Agha Shahid Ali, the pride of Kashmir, died on this day – 16 years ago.
Agha Shahid is much more than Kashmir’s most beloved poet. He was probably one of the well known poets in India and penned the history of the valley in verse. His poetry exuded – even oozed – a sense of pain, understandable and acutely felt only by a Kashmiri.
Born on February 4, 1949 in Srinagar to an illustrious family of educationists, Agha Shahid Ali hinted at his genius from an early age. Burn Hall School remembers him as its most preeminent alumnus, who later went on to study at the University of Kashmir as well as in Delhi University.
In Delhi circles, Shahid has never gone out of fashion. It did not take him much time to be a pin-up boy in the poetic and the academic milieu of the city. Something of a star among his peers and professors alike, Ali is fondly remembered by poets like Rupendra Guha Majumdar in interviews and mehfils even today.
Only of his earliest influences would remain Begum Akhtar’s music. As a young boy, he was an avid admirer of Akhtar’s singing, and particularly fond of the pain and the pangs in it. Her style would go on to leave a lifelong impact on his style of composing poems.
He soon moved to the US to do his PhD in English Literature from Penn State University, followed by an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. Ali continued his stay in America, and not only wrote and translated innumerable poems, but also spent his entire life teaching university students how to write.
Agha Shahid Ali died young. After a protracted period of illness due to brain cancer, Shahid breathed his last on December 8, 2001. “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,” wrote Amitav Ghosh in a heart-rending obituary to this Kashmiri heartthrob, shortly after his death.
Here’s remembering a few unforgettable lines from his poem, “Postcard from Kashmir”:
“This is home. And this the closest
I’ll ever be to home. When I return,
the colors won’t be so brilliant,
the Jhelum’s waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My love
Here is our tribute to the genius that was Agha Shahid Ali.