Welcome to the fourth poem of the month!
This month we celebrate the birth anniversary of Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali. He was born on 4th February in 1949. He would have turned 71 this year.
In his poems, he gives voice to his sense of self exile and homelessness. Ali immigrated to the US for this studies and continued to stay there. His poetry also depicts his nostalgic view of his homeland, Kashmir. Later on his poems, particularly the one in his collection, The Country Without a Post Office, dealt with the growth of terrorism in the state and its effects on the communities of the region.
I picked the poem below because this was the first poem I had read written by him. I still vividly remember one of my English professors reciting the first stanza in class and how I was struck by the simplicity of the metaphor.
Postcard from Kashmir
Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a neat four by six inches.
I always loved neatness. Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.
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
And my memory will be a little
out of focus, in it
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.
The opening couplet so succinctly and beautifully conveys different facets of nostalgia and memory. It portrays the idealistic image of Kashmir that a postcard would capture. The poem conveys Ali’s own distance from his homeland and how Kashmir’s depiction in a postcard mirrors his own nostalgic and rosy view of the valley.
Nostalgia is a cruel thing in a way. It forces you to ache for something that is not there anymore. A postcard captures exactly that: a place frozen in time, neatly ensconced within 4 x 6 inches.