English CBSE Class 11 NCERT Snapshot Chapter 6 The Ghat of the Only World – Line by Line Explanation and Meaning of Difficult Words
THE GHAT OF THE ONLY WORLD – Explanation
THE first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his approaching death was on 25 April 2001. The conversation began routinely.
|Approaching||Nearing, Coming soon|
On 25th April 2001, Agha Shahid Khan had spoken to me that he might die soon. It was for the first time that he had spoken about his death. It was a general discussion.
I had telephoned to remind him that we had been invited to a friend’s house for lunch and that I was going to come by his apartment to pick him up.
I had made a call to him to remind that we were to go to friend’s house for lunch. I told him that I would pick him up from his flat.
Although he had been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months,Shahid was still on his feet and perfectly lucid, except for occasional lapses of memory.
|Still standing on his feet||Remained fit|
|Lucid||Sharp, One who can think clearly|
He was taking treatment for cancer since last fourteen months. In spite of that Shahid was fit and could think clearly. Though sometimes he used to lose his memory.
I heard him thumbing through his engagement book and then suddenly he said: ‘ Oh dear. I can’t see a thing.’ There was a brief pause and then he added:‘I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying…’
|Thumbing through||Turning pages|
|Engagement book||Daily work diary, Book of appointment|
Once while turning pages of his diary of works, he suddenly said that he could not see anything. Then he stopped for some time. Then he said that he hoped he was not about to die.
Although Shahid and I had talked a great deal over the last many weeks, I had never before heard him touch on the subject of death.
|Talked a great deal||Talked a lot|
|Touched on the subject of death||Talked about death|
Shahid and I had talked a lot during last weeks. But he had not talked about death earlier.
I did not know how to respond: his voice was completely at odds with the content of what he had just said,light to the point of jocularity. I mumbled something innocuous:‘No Shahid — of course not. You’ll be fine.’
|Completely at odds||Totally opposite|
|Light to the point of jocularity||Something said as joke or not seriously|
|Mumbled||Whispered, Told in low voice|
I did not know how to give a reply. He had not said it seriously though he was talking about a serious aspect. Innocently I told him in low voice that he will certainly not die. Everything will be OK.
He cut me short. In a tone of voice that was at once quizzical and direct, he said:‘When it happens I hope you’ll write something about me.’
|Cut me short||Started speaking before I had stopped speaking|
He started speaking before I had stopped speaking. His voice was full of a puzzle. He had felt some problem. He directly asked me to write something about him after his death.
I was shocked into silence and a long moment passed before I could bring myself to say the things that people say on such occasions. ‘Shahid you’ll be fine; you have to be strong…’
|Bring myself to say||Had the courage to speak|
I was shocked and remained silent for a long time. Gradually I had the courage to say something which people say on such occasions. I told Shahid that he will be fine and he needed to be strong.
From the window of my study I could see a corner of the building in which he lived, some eight blocks away. It was just a few months since he moved there: he had been living a few miles away, in Manhattan, when he had a sudden blackout in February 2000.
|Blackout||To become unconscious|
From window of my study room, I could see a corner of the building in which he lived. That building was eight house away from my house. Only a few months ago he had shifted in that building. Earlier he was living in Manhattan which is a few mile away for this place. He had suddenly become sick in February 2000. He had become unconscious.
After tests revealed that he had a malignant brain tumour, he decided to move to Brooklyn, to be close to his youngest sister, Sameetah, who teaches at the Pratt Institute—a few blocks away from the street where I live.
|Malignant tumour||Tumour of cancer|
Through test it was disclosed that he had cancer tumour in brain. Then he decided to shift to Brooklyn to live with his younger sister. His sister was a teacher at Pratt Institute. It was a few buildings away from the street on which my house was situated.
Shahid ignored my reassurances. He began to laugh and it was then that I realised that he was dead serious.
|Reassurances||Comforting, Consolation, Solace|
|Dead serious||Very serious|
Shahid neglected my advice of consolation. He started laughing. Then I understood that he was very serious about what he had said.
I understood that he was entrusting me with a quite specific charge: he wanted me to remember him not through the spoken recitatives of memory and friendship, but through the written word.
I understood that he was giving a specific responsibility to me to do a work. He did not want me to remember him through dialogues between friends or in my memory. He wanted me to write about him so that people remembered him.
Shahid knew all too well that for those writers for whom things become real only in the process of writing, there is an inbuilt resistance to dealing with loss and bereavement.
|Resistance||Opposition, Not in favour of|
Shahid knew it very well that some writers want to write only about reality or factual situations. Such writers do not want to write about loss or sorrow.
He knew that my instincts would have led me to search for reasons to avoid writing about his death:I would have told myself that I was not a poet; that our friendship was of recent date; that there were many others who knew him much better and would be writing from greater understanding and knowledge.
|Instincts||Inner feelings, Natural habits|
He was aware that my natural habit would have guided me to give an excuse to not to write about his death. I would have told him that I was not a poet. I would have told him that we became friends only recently. Many other people know about him more that I know. Hence they will be able to write about him in a better manner.
All this Shahid had guessed and he had decided to shut off those routes while there was still time.
‘You must write about me.’
Shahid had thought about all such probable excuses. He had decided not to accept any excuses I could think of till this time. He again told me that I must write about him.
Clear though it was that this imperative would have to be acknowledged, I could think of nothing to say: what are the words in which one promises a friend that one will write about him after his death? Finally, I said: ‘Shahid, I will: I’ll do the best I can’.
It was clear to me that this order would have to be accepted. But I could not say anything. I could not find words to promise him that I would write about him after his death. Finally I told him that I would make my best effort.
By the end of the conversation I knew exactly what I had to do. I picked up my pen, noted the date, and wrote down everything I remembered of that conversation.
At the end of the discussion I knew exactly what I had to do. I picked up my pen and noted down all the details of discussion I could recall.
This I continued to do for the next few months: it is this record that has made it possible for me to fulfill the pledge I made that day.I knew Shahid’s work long before I met him.
I continued to write our discussions for next couple of months. Through this record of discussion I was able to fulfill the promise I had made to him on that day. I was aware about the writing of Shahid even before I had 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.
|Lyrical||Like a song, Poetic|
|Deeply inward||Thinking about self|
I was strongly impressed by his book ‘The Country Without a Post Office’. This was published in 1997. I had never heard a voice similar to his. Sometimes his voice was poetic and greatly disciplined. On some occasions his voice was impressive and he appeared to be talking with his innermost feelings.
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.’
|Mock-casual||Falsely normal, Artificially normal|
|Contemporary||Of this era, Belonging to present time|
|Bardic||Person who writes poems of warriors|
|Bardic register||A poetic style|
His voice did not look artificially normal similar to somebody reading a poem in the style of reading a prose. He was not ashamed to recite poem in a bardic register style. I could not even think of someone who could write – ‘Mad heart, be brave.’ Shahid was the only person who could speak and write in such fashion.
In 1998, I quoted a line from The Country Without a Post Office in an article that touched briefly on Kashmir. At the time all I knew about Shahid was that he was from Srinagar and had studied in Delhi.
|Touched briefly||Mentioned briefly, Mentioned few words|
In 1998 I gave a short reference from the book ‘The Country Without a Post Office’ in an article written by me. At that time I knew that Shahid was from Srinagar and had studied in Delhi. I did not know anything more about him.
I had been at Delhi University myself, but although our time there had briefly overlapped, we had never met. We had friends in common however, and one of them put me in touch with Shahid.
|Put me in touch||Introduced me|
I had also studied in Delhi. For a short time we both were simultaneously in Delhi. But we never met each other. Some of our friends were common to us. One such friend introduced me to Shahid.
In 1998 and 1999 we had several conversations on the phone and even met a couple of times. But we were no more than acquaintances until he moved to Brooklyn the next year.
|Acquaintances||Known but not friends,|
In 1998 and 1999 we had talked many times on phone. We had also met a few times. Though we knew each other, we were not friends. We became friends after he had moved to Brooklyn next year.
Once we were in the same neighbourhood, we began to meet for occasional meals and quickly discovered that we had a great deal in common. By this time of course Shahid’s condition was already serious, yet his illness did not impede the progress of our friendship.
|Impede||Hinder, Prevent, Obstruct|
After becoming neighbour we occasionally started having our food together. Soon we found out that we had many things in common. By this time Shahid was seriously ill. But his sickness did not prevent our friendship from growing.
We found that we had a huge roster of common friends, in India, America, and elsewhere; we discovered a shared love of rogan josh, Roshanara Begum and Kishore Kumar; a mutual indifference to cricket and an equal attachment to old Bombay films.
We found that we had several common friends living in America, India and at other places. We found that we both liked to eat rogan josh. We liked to listen to songs of Roshanara Begum and Kishore Kumar. We did not like cricket. We both liked old Hindi movies.
Because of Shahid’s condition even the most trivial exchanges had a special charge and urgency: the inescapable poignance of talking about food and half-forgotten figures from the past with a man who knew himself to be dying, was multiplied, in this instance, by the knowledge that this man was also a poet who had achieved greatness—perhaps the only such that I shall ever know as a friend.
|Trivial||Very small, Minute|
|In this instance||In this case, In this situation|
Condition of Shahid was really serious. So even the smallest discussion was important and urgent. The discussion with Shahid about food and people who were almost forgotten should have been avoided because he was dying. This sorrow or pain increased a lot because Shahid was a poet. He had achieved a greatness that only I could realise as friend. Shahid was probably not talking to anybody else.
One afternoon, the writer Suketu Mehta, who also lives in Brooklyn, joined us for lunch. Together we hatched a plan for an adda—by definition, a gathering that has no agenda, other than conviviality.
|Adda||A meeting place|
A writer Suketu Mehta also used to live in Brooklyn. One afternoon we all had lunch together. We planned to create a meeting place. The meetings will not have any agenda. It will be a meeting for social gathering and for fun.
Shahid was enthusiastic and we began to meet regularly. From time to time other writers would join us.On one occasion a crew arrived with a television camera. Shahid was not in the least bit put out: ‘I’m so shameless; I just love the camera.’
|In the least bit||Not at all|
Shahid was very keen about these meetings and we started meeting regularly. Other writers used to join us occasionally. Once a team from television with camera reached our meeting place. Shahid was not at all upset. Without any hesitation he accepted that he liked being photographed.
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.
|Mundane||Worldly, Pertaining to this world|
Shahid was capable of changing the aspects of this world into some form of magic. Once I had gone with his brother Iqbal and her sister Hena to the hospital. We had gone there to bring Shahid from hospital to home.
This was on 21 May: 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.
The date was 21st May. Before this date several operations on him were unsuccessful. We had once again gone to the hospital for one more surgery. This was planned to reduce 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.
|Escort||Helper, Person who accompanies|
All the hair from his head were removed. The shape of the tumour was now clearly visible on his naked head. We could also see stiches around the tumour. At the time of leaving the hospital ward, a person from hospital came with wheelchair. He was wearing blue uniform.
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.
Shahid signaled the person to go away. He declared that he was quite strong and he would walk out of the hospital without any help. But he was weaker than he had imagined. His knees bent after a few steps. He was about to fall down.
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.
Iqbal ran to bring a wheel chair. We all were standing in the corridor. We were holding Shahid so that he did not fall on the ground. Shahid had taken support of the wall. At that moment a happiness came to 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’.
|Beaming smile||A broad smile|
|Lorca||A poet of Spain|
When peon of the hospital came back with wheel chair, Shahid gave him a broad smile. Shahid asked from he was. He replied that he belonged to the country Ecuador. Shahid happily clapped and loudly said that he wanted to learn Spanish language. He wanted to read works of Lorca.
Shahid’s gregariousness had no limit: there was never an evening when there wasn’t a party in his living room. ‘I love it that so many people are here,’ he told me once.
|Gregariousness||Habit of being with people, Sociability|
Shahid liked to be among people. He was very social person. Every evening there was a party in his living room. He once told me that he liked very much when people were in his house.
‘I love it that people come and there’s always food. I love this spirit of festivity; it means that I don’t have time to be depressed.’
I like it when people come to my house and I have food for them. I like the feeling of celebrations. This ensures that I do not become sad.
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.
|Spacious||Big, having lot of space|
|Cavernous||Huge, Very big|
His flat was big. It had floors at many levels in it. It was on the seventh floor of a reconditioned building. The top floor had a very big study room. The terrace was very wide. One could see a beautiful view of sky of Manhattan city across both banks of 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.
|Waterfront||Area near a waterbody|
Shahid liked the view of the Brooklyn city along the water bodies. It looked like a ghat on the East River under the shining lights of Manhattan.
The journey from the foyer of Shahid’s building 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 that were always echoing out of his apartment, even the ringing of the doorbell had an oddly musical sound.
|Oddly||Different, Special, Weird|
Distance from the entrance of his house to the door of the building was very long. Author has equated this to travel between two continents of the world. While going to the building the sweet smell of organ josh and haak dishes would travel upto the dull and grey coloured interiors of the lift. Sound of songs and other voices used to always come from his apartment. The sound of the bell of his apartment was different and sounded musical.
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 Mos-lem!’
|Flinging open||Open with a jerk|
|Frosty||Very cold, As cold as frost|
Suddenly Shahid would open the door of his flat with a jerk. Smell of heeng would come from his house into the cold air of New York. He would clap and welcome me into his house.
Invariably, there’d be some halfdozen 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.
|Invariably||Always, without any variation|
|Perpetual||Permanent, occurring everyday|
Inside his house, six or more people would always be present. They were students, writers or relatives. In the kitchen someone would be either cooking or making tea. He was slowly dying because of his death. But till the end of his life, there used to be a gathering of people in his house. They laughed, discussed, had food and listened & recited poetry.
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.’
|Distracted||Divert the attention|
|Loose the track of||To become unaware of|
Though there used to be many people in his house, he never diverted his attention from cooking of dinner. From time to time, he would stop his discussion with his guests to give instructions for cooking, It could even be an advise to add curd.
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!’
|Eyesight was falling||Eyesight was getting weak|
When his eyesight became week, he used to judge cooking from its fragrance. If the fragrance was good he would exclaim, ‘What a fragrance the food has.’
Shahid was legendary for his prowess in the kitchen,frequently spending days over the planning and preparation ofa dinner party.
|Legendary||Great personality, Expert|
Shahid had a great expertise about cooking. Meaning that he had vast knowledge about cooking. Many times he used to spend several days in 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: it was after this encounter that he began to experiment with strict, metrical patterns and verse forms.
|Metrical patterns||A style of poetry|
In one of such parties at Arizona, Shahid met a poet James Merrill. After this meeting Shahid completely changed his style of poetry. Now he adopted the metrical patters and verse form of poetry.
No one had a greater influence on Shahid’s poetry than James Merrill: indeed, in the poem in which he most explicitly prefigured his own death, ‘I Dream I Am At the Ghat of the Only World,’ he awarded the envoy to Merrill: ‘SHAHID, HUSH. THIS IS ME, JAMES. THE LOVED ONE ALWAYS LEAVES.’
|Envoy||Messenger, Delegate, Ambassador|
James Merrill had the highest influence on Shahid’s poetry. In one of the poems, Shahid had imagined about his death. In that poem James Merrill was a messenger who talked to him about death. In that poem James conveyed the message that good people always leave this world.
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’.
|Placed great store||Emphasized, Had a firm belief|
|Had pity||To show sympathy or mercy|
Shahid firmly believed in adopting correct methods for cooking and then accurately following these. He did not accept any deviation from traditional recipes. He showed mercy at those people who did not follow this approach. He had a special attachment to food of his region. He called it ‘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.
I once asked him the reason for his passion about this style of food. He said that he had repeatedly seen the dream that all Pandits had disappeared from Kashmir. They stopped living in Kashmir.
This was a nightmare that haunted him and he returned to it again and again, in his conversation and his poetry.
|Haunted him||Troubled him|
This was a fear to him and it troubled him again and again. Many times he talked about it and even wrote poetry about it. One of his such poetry is indicated below –
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 . . .
Shahid is talking about Pandits of Kashmir. At certain point of time I became unaware about you. That time you needed me. You wanted me to protect you. But I did not support you so you thought I was your enemy. I can very well remember that you used to live with us. But I lost your faith. I am your enemy. I very well remember that you used to live with me.
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 nothing to forgive. You won’t forgive me.
If only somehow you could have been mine, what would not have been possible in the world?
I have not done anything good for you, so you will not forgive me. I was sad because you were in trouble. But I did not disclose my pain to you. The pain was within me. If we were living together as friends, we could have achieved everything in this world.
Once, in conversation, he told me that he also loved Bengali food. I protested, ‘But Shahid, you’ve never even been to Calcutta’.
Once Shahid told me that he loved Bengali food. I objected and told him that he had never been to Calcutta. Nowadays Calcutta is known as Kolkata.
‘No,’ he said. ‘But we had friends who used to bring us that food. When you ate it you could see that there were so many things that you didn’t know about, everywhere in the country…’
Shahid replied that he had never been to Kolkata. But he had some friends who used to bring Bengali food. When I ate that food, I understood many things that were not known across the country.
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.’
|Cuisine||Type of cooking food|
|Make a space||Create a situation|
This is why Shahid used to tell that we should be happy with style of cooking and style of clothes and other wonderful things. He stopped for a while and again spoke. He said that here we have created a situation so that we all can be together as we talk about good things.
Of the many ‘good things’ in which he took pleasure, none was more dear to him than the music of Begum Akhtar. He had met the great ghazal singer when he was in his teens,through a friend, and she had become an abiding presence and influence in his life.
One of the many good things that he liked was music of Begum Akhtar. He had met this great ghazal singer when we was a boy. A friend had introduced him to her. Her music was a necessary part in his life. He was influenced by her music.
Shahid had a fund of stories about her sharpness in repartee. Shahid was himself no mean practitioner 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.
|Repartee||Talks full of satire, Witty talks, Banter|
|To board a plane||To get into an aeroplane|
Shahid knew many stories about her talks that were full of satire. Shahid himself could talk wittily. Once famous incident had occurred at the airport of Barcelona. A security guard stopped him while he was about to get into an aeroplane.
The guard,a woman, asked: ‘What do you do?’
‘I’m a poet,’ Shahid answered.
‘What were you doing in Spain?’
The guard was a woman. She asked him what was his profession. Shahid replied that he was a poet. The guard asked him what did he do in Spain. Shahid said he writes 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.’
Whatever be the question, Shahid answered in his poetic style. At last the woman guard got irritated. She asked if he was carrying anything dangerous for other passengers. Shahid touched his chest with his palm and said he was carrying his heart.
This was one of his great Wildean moments, and it was to occasion the poem ‘Barcelona Airport’. He treasured these moments: ‘I long for people to give me an opportunity to answe rquestions’, he told me once.
|Wildean moments||Witty incidents|
This was his one of the best witty incident. He wrote the poem ‘Barcelona Airport’ on this incident. He remembered such moments. He once told me that he liked when people gave him an opportunity to answer questions.
On 7 May I had the good fortune to be with him when one such opportunity presented itself. Shahid was teaching at Manhattan’s Baruch College in the Spring semester of 2000 and this was to be his last class — indeed the last he was ever to teach.
On 7th May 2000 I was with him when one such opportunity came. That day Shahid was teaching at the Baruch College at Manhattan during semester of spring season. This was to be his class of the semester. Eventually it turned out be last class of his life.
The class was to be a short one for he had an appointment at the hospital immediately afterwards. I had heard a great deal about the brilliance of Shahid’s teaching,but this was the first and only time that I was to see him perform in a classroom.
This class was scheduled for a short duration because he had to go to the hospital after the class. I had heard a lot about fantastic method of teaching of Shahid. But this was the first and the last class I had witnessed his teaching.
It was evident from the moment we walked in that the students adored him: they had printed a magazine and dedicated the issue to him. Shahid for his part was not in the least subdued by the sadness of the occasion.
|Adored||Liked too much|
|Not in the least||Not at all|
|Subdued||Depressed, Dejected, Sad|
The moment I entered the class I understood that students liked Shahid too much. They had printed a magazine and it was dedicated to him. Shahid was not at all depressed that it was his last class.
From beginning to end, he was a sparkling diva, Akhtar incarnate, brimming with laughter and nakhra. When an Indian student walked in late he greeted her with the cry; ‘Ah my little subcontinental has arrived.’
|Diva||A famous person|
|Incarnate||Taking another form|
From the start to the end of the class he looked like a famous person, a shining star who was full of laughter and ‘nakhra’. An Indian student arrived late in the class. He said that a person from my subcontinent has arrived.
Clasping his hands, he feigned a swoon. ‘It stirs such a tide of patriotism in me to behold another South Asian.’
|Behold||See, Observe, View|
He joined his hands and pretended to show affection to her. He said that he had the feeling of patriotism whenever he saw a person from South Asia.
His time at Penn State he remembered with unmitigated pleasure: ‘I grew as a reader, I grew as a poet, I grew as a lover.’He fell in with a vibrant group of graduate students, many of whom were Indian. This was, he often said, the happiest time of his life.
He recalls that his stay at Penn State was full of happiness. There he grew as a reader, poet and a lover. there he liked company of many energetic students . Many students were from India. Shahid used to often say that it was the happiest time of his life.
Later Shahid moved to Arizona to take a degree in creative writing. This in turn was followed by a series of jobs in colleges and universities: Hamilton College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and finally, the University of Utahin Salt Lake City, where he was appointed professor in 1999.
After sometime Shahid shifted to Arizona. He wanted to take a degree in creative writing. He did job in various colleges and universities. Finally he was appointed a professor in University of Utah in Salt lake in 1999.
He was on leave from Utah, doing a brief stint at New York University,when he had his first blackout in February 2000.
He had taken a leave for some time from Utah University to do job at New York University. During this period he had the first attack of unconsciousness in February 2000.
After 1975, when he moved to Pennsylvania, Shahid lived mainly in America. His brother was already there and they were later joined by their two sisters.
In 1975, Shahid had shifted to Pennsylvania. Since then he lived in America most of the time. His brother had already shifted to America and later his two sisters also came there.
But Shahid’s parents continued to live in Srinagar and it was his custom to spend the summer months with them there every year: ‘I always move in my heart between sad countries.’
But parents of Shahid lived in Srinagar. It was his routine to go to Srinagar during summer month of every year. He used to say that he used to always think about poor countries.
Travelling between the United States and India he was thus an intermittent but first-hand witness(sháhid) to the mounting violence that seized the region from the late 1980s onwards:
|Mounting violence||Increasing violence|
Since he used to go to Srinagar, he was an irregular but a direct witness of the increasing violence in that region. The violence had increased after 1980.
It was ’89, the stones were not far, signs of change everywhere(Kashmir would soon be in literal flames)…
In 1989 signs of change started becoming very clear. Kashmir would soon be practically burning.
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 political situation in Kashmir continuously worsened. The violence and measure to control violence both increased. These had a great effect on Shahid. After some time the situation of Kashmir became the main theme of his poetry. In fact he wrote his best poems about Kashmir.
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.’
But Shahid did not have any desire to become a poet who wrote about politics. Once he said that if anyone was from a place full of difficulties and that was the only topic to write then one should stop writing. One must respect art and culture of one’s own country. These are also as important as writing about that place.
Anguished as he was about Kashmir’s destiny, Shahid resolutely refused to embrace the role of victim that could so easily have been his. Had he done so, he could no doubt have easily become a fixture on talk shows and news programmes.
|Resolutely||With firm determination|
|Embrace||Accept, Take up|
Shahid was unhappy about the likely future situation of Kashmir. Shahid firmly refused to accept the role of a victim of situation of Kashmir though he could have easily done that. If had accepted such role, he could have been a regular person on talk shows and news channels.
But Shahid never had any doubt about his calling: he was a poet, schooled in the fierce and unforgiving art of language.Although respectful of religion, he remained a firm believer in the separation of politics and religious practice.
|His calling||His choice|
But Shahid was sure about his choice. He was a poet and he wanted to remain a poet. This field of language is strongly competitive and does not forgive any mistake. He had respect towards his religion. But he believed that religion and politics should be considered separately.
Shahid’s gaze was not political in the sense of being framed in terms of policy and solutions. In the broadest sense, his vision tended always towards the inclusive and ecumenical, an outlook that he credited to his upbringing.
|Ecumenical||Involving all religion|
|Upbringing||Education during childhood by parents|
Thoughts of Shahid were not political. Thus they could not be included in a policy nor could be a solution. In a wider perspectives, his thinking was to have an overall view and included all religions. He attributed such thoughts to the teachings and education he had received from his parents during his childhood.
He spoke often of a time in his childhood when he had been seized by the desire to create a small Hindu temple in his room in Srinagar. He was initially hesitant to tell his parents, but when he did they responded with an enthusiasm equal to his own.
Many times he narrated that during his childhood he wanted to construct a small Hindu temple in his room in Srinagar. Initially he hesitated to tell his parents. But when he told his parents about it, they also agreed for it. Their enthusiasm was equal to that of Shahid’s.
His mother bought him murtis and other accouterments and for a while he was assiduous in conducting pujas at this shrine. This was a favourite story. ‘Whenever people talk to me about Muslim fanaticism,’ he said to me once, ‘ I tell them how my mother helped me make a temple in my room.’
|Accouterments||Other things needed for an activity|
|Assiduous||Taking great care, Careful, Diligent|
His mother brought idols and other things required for a temple. For some time he was very careful in doing puja at his temple. This was his favourite story. Whenever people talked about extremism of Muslims, Shahid used to narrate this story. He used to tell that his mother had helped him in making a temple in his room.
I once remarked to Shahid that he was the closest that Kashmir had to a national poet. He shot back: ‘A national poet,maybe. But not a nationalist poet; please not that.’ In the title poem of The Country Without a Post Office, a poet returns to Kashmir to find the keeper of a fallen minaret:
|Shot back||Replied quickly|
|Nationalist||Person favouring his own nation or region|
I once told Shahid that he could become national poet of Kashmir. He replied that he wanted to be a national poet (poet of India) but he did not want to be poet of a part of Kashmir. In the main poem of his book ‘The Country Without a Post Office’ he has described a person who comes back to Kashmir. He becomes caretaker of a broken minaret.
‘Nothing will remain, everything’s finished,’I see his voice again: ‘This is a shrine of words. You’ll find your letters to me. And mine to you. Come son and tear open these vanished envelopes’…This is an archive. I’ve found the remains of his voice, that map of longings with no limit.
He had further narrated that nothing will survive, everything will be destroyed. These are the pious words. You will read what I am writing and I will read what you are writing. Oh my son, please come and open the envelops that contain our letters. This is an old poem of Shahid. I have read remaining part of this poem. Expressions in this poem are very nicely narrated.
In this figuring of his homeland, he himself became one of the images that were spinning around the dark point of stillness—both Sháhid and Shahid, witness and martyr—his destiny inextricably linked with Kashmir’s, each prefigured by the other.
|Prefigured||Be an early indication of something|
In this understanding of his homeland, he himself became a representative of the situation prevailing in Kashimr – a witness as well as a martyr. His destiny is linked with Kashmir as a witness and as a martyr. One does not know which role came first.
I will die, in autumn, in Kashmir,and the shadowed routine of each vein will almost be news, the blood censored,for the Saffron Sun and the Times of Rain…
The ‘Safron Sun’ and the ‘Times of Rain’ are two poems written by Shahid. In one of the poems he had expressed his desire to die in Kashmir.
Among my notes is a record of a telephone conversation on 5 May. The day before he had gone to the hospital for an important test: a scan that was expected to reveal whether or not the course of chemotherapy that he was then undergoing had had the desired effect. All other alternative therapies and courses of treatment had been put off until this report.
|Put off||Deferred, Postponed, Stopped|
I had recorded a telephonic discussion of 5th May in my notes. The previous day, on 4th May, he had gone to the hospital for getting a scan done. This report was expected to disclose the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Every other treatment had been stopped till receipt of this report.
The scan was scheduled for 2.30 in the afternoon. I called his number several times in the late afternoon and early evening—there was no response. I called again the next morning and this time he answered.
The scan was to start at 2:30 in the afternoon. I called his number many times in the late afternoon. I called him in the evening also. But he did not pick up the phone. I called him in the morning of next day. This time he answered my call.
There were no preambles.He said, ‘Listen Amitav, the news is not good at all. Basically they are going to stop all my medicines now—the chemotherapy and so on. They give me a year or less.
We did not have any preliminary talk. He directly informed about the scan. He said that the news was not good. They will stop all medicines including chemotherapy. They think I will die within one year.
They’d suspected that I was not responding well because of the way I look. They will give me some radiation a little later. But they said there was not much hope.’
Dazed, staring blankly at my desk, I said: ‘What will you do now Shahid?’
|Dazed||Surprised, Unable to think|
They have a doubt that medicines are not having desired effect on my body. After sometime they will give me radiation. But they do not hope that it will cause major improvement. I was not able to think anything. I just kept looking at my table. I asked Shahid what he will do now.
‘I would like to go back to Kashmir to die.’ His voice was quiet and untroubled. ‘Now I have to get my passport, settle my will and all that. I don’t want to leave a mess for my siblings.But after that I would like to go to Kashmir.
|Will||Legal document about one’s property|
|Leave a mess||Become trouble|
|Siblings||Brothers and sisters|
Shahid said that he wanted to go to Kashmir. He wanted to die there. He did not appear to be disturbed. I want to write my will and do other similar works. I do not want that my brothers or sisters should have any trouble after my death. After completing these works I want to go to Kashmir.
It’s still such a feudal system there and there will be so much support—and my father is there too. Anyway, I don’t want my siblings to have to make the journey afterwards, like we had to with my mother.’
|Feudal system||A system in which family is given priority|
Shahid said that even now people in Kashmir respect family bonding so lot of support is available. And his father also lived there. He did not want his brothers and sisters to travel to USA on his death. He had to travel to India when his mother had died.
Later, because of logistical and other reasons, he changed his mind about returning to Kashmir: he was content to be laid to rest in Northampton, in the vicinity of Amherst, a town sacred to the memory of his beloved Emily Dickinson.
|Logistics||Detailed arrangement about an event or travel|
|Laid to rest||Cremated|
|Vicinity||Close to, Near to|
Afterwards he changed his plan of going to Kashmir because a detailed plan could not be worked out. There could have been other reasons also. He was satisfied to be cremated in Northampton. It is a town close to Amherst. He considered Amherst a sacred town because another poet Emily Dickinson had lived there. Shahid admired her poetry too much.
But I do not think it was an accident that his mind turned to Kashmir in speaking of death. Already, in his poetic imagery, death, Kashmir,and Sháhid/Shahid had become so closely overlaid as to be inseparable, like old photographs that have melted together in the rain.
|Inseparable||That cannot be separated|
I do not think it was a matter of chance that Shahid started thinking about Kashmir when he was about to die. In one of his poems ‘death, Kashmir and Shahid’ always appeared together. It was just like an old photograph dissolved in rain. it was not possible to separate these three.
Following is a part of his poem –
Yes, I remember it,the day I’ll die, I broadcast the crimson,
so long ago of that sky, its spread air,its rushing dyes, and a piece of earth
bleeding, apart from the shore, as we went
on the day I’ll die, post the guards, and he,
keeper of the world’s last saffron, rowed me
on an island the size of a grave. On
two yards he rowed me into the sunset,
past all pain. On everyone’s lips was news
of my death but only that beloved couplet,
broken, on his:
‘If there is a paradise on earth
It is this, it is this, it is this.’
Shahid through above poem has picturized his death. His death will mean setting of sun. from this world he will be shifted to a grave that is about two yard long. People will be talking about my death. But I will remember the famous lines about Kashmir – If there is a paradise on earth it is in Kashmir .
The last time I saw Shahid was on 27 October, at his brother’s house in Amherst. He was intermittently able to converse and there were moments when we talked just as we had in the past.
I met Shahid for the last time on 27th October. We met at the house of his brother in Amherst. He was not able to talk continuously. Most of the time we repeated the discussion we had already had in the past.
He was aware, as he had long been, of his approaching end and he had made his peace with it. I saw no trace of anguish or conflict: surrounded by the love of his family and friends, he was calm, contented, at peace.
Since a long time he knew that his death would be coming soon. He had understood this fact. There was no sign of pain or discord in him. His family and friends were with him. He looked calm, satisfied and peaceful person.
He had said to me once, ‘I love to think that I’ll meet my mother in the afterlife, if there is an afterlife.’ 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 8 December.
He liked to think that after his death he would be meeting his mother, somewhere in the other world. I realised that during his last days of his life, he was quite satisfied. On 8th December at 2 AM he peacefully died in his sleep.
Now, in his absence, I am amazed that so brief a friendship has resulted in so vast a void. Often, when I walk into my living room, I remember his presence there, particularly on the night when he read us his farewell to the world: ‘I Dream I Am At the Ghat of the Only World…’
Now he is no more with us. It is a matter of surprise that such a short friendship has created such a big emptiness within me. Many times I recall his presence in my living room. I particularly remember the night when he had read a poem about his departure from this world.