File spoon-archives/postcolonial.archive/postcolonial_2001/postcolonial.0112, message 65

Subject: Re: Agha Shahid Ali, poet, passes away
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 13:15:40 -0700

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From: "satish kolluri" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2001 7:32 AM
Subject: Agha Shahid Ali, poet, passes away

> One of America's best-known poets and a friend of many SAJAers (South
> journalist Association), AGHA SHAHID ALI passed away on Saturday morning.
> last month, his latest book of poetry was a finalist for the National Book
> Award.
> As many of you know, Shahid was scheduled to teach the long-form writing
> workshop with author Amitav Ghosh at the SAJA Convention in NY last June
> (even though he was ill, he was determined to keep his commitment - but,
> sadly, was unable to join us).
> Below you will find several items about Shahid.
> 1. An obit by fellow poet and SAJAer JEET THAYIL from
> 2. A tribute by author and former SAJA speaker KAMILA SHAMSIE.
> More on Kamila:
> 3. A tribute by writer Rukun Advani.
> The last two items are from a growing Shahid section at
> Below you will also find information about prelim plans to honor Shahid's
> memory.
> {}
> Dec. 9, 2001
> 'Kashmiri-American' poet Agha Shahid Ali passes away
> By Jeet Thayil in New York
> The distinguished Kashmir-born American poet Agha Shahid Ali, whose most
> recent book of poems Rooms Are Never Finished (WW Norton) was a finalist
> for the 2001 National Book Awards, passed away in the early hours of
> December 8.
> Shahid, as his numerous acquaintances knew him, died at home surrounded by
> friends and family. He had been in a coma for two weeks, following a long
> battle against brain cancer, said nursing staff.
> "His death was very peaceful," said Nurse Patricia Bruno. "He died at home
> and there were a lot of people around him, a lot of family."
> Nurse Bruno was the weekend on-call supervisor at VNA Hospice during the
> time of Shahid's death. She saw him at around 10 pm on December 7 and then
> again at 2.30 am, when she pronounced him dead.
> His funeral is scheduled to be held on December 10 in Northampton,
> Massachusetts.
> Shahid's family requested that no flowers be sent to the funeral home.
> Instead they asked that contributions be made out to the Visiting Nurses
> Association Hospice Alliance of Hampshire County.
> Born in New Delhi on February 4, 1949, Shahid grew up in Kashmir. He was
> educated at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, and later at Delhi
> University.
> He considered himself "a triple exile" from Kashmir, India and the United
> States, but he described himself as a "Kashmiri-American."
> He earned a Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1984
> and an MFA from the University of Arizona in 1985.
> He was the author of seven collections of poetry, The Country Without a
> Post Office (1997), The Beloved Witness: Selected Poems (1992), A
> Nostalgist's Map of America (1991), A Walk Through the Yellow Pages
> (1987), The Half-Inch Himalayas (1987), In Memory of Begum Akhtar and
> Other Poems (1979) and Bone Sculpture (1972).
> He edited Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English, translated a
> selection of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poems, The Rebel's Silhouette: Selected
> Poems, and wrote a critical study, T S Eliot as Editor.
> Shahid received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, The
> Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and
> the Ingram-Merrill Foundation and was awarded a Pushcart Prize.
> He held teaching positions at Delhi University, Penn State, SUNY
> Binghampton, Princeton University, Hamilton College, Baruch College, the
> University of Utah and Warren Wilson College.
> New York University announced it would establish an annual reading in his
> name.
> o o o o o
> Dec. 9, 2001
> "Mad heart, be brave"
> Poet par excellence, Agha Shahid Ali passed away fighting brain cancer in
> the early hours of December 8, 2001, in Amherst. He touched everyone he
> met with his unique flamboyance and gift for living. That memory of him
> dominates.
> An erstwhile student, Kamila Shamsie - author of A City By the Sea, Salt
> and Saffron and a third forthcoming novel, Kartography - remembers
> I keep thinking of those lines of his:
> 'I want to live forever. What else can I say?
> It rains as I write this. Mad heart, be brave.'
> That's only one of the many - he wrote all the lines I think of when I
> think of grief. And yet he was the most joyful person I knew - not because
> he was filled with joy at every moment, but because his presence, his
> company, the mere thought of him was enough - is still enough, even as I'm
> crying - to make me feel so blessed to have him as a friend.
> There are so many guises in which I knew him over the 10 years since I
> first found him - it seemed like some miracle - in the middle of the
> snowbelt of upstate New York when I first left Karachi as a student. He
> was poet, teacher, friend and always, unmistakably, Shahid. It should be
> an adjective - 'Shahidian'. Anyone who's ever met him will know exactly
> what it means. There's so much to be said about him. But all I can do
> right now is conjure up just a handful of the many unforgettable memories
> with which he left me when he was being his most irrepressible.
> Shahid being both tough and utterly charming in criticizing a student's
> poem: 'This line should be put against a wall and shot.'
> Shahid showing that all poets don't have to sigh in Wordsworthian fashion
> at the mention of a tree: 'I hate Nature' (which he pronounced 'Nay-cha'
> for added effect.)
> Shahid inviting Americans over for dinner where the food would be hot: 'I
> want to burn your Anglo-Saxon tongues.'
> Shahid explaining to a room full of Americans the origin of one of his
> poems: 'It was my first Christmas in America and no one had invited me for
> turkey. So I stayed at home, wrote this poem, and cursed Christians.
> Shahid in the mood to dance at a friend's house where Ella Fitzgerald was
> playing in the background: 'Don't you have Donna Summers? Don't you at
> least have the BeeGees?'
> Shahid on the phone to a woman doing a survey for a car company,
> responding to her question about why he chose to buy a Nissan Stanza:
> 'Because I'm a poet.'
> Shahid to a student who wanted his grade changed: 'I'll raise your grade
> if you sing Achey Breaky Heart.'
> I remember him telling me how he was in a Shakespeare class in graduate
> school and people were supposed to give 20 minute presentations during
> each class. A woman stood up to do a presentation on King Lear, and went
> the whole 3 hours, in very dull fashion. At some point it stopped being
> boring and started being very funny, but somehow Shahid kept a relatively
> straight face. The next time the class convened, the woman stood up at the
> beginning and said, 'There were a few things I couldn't mention last time
> which I'll finish up now' and Shahid ran out of the room, into the men's
> room, and laughed uncontrollably for a very long time. When he finally
> stopped and returned to the class, one of his friends leaned over and
> said, 'Shahid, everyone could hear you.'
> I can still hear him - the most infectious laugh in the world.
> With love,
> (I can hear Shahid expressing outrage if I tried to end this with anything
> as formal as 'warm regards' - 'Darling,' he'd say! 'How English! How warm
> can regards be?' Then he'd pause and add, 'Why not hot regards?' with a
> suggestive emphasis on 'hot' and then he'd laugh that irrepressible laugh
> of his)
> - Kamila Shamsie
> o o o o o
> Agha Shahid Ali: A Few Memories
> By Rukun Advani
> "Right now I can only hear Shahid himself, declaiming in
> his endearing, giggly, wicked-sweet voice: 'Darling, I don't want
> immortality through my works. I want
> immortality by not dying'"
> : Rukun Advani remembers the poet
> Agha Shahid Ali, who died this evening
> of a brain tumour in Amherst, USA.
> Shahid will be buried tomorrow.
> New Delhi December 8, 2001
> In the early 1970s, Agha Shahid Ali already had a high reputation as an
> Indian 'University Wit'. He was known in poetry coteries as a connoisseur
> of verse, a fund of learning on T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound (he went on to
> write a fine PhD on 'T.S.Eliot as Editor'), a ghazal enthusiast, an
> inspiring lecturer of English, a bird of the most dazzling feather who
> everyone in our university wanted to look at and hear. His reputation had
> spilled out of Hindu College, where he didn't so much teach as captivate
> and infect his students with his knowledge of Hindustani music, Urdu
> verse, and the Modernist movement in Anglo-American poetry. He was much in
> demand in the other colleges, where he would invariably be encored and
> asked to read some of his own verse.
> This he always did with consummate, engaging immodesty. We are all
> narcissists in some way, but Shahid had perfected the art of narcissism.
> He displayed it unashamedly and was universally loved for the abandon with
> which he could be so unabashedly and coyly full of himself. He was just so
> disconcertingly free of pretence in this respect, so entirely unique just
> for this reason. As he said of himself once, 'Sweetheart, I'm successful
> in the US of A only because I've raised self-promotion to the level of
> art.'
> But he deserved every accolade he got. He had one foot in the realm of
> mushairas and Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the other in the world of Western
> versification and translation activity. His own achievement was to blend
> the two. Eliotic blank verse was, in the main, not for him because he
> thought it an easy way out for poets. His own evolution as a poet is
> marked by his increased interest in mastering the most complex verse forms
> of Europe, such as the 'canzone' and the 'sestina', and deploying them as
> moulds for subcontinental ideas, Kashmiri themes, Urdu sentiment. No one
> did this as successfully as Shahid. Literary criticism does not yet
> possess a proper vocabulary to describe the ways in which he pushed
> English poetry in new directions.
> It was a privilege to be counted among Shahid's friends, even though he
> had so many. He was at home everywhere. All he had to do to attract an
> adoring throng was just be himself. I lived with him for a few days in New
> England, where he was teaching at Ezra Pound's alma mater. 'They pay me to
> teach Creatiff Wrahting', he said with a mimicing, self-deprecating drawl.
> Attending all his creative-writing classes - they were chockful of
> aspiring writers who wanted him as their personal tutor - was the most
> natural and easy and pleasurable thing to do. In the evenings he cooked
> Kashmiri food, revelling in the aromas of his parental home in Srinagar.
> In Delhi, which he visited annually in order to meet friends such as the
> singer Sheila Dhar (and because his publishers were located in the city),
> he was only fleetingly available because he yearned to be in Srinagar. The
> violence there affected him deeply, personally and as an artist. It shaped
> him, ironically, to write some of his finest poems, such as the title poem
> in The Country Without a Post Office. It is not as well known as it ought
> to be, that Shahid's father, Agha Ashraf Ali, remains one of Kashmir's
> most dedicated secular educationists --- respected equally for his wisdom
> and urbanity by Islamists and Kashmiri Pandits. Shahid was entirely
> constituted by the ideals and values that he inherited from his parents.
> A small corner of India's cultural landscape, which I'd assumed would be
> forever Shahid, has died with him. His poems will keep him alive, maybe,
> but only among those who never knew him and therefore missed out on seeing
> and hearing what being preternaturally alive means as an everyday,
> ordinary practice. When someone like Shahid dies, you know it's the end.
> Right now I can only hear Shahid himself, modifying Woody Allen's words
> and declaiming in his endearing, giggly, wicked-sweet voice: 'Darling, I
> don't want immortality through my works. I want immortality by not dying.'
> Also read:
> 'Mad heart, be brave'-Kamila Shamsie pays tribute
> Poet of loss-Alok Rai pays tribute
> Fleeting Remembrances- by Parsa Venkateswar Rao
> **********************************************
> Satish Kolluri,
> Department of Communication Arts and Sciences,
> 103E Performing Arts Center,
> DePauw University, Greencastle, IN 46135
> Ph: 765 658 6559 (O)
>     765 655 1802 (H)
>      --- from list ---

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