Agha Shahid Ali’s Delhi Years

Akhil Katyal in Kafila:

ScreenHunter_06 Sep. 18 18.54 Born on 4th February, 1949, Agha Shahid Ali would have been 62 next month. The Kashmiri-American poet who spent the last half of his life in the States (he migrated to Pennsylvania in the mid 70s) died in the winter of 2001 due to brain tumour. The next year had begun with papers and journals in the States, and in Kashmir and India, remembering Shahid. ‘Your death in every paper,’ Shahid had written for his own idol the singer Begum Akhtar after she passed away in 1974, ‘boxed in the black and white / of photographs, obituaries.’ In his new absence, he similarly reappeared in the words of his friends as an insurmountably beautiful poet, a gregarious Brooklyner, a near perfect cook, an impossibly good teacher and a lasting friend. Apocrypha started building around him very soon after his death. One could say this was the final proof that Shahid’s name would abide – that stories began to be spun around him as soon as he was not around. The Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie, Shahid’s creative writing student at Hamilton College in New York and then at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in the 90’s, and someone who always recounts his indelible influence on her writings (he coloured her drafts red), was one of the first to add to the stories that have multiplied since in this decade after Shahid’s death. Kamila’s friend, also a student of Shahid, had told her that some months after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, Shahid was riding the subway going to teach his class at NYU when he started to feel faint and began to black out. ‘For a moment,’ her friend told her, ‘he thought, “I’m dying,” and then he told himself, “No. First I’ll teach my class, then I’ll die.”’

More here. [Thanks to Feisal H. Naqvi.]

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