and the political situation

The steady deterioration of the political situation in Kashmir – the violence
and counter-violence - had a powerful effect on him. In time it became one of
the central subjects of his work: indeed it could be said that it was in
writing of Kashmir that he created his finest work. The irony of this is that
Shahid was not by inclination a political poet. I heard him say once: “If you
are from a difficult place and that’s all you have to write about then you
should stop writing. You have to respect your art, your form – that is just
as important as what you write about.”

Another time, I was present at Shahid’s apartment when his long-time
friend, Patricia O’Neill, showed him a couple of sonnets written by a
Victorian poet. The poems were political, trenchant in their criticism of
the British Government for its failure to prevent the massacre of the
Armenians in Turkey. Shahid glanced at them and tossed them off-handedly
aside: “These are terrible poems.” Patricia asked why, and he said: “Look,
I already know where I stand on the massacre of the Armenians. Of course I
am against it. But this poem tells me nothing of the massacre; it makes
nothing of it formally. I might as well just read a news report.”

Rooms are never finished

Although Shahid’s parents lived in Srinagar, they usually spent the winter
months in their flat in New Delhi. It was there that his mother had her first
seizure in December 1995. The attack was initially misdiagnosed and it was
not till the family brought her to New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital, in January
1996, that it was confirmed that she had a malignant brain tumour. Her
condition was so serious that she was operated on two days after her
arrival. The operation did not have the desired effect and resulted instead
in a partial paralysis. At the time Shahid and his younger brother Iqbal were
both teaching at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His sister,
Hena, was working on a PhD at the same institution. The siblings decided to
move their mother to Amherst and it was there that she died on April 24,
1997. In keeping with her wishes, the family took her body back to Kashmir
for burial. This long and traumatic journey forms the subject of a cycle of
poems, ‘From Amherst to Kashmir’, that was later included in Shahid’s 2001
collection, Rooms Are Never Finished.

During the last phase of his mother’s illness and for several months
afterwards, Shahid was unable to write. The dry spell was broken in 1998,
with ‘Lenox Hill’, possibly his greatest poem.  The poem was a canzone, a
form of unusual rigour and difficulty (the poet Anthony Hecht once remarked
that Shahid deserved to be in Guiness Book of records for having written
three canzones – more than any other poet). In ‘Lenox Hill’, the
architectonics of the form creates a soaring superstructure, an immense domed
enclosure, like that of the great mosque of Isfahan or the mausoleum of
Sayyida Zainab in Cairo: a space that seems all the more vast because of the
austerity of its proportions. The rhymes and half-rhymes are the honeycombed
arches that thrust the dome towards the heavens, and the metre is the mosaic
that holds the whole in place. Within the immensity of this bounded space,
every line throws open a window that beams a shaft of light across
continents, from Amherst to Kashmir, from the hospital of Lenox Hill to the
Pir Panjal Pass. Entombed at the centre of this soaring edifice lies his

	they asked me, So how’s the writing ? I answered My mother
	is my poem . What did they expect? For no verse
	sufficed except the promise, fading, of Kashmir
	and the cries that reached you from the cliffs of Kashmir
	(across fifteen centuries) in the hospital. Kashmir,
	she’s dying ! How her breathing drowns out the universe
	as she sleeps in Amherst.

The poem is packed with the devices that he had perfected over a lifetime:
rhetorical questions, imperative commands, lines broken or punctuated to
create resonant and unresolvable ambiguities. It ends, characteristically,
with a turn that is at once disingenous and wrenchingly direct.

	For compared to my grief for you, what are those of Kashmir,
	and what (I close the ledger) are the griefs of the universe
	when I remember you – beyond all accounting – O my mother?

For Shahid, the passage of time produced no cushioning from the shock of the
loss of his mother: he re-lived it over and over again until the end. Often
he would interrupt himself in mid-conversation: “I can’t believe she’s gone;
I still can’t believe it.” The week before his death, on waking one morning,
he asked his family where his mother was and whether it was true that she was
dead. On being told that she was, he wept as though he were living afresh
through the event.

In the penultimate stanza of ‘Lenox Hill,’ in a breathtaking, heart-stopping
inversion, Shahid figures himself as his mother’s mother:

	“As you sit here by me, you’re just like my mother,”
	she tells me. I imagine her: a bride in Kashmir,
	she’s watching at the Regal, her first film with Father.
	If only I could gather you in my arms, Mother,
	I'd save you – now my daughter – from God. The universe
	opens its ledger. I write: How helpless was God’s mother!

I remember clearly the evening when Shahid read this poem in the living room
of my house. I remember it because I could not keep myself from wondering
whether it was possible that Shahid’s identification with his mother was so
powerful as to spill beyond the spirit and into the body. Brain cancer is
not, so far as I know, a hereditary disease, yet his body had, as it were,
elected to reproduce the conditions of his mother’s death. But how could this
be possible? Even the thought appears preposterous in the bleak light of the
Aristotelian distinction between mind and body, and the notions of cause and
effect that flow from it.

He had said to me once, “I love to think that I'll meet my mother in the
after-life, if there is an after-life.” I had the sense that as the end
neared, this was his supreme consolation. He died peacefully, in his sleep,
at 2 a.m. on December 8.

Amitav Ghosh, Brooklyn December 15, 2001

AK Mehrotra on Agha

from author Intro in Twelve Modern Indian Poets

    [b Delhi 1949, grew up in Srinagar.  MA from U. Delhi, where he was
    teaching befoore leaving for the US in 1976.  PhD Penn State 1984, and
    MFA U. Arizona 1985.  Now on the faculty of Hamilton College, NY.  ]
    Poems here are all from Hal-Inch Himalayas, his first mature
    collection.  Previous to it he published Bone-Sculpture (1972), and
    In memory of Begum Akhtar (1979).  Also the author of
    T.S. Eliot as Editor and _A walk through the yellow pages (1987), a
    poetry chapbook.  The Rebel's Silhouette (1991) consists of poems
    translated from the Urdu of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

    Ali's poems seem to be whispered to himself, and to read them is as if to
    overhear.  ...

    Though Ali has made exile his permanent condition, it is not what he
    writes about.  Exile offers him unconfined and unpeopled space into
    which, one at a time, he introduces human figures...

    The language is always urbane, with individual lines and stanzas seldom
    calling attention to themselves.  If anything, they tend to keep out of
    sight, making memorability a characteristic of the whole poem - each like
    a length of Dacca gauze -- rather than its separate parts.

       Poems: Even the Rain
      	I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror
		The Wolf's Postcript to 'Little Red Riding Hood
Translations: You Tell Us What to Do
  		Bangladesh II
		Before You Came by  [all by Faiz Ahmed Faiz]

poetry magazine
biography + poems : At the Museum
  		      Ghazal (I'll do what I must),
		      Of Light
		      Prayer Rug

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2012 Dec 03