Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book 93, Kashmir: "The Country Without a Post Office" by Agha Shahid Ali

News flash: I am sick. I've got one of those fevers that makes me feel hot and cold at the same time and I'm not getting anything productive done (updating this blog does not count as being productive). What makes this all the more ridiculous is that this is part of a cockamamie scheme I had to do non-UN-recognised states: Kashmir, Tibet, Palestine, Hong Kong, Macau, all in the hopes of pissing off some of my Indian and Chinese friends.

Plus, you've noticed that I decided not to do Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown, didn't cha? I actually made that decision fairly early: I wanted someone genuinely Kashmiri, hell, and a highly praised Kashmiri-American emigré poet was just what the doctor ordered.

And seriously, Shahid is awesome. I picked up his posthumous book of ghazals, Call Me Ishmael Tonight, and I fell in love - then I realised this was a patchwork collection snatched from various bodies of work he'd published before. Didn't feel quite right.

So I pulled Rooms Are Never Finished off the shelves: a work mourning his mother, recording his journey from Amherst, Massachusetts to Srinagar to deliver her body for burial. Surprise, surprise: I did not like this one as much: way too many abstractions and allegories, real tragedy subsumed in Zainab's mourning over the martyrdom of Imam Husain and Radha crying out to the Dark Lord. Didn't help that Shahid had a penchant for extremely long poems, written in sections composed of prose poetry or terza rima or sapphics; only the ghazals and villanelles were a a breath of fresh air in between.

So I reserved The Country Without a Post Office from the repository used collection, and hallelujah, the anguish is way more direct and unfiltered: these pieces are written from 1991 to 1995, reflecting on the crazy bloodshed of that era. Thassa right: I combed through four books while enduring illness just for this bloody blog post.

Don't actually feel like analysing it now. Just wanna sleep.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote:


The only language of loss left in the world is Arabic -
These words were said to me in a language not Arabic.

Ancestors, you've left me a plot in the family graveyard -
Why must I look, in your eyes, for prayers in Arabic?

Majnoon, his clothes ripped, still weeps for Laila.
O, this is the madness of the desert, his crazy Arabic.

Who listens to Ishmael? Even now he cries out:
Abraham, throw away your knives, recite a psalm in Arabic.

From exile Mahmoud Darwish write to the world:
You'll all pass between the fleeting words of Arabic.

The sky is stunned, it's become a ceiling of stone.
I tell you it must weep. So kneel, pray for rain in Arabic.

At an exhibition of miniatures, such delicate calligraphy:
Kashmiri paisleys tied into the golden hair of Arabic!

The Koran prophesied a fire of men and stones.
Well, it's all now come true, as it was said in the Arabic.

When Lorca died, they left the balconies open and saw:
his qasidas braided, on the horizon, into knots of Arabic.

Memory is no longer confused, it has a homeland -
Says Shammas: Territorialize each confusion in a graceful Arabic.

Where there were homes in Deir Yassein, you'll see dense forests -
That village was razed. There's no sign of Arabic.

I too, O Amichai, saw the dresses of beauitful women.
And everything else, just like you, in Death, Hebrew, and Arabic.

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

Next book: "The Tibetan Book of the Dead", from Tibet.

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