Kashmiri Poetry before Beginnings and Endings
Even though Agha Shahid Ali did not write in Kashmiri, his poetry is perhaps the closest we can get to looking at Kashmiri in a mirror, from the outside…reflected back from the mirrors of Urdu and English. Ali is clearly one of the best of Kashmiri poets…and Kashmiri enters his language elliptically, almost without an announcement. Here is a ghazal and a poem by Agha Shahid Ali:
BY AGHA SHAHID ALI
Feel the patient’s heart
Pounding—oh please, this once—
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)
BY AGHA SHAHID ALI
between the day’s
five calls to prayer
the women of the house
pulling thick threads
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
with minarets of gold
but then the sunset
call to prayer
their straw mats unrolled
praying or in the garden
in summer on grass
the children wanting
the prayers to end
the women’s foreheads
silk stone of sacrifice
black stone descended
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)