NCERT Textbook - The Ghat Of The Only World Class 11 Notes | EduRev

English Class 11

Class 11 : NCERT Textbook - The Ghat Of The Only World Class 11 Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


54 Snapshots
6 6 6 6 6
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World
Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh
A dying man, an expatriate from Kashmir, asks the author to write something
about him after he is gone. The following piece is what Amitav Ghosh wrote
to keep his promise.
THE first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his
approaching death was on 25 April 2001. The conversation
began routinely. I had telephoned to remind him that we had
been invited to a friend’s house for lunch and that I was going
to come by his apartment to pick him up. Although he had
been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months,
Shahid was still on his feet and perfectly lucid, except for
occasional lapses of memory. I heard him thumbing through
his engagement book and then suddenly he said: ‘ Oh dear. I
can’t see a thing.’ There was a brief pause and then he added:
‘I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying...’
Although Shahid and I had talked a great deal over the last
many weeks, I had never before heard him touch on the subject
of death. I did not know how to respond: his voice was
completely at odds with the content of what he had just said,
light to the point of jocularity. I mumbled something innocuous:
‘No Shahid — of course not. You’ll be fine.’ He cut me short. In
a tone of voice that was at once quizzical and direct, he said:
‘When it happens I hope you’ll write something about me.’
2019-20
Page 2


54 Snapshots
6 6 6 6 6
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World
Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh
A dying man, an expatriate from Kashmir, asks the author to write something
about him after he is gone. The following piece is what Amitav Ghosh wrote
to keep his promise.
THE first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his
approaching death was on 25 April 2001. The conversation
began routinely. I had telephoned to remind him that we had
been invited to a friend’s house for lunch and that I was going
to come by his apartment to pick him up. Although he had
been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months,
Shahid was still on his feet and perfectly lucid, except for
occasional lapses of memory. I heard him thumbing through
his engagement book and then suddenly he said: ‘ Oh dear. I
can’t see a thing.’ There was a brief pause and then he added:
‘I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying...’
Although Shahid and I had talked a great deal over the last
many weeks, I had never before heard him touch on the subject
of death. I did not know how to respond: his voice was
completely at odds with the content of what he had just said,
light to the point of jocularity. I mumbled something innocuous:
‘No Shahid — of course not. You’ll be fine.’ He cut me short. In
a tone of voice that was at once quizzical and direct, he said:
‘When it happens I hope you’ll write something about me.’
2019-20
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only World orld orld orld orld 55 55 55 55 55
The Ghat of the Only W orld 55
I was shocked into silence and a long moment passed before I
could bring myself to say the things that people say on such
occasions. ‘Shahid you’ll be fine; you have to be strong...’
From the window of my study I could see a corner of the
building in which he lived, some eight blocks away. It was just a
few months since he moved there: he had been living a few miles
away, in Manhattan, when he had a sudden blackout in February
2000. After tests revealed that he had a malignant brain tumour,
he decided to move to Brooklyn, to be close to his youngest
sister, Sameetah, who teaches at the Pratt Institute—a few blocks
away from the street where I live.
Shahid ignored my reassurances. He began to laugh and it
was then that I realised that he was dead serious. I understood
that he was entrusting me with a quite specific charge: he wanted
me to remember him not through the spoken recitatives of memory
and friendship, but through the written word. Shahid knew all
too well that for those writers for whom things become real only
in the process of writing, there is an inbuilt resistance to dealing
with loss and bereavement. He knew that my instincts would
have led me to search for reasons to avoid writing about his death:
I would have told myself that I was not a poet; that our friendship
was of recent date; that there were many others who knew him
much better and would be writing from greater understanding
and knowledge. All this Shahid had guessed and he had decided
to shut off those routes while there was still time.
‘You must write about me.’
Clear though it was that this imperative would have to be
acknowledged, I could think of nothing to say: what are the
words in which one promises a friend that one will write about
him after his death? Finally, I said: ‘Shahid, I will: I’ll do the
best I can’.
By the end of the conversation I knew exactly what I had to
do. I picked up my pen, noted the date, and wrote down
everything I remembered of that conversation. This I continued
to do for the next few months: it is this record that has made it
possible for me to fulfil the pledge I made that day.
I knew Shahid’s work long before I met him. His 1997
collection, The Country Without a Post Office, had made a
powerful impression on me. His voice was like none I had
ever heard before, at once lyrical and fiercely disciplined,
engaged and yet deeply inward. Not for him the mock-casual
2019-20
Page 3


54 Snapshots
6 6 6 6 6
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World
Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh
A dying man, an expatriate from Kashmir, asks the author to write something
about him after he is gone. The following piece is what Amitav Ghosh wrote
to keep his promise.
THE first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his
approaching death was on 25 April 2001. The conversation
began routinely. I had telephoned to remind him that we had
been invited to a friend’s house for lunch and that I was going
to come by his apartment to pick him up. Although he had
been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months,
Shahid was still on his feet and perfectly lucid, except for
occasional lapses of memory. I heard him thumbing through
his engagement book and then suddenly he said: ‘ Oh dear. I
can’t see a thing.’ There was a brief pause and then he added:
‘I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying...’
Although Shahid and I had talked a great deal over the last
many weeks, I had never before heard him touch on the subject
of death. I did not know how to respond: his voice was
completely at odds with the content of what he had just said,
light to the point of jocularity. I mumbled something innocuous:
‘No Shahid — of course not. You’ll be fine.’ He cut me short. In
a tone of voice that was at once quizzical and direct, he said:
‘When it happens I hope you’ll write something about me.’
2019-20
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only World orld orld orld orld 55 55 55 55 55
The Ghat of the Only W orld 55
I was shocked into silence and a long moment passed before I
could bring myself to say the things that people say on such
occasions. ‘Shahid you’ll be fine; you have to be strong...’
From the window of my study I could see a corner of the
building in which he lived, some eight blocks away. It was just a
few months since he moved there: he had been living a few miles
away, in Manhattan, when he had a sudden blackout in February
2000. After tests revealed that he had a malignant brain tumour,
he decided to move to Brooklyn, to be close to his youngest
sister, Sameetah, who teaches at the Pratt Institute—a few blocks
away from the street where I live.
Shahid ignored my reassurances. He began to laugh and it
was then that I realised that he was dead serious. I understood
that he was entrusting me with a quite specific charge: he wanted
me to remember him not through the spoken recitatives of memory
and friendship, but through the written word. Shahid knew all
too well that for those writers for whom things become real only
in the process of writing, there is an inbuilt resistance to dealing
with loss and bereavement. He knew that my instincts would
have led me to search for reasons to avoid writing about his death:
I would have told myself that I was not a poet; that our friendship
was of recent date; that there were many others who knew him
much better and would be writing from greater understanding
and knowledge. All this Shahid had guessed and he had decided
to shut off those routes while there was still time.
‘You must write about me.’
Clear though it was that this imperative would have to be
acknowledged, I could think of nothing to say: what are the
words in which one promises a friend that one will write about
him after his death? Finally, I said: ‘Shahid, I will: I’ll do the
best I can’.
By the end of the conversation I knew exactly what I had to
do. I picked up my pen, noted the date, and wrote down
everything I remembered of that conversation. This I continued
to do for the next few months: it is this record that has made it
possible for me to fulfil the pledge I made that day.
I knew Shahid’s work long before I met him. His 1997
collection, The Country Without a Post Office, had made a
powerful impression on me. His voice was like none I had
ever heard before, at once lyrical and fiercely disciplined,
engaged and yet deeply inward. Not for him the mock-casual
2019-20
56 Snapshots
1
 a poetic style
almost-prose of so much contemporary poetry: his was a voice
that was not ashamed to speak in a bardic register
1
. I knew of
no one else who would even conceive of publishing a line like:
‘Mad heart, be brave.’
In 1998, I quoted a line from The Country Without a Post
Office in an article that touched briefly on Kashmir. At the time
all I knew about Shahid was that he was from Srinagar and had
studied in Delhi. I had been at Delhi University myself, but
although our time there had briefly overlapped, we had never
met. We had friends in common however, and one of them put
me in touch with Shahid. In 1998 and 1999 we had several
conversations on the phone and even met a couple of times. But
we were no more than acquaintances until he moved to Brooklyn
the next year. Once we were in the same neighbourhood, we
began to meet for occasional meals and quickly discovered that
we had a great deal in common. By this time of course Shahid’s
condition was already serious, yet his illness did not impede the
progress of our friendship. We found that we had a huge roster
of common friends, in India, America, and elsewhere; we
discovered a shared love of rogan josh, Roshanara Begum and
Kishore Kumar; a mutual indifference to cricket and an equal
attachment to old Bombay films. Because of Shahid’s condition
even the most trivial exchanges had a special charge and
urgency: the inescapable poignance of talking about food and
half-forgotten figures from the past with a man who knew himself
to be dying, was multiplied, in this instance, by the knowledge
that this man was also a poet who had achieved greatness—
perhaps the only such that I shall ever know as a friend.
One afternoon, the writer Suketu Mehta, who also lives in
Brooklyn, joined us for lunch. Together we hatched a plan for
an adda— by definition, a gathering that has no agenda, other
than conviviality. Shahid was enthusiastic and we began to
meet regularly. From time to time other writers would join us.
On one occasion a crew arrived with a television camera. Shahid
was not in the least bit put out: ‘I’m so shameless; I just love
the camera.’
Shahid had a sorcerer’s ability to transmute the mundane
into the magical. Once I accompanied Iqbal, his brother, and
Hena, his sister, on a trip to fetch him home from hospital. This
2019-20
Page 4


54 Snapshots
6 6 6 6 6
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World
Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh
A dying man, an expatriate from Kashmir, asks the author to write something
about him after he is gone. The following piece is what Amitav Ghosh wrote
to keep his promise.
THE first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his
approaching death was on 25 April 2001. The conversation
began routinely. I had telephoned to remind him that we had
been invited to a friend’s house for lunch and that I was going
to come by his apartment to pick him up. Although he had
been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months,
Shahid was still on his feet and perfectly lucid, except for
occasional lapses of memory. I heard him thumbing through
his engagement book and then suddenly he said: ‘ Oh dear. I
can’t see a thing.’ There was a brief pause and then he added:
‘I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying...’
Although Shahid and I had talked a great deal over the last
many weeks, I had never before heard him touch on the subject
of death. I did not know how to respond: his voice was
completely at odds with the content of what he had just said,
light to the point of jocularity. I mumbled something innocuous:
‘No Shahid — of course not. You’ll be fine.’ He cut me short. In
a tone of voice that was at once quizzical and direct, he said:
‘When it happens I hope you’ll write something about me.’
2019-20
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only World orld orld orld orld 55 55 55 55 55
The Ghat of the Only W orld 55
I was shocked into silence and a long moment passed before I
could bring myself to say the things that people say on such
occasions. ‘Shahid you’ll be fine; you have to be strong...’
From the window of my study I could see a corner of the
building in which he lived, some eight blocks away. It was just a
few months since he moved there: he had been living a few miles
away, in Manhattan, when he had a sudden blackout in February
2000. After tests revealed that he had a malignant brain tumour,
he decided to move to Brooklyn, to be close to his youngest
sister, Sameetah, who teaches at the Pratt Institute—a few blocks
away from the street where I live.
Shahid ignored my reassurances. He began to laugh and it
was then that I realised that he was dead serious. I understood
that he was entrusting me with a quite specific charge: he wanted
me to remember him not through the spoken recitatives of memory
and friendship, but through the written word. Shahid knew all
too well that for those writers for whom things become real only
in the process of writing, there is an inbuilt resistance to dealing
with loss and bereavement. He knew that my instincts would
have led me to search for reasons to avoid writing about his death:
I would have told myself that I was not a poet; that our friendship
was of recent date; that there were many others who knew him
much better and would be writing from greater understanding
and knowledge. All this Shahid had guessed and he had decided
to shut off those routes while there was still time.
‘You must write about me.’
Clear though it was that this imperative would have to be
acknowledged, I could think of nothing to say: what are the
words in which one promises a friend that one will write about
him after his death? Finally, I said: ‘Shahid, I will: I’ll do the
best I can’.
By the end of the conversation I knew exactly what I had to
do. I picked up my pen, noted the date, and wrote down
everything I remembered of that conversation. This I continued
to do for the next few months: it is this record that has made it
possible for me to fulfil the pledge I made that day.
I knew Shahid’s work long before I met him. His 1997
collection, The Country Without a Post Office, had made a
powerful impression on me. His voice was like none I had
ever heard before, at once lyrical and fiercely disciplined,
engaged and yet deeply inward. Not for him the mock-casual
2019-20
56 Snapshots
1
 a poetic style
almost-prose of so much contemporary poetry: his was a voice
that was not ashamed to speak in a bardic register
1
. I knew of
no one else who would even conceive of publishing a line like:
‘Mad heart, be brave.’
In 1998, I quoted a line from The Country Without a Post
Office in an article that touched briefly on Kashmir. At the time
all I knew about Shahid was that he was from Srinagar and had
studied in Delhi. I had been at Delhi University myself, but
although our time there had briefly overlapped, we had never
met. We had friends in common however, and one of them put
me in touch with Shahid. In 1998 and 1999 we had several
conversations on the phone and even met a couple of times. But
we were no more than acquaintances until he moved to Brooklyn
the next year. Once we were in the same neighbourhood, we
began to meet for occasional meals and quickly discovered that
we had a great deal in common. By this time of course Shahid’s
condition was already serious, yet his illness did not impede the
progress of our friendship. We found that we had a huge roster
of common friends, in India, America, and elsewhere; we
discovered a shared love of rogan josh, Roshanara Begum and
Kishore Kumar; a mutual indifference to cricket and an equal
attachment to old Bombay films. Because of Shahid’s condition
even the most trivial exchanges had a special charge and
urgency: the inescapable poignance of talking about food and
half-forgotten figures from the past with a man who knew himself
to be dying, was multiplied, in this instance, by the knowledge
that this man was also a poet who had achieved greatness—
perhaps the only such that I shall ever know as a friend.
One afternoon, the writer Suketu Mehta, who also lives in
Brooklyn, joined us for lunch. Together we hatched a plan for
an adda— by definition, a gathering that has no agenda, other
than conviviality. Shahid was enthusiastic and we began to
meet regularly. From time to time other writers would join us.
On one occasion a crew arrived with a television camera. Shahid
was not in the least bit put out: ‘I’m so shameless; I just love
the camera.’
Shahid had a sorcerer’s ability to transmute the mundane
into the magical. Once I accompanied Iqbal, his brother, and
Hena, his sister, on a trip to fetch him home from hospital. This
2019-20
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only World orld orld orld orld 57 57 57 57 57
The Ghat of the Only W orld 57
2
Garcia Lorca is Spain’s most deeply appreciated and highly revered poet
and dramatist.
was on 21 May: by that time he had already been through several
unsuccessful operations. Now he was back in hospital to undergo
a surgical procedure that was intended to relieve the pressure
on his brain. His head was shaved and the shape of the tumour
was visible upon his bare scalp, its edges outlined by metal
sutures. When it was time to leave the ward a blue-uniformed
hospital escort arrived with a wheelchair. Shahid waved him
away, declaring that he was strong enough to walk out of the
hospital on his own. But he was groggier than he had thought
and his knees buckled after no more than a few steps. Iqbal
went running off to bring back the wheelchair while the rest of
us stood in the corridor, holding him upright. At that moment,
leaning against the cheerless hospital wall, a kind of rapture
descended on Shahid. When the hospital orderly returned with
the wheelchair Shahid gave him a beaming smile and asked
where he was from. ‘Ecuador’, the man said, and Shahid clapped
his hands gleefully together, ‘Spanish!’ he cried, at the top of his
voice. ‘I always wanted to learn Spanish. Just to read Lorca
2
’.
Shahid’s gregariousness had no limit: there was never an
evening when there wasn’t a party in his living room. ‘I love it
that so many people are here,’ he told me once. ‘I love it that
people come and there’s always food. I love this spirit of festivity;
it means that I don’t have time to be depressed.’
His apartment was a spacious and airy split-level, on the
seventh floor of a newly-renovated building. There was a
cavernous study on the top floor and a wide terrace that
provided a magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline, across
the East River. Shahid loved this view of the Brooklyn waterfront
slipping, like a ghat, into the East River, under the glittering
lights of Manhattan.
The journey from the foyer of Shahid’s building to his door
was a voyage between continents: on the way up the rich
fragrance of rogan josh and haak would invade the dour, grey
interior of the elevator; against the background of the songs
and voices that were always echoing out of his apartment, even
the ringing of the doorbell had an oddly musical sound.
Suddenly, Shahid would appear, flinging open the door, releasing
a great cloud of heeng into the frosty New York air, ‘Oh, how
nice,’ he would cry, clapping his hands, ‘how nice that you’ve
2019-20
Page 5


54 Snapshots
6 6 6 6 6
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World hat of the Only World
Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh Amitav Ghosh
A dying man, an expatriate from Kashmir, asks the author to write something
about him after he is gone. The following piece is what Amitav Ghosh wrote
to keep his promise.
THE first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his
approaching death was on 25 April 2001. The conversation
began routinely. I had telephoned to remind him that we had
been invited to a friend’s house for lunch and that I was going
to come by his apartment to pick him up. Although he had
been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months,
Shahid was still on his feet and perfectly lucid, except for
occasional lapses of memory. I heard him thumbing through
his engagement book and then suddenly he said: ‘ Oh dear. I
can’t see a thing.’ There was a brief pause and then he added:
‘I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying...’
Although Shahid and I had talked a great deal over the last
many weeks, I had never before heard him touch on the subject
of death. I did not know how to respond: his voice was
completely at odds with the content of what he had just said,
light to the point of jocularity. I mumbled something innocuous:
‘No Shahid — of course not. You’ll be fine.’ He cut me short. In
a tone of voice that was at once quizzical and direct, he said:
‘When it happens I hope you’ll write something about me.’
2019-20
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only World orld orld orld orld 55 55 55 55 55
The Ghat of the Only W orld 55
I was shocked into silence and a long moment passed before I
could bring myself to say the things that people say on such
occasions. ‘Shahid you’ll be fine; you have to be strong...’
From the window of my study I could see a corner of the
building in which he lived, some eight blocks away. It was just a
few months since he moved there: he had been living a few miles
away, in Manhattan, when he had a sudden blackout in February
2000. After tests revealed that he had a malignant brain tumour,
he decided to move to Brooklyn, to be close to his youngest
sister, Sameetah, who teaches at the Pratt Institute—a few blocks
away from the street where I live.
Shahid ignored my reassurances. He began to laugh and it
was then that I realised that he was dead serious. I understood
that he was entrusting me with a quite specific charge: he wanted
me to remember him not through the spoken recitatives of memory
and friendship, but through the written word. Shahid knew all
too well that for those writers for whom things become real only
in the process of writing, there is an inbuilt resistance to dealing
with loss and bereavement. He knew that my instincts would
have led me to search for reasons to avoid writing about his death:
I would have told myself that I was not a poet; that our friendship
was of recent date; that there were many others who knew him
much better and would be writing from greater understanding
and knowledge. All this Shahid had guessed and he had decided
to shut off those routes while there was still time.
‘You must write about me.’
Clear though it was that this imperative would have to be
acknowledged, I could think of nothing to say: what are the
words in which one promises a friend that one will write about
him after his death? Finally, I said: ‘Shahid, I will: I’ll do the
best I can’.
By the end of the conversation I knew exactly what I had to
do. I picked up my pen, noted the date, and wrote down
everything I remembered of that conversation. This I continued
to do for the next few months: it is this record that has made it
possible for me to fulfil the pledge I made that day.
I knew Shahid’s work long before I met him. His 1997
collection, The Country Without a Post Office, had made a
powerful impression on me. His voice was like none I had
ever heard before, at once lyrical and fiercely disciplined,
engaged and yet deeply inward. Not for him the mock-casual
2019-20
56 Snapshots
1
 a poetic style
almost-prose of so much contemporary poetry: his was a voice
that was not ashamed to speak in a bardic register
1
. I knew of
no one else who would even conceive of publishing a line like:
‘Mad heart, be brave.’
In 1998, I quoted a line from The Country Without a Post
Office in an article that touched briefly on Kashmir. At the time
all I knew about Shahid was that he was from Srinagar and had
studied in Delhi. I had been at Delhi University myself, but
although our time there had briefly overlapped, we had never
met. We had friends in common however, and one of them put
me in touch with Shahid. In 1998 and 1999 we had several
conversations on the phone and even met a couple of times. But
we were no more than acquaintances until he moved to Brooklyn
the next year. Once we were in the same neighbourhood, we
began to meet for occasional meals and quickly discovered that
we had a great deal in common. By this time of course Shahid’s
condition was already serious, yet his illness did not impede the
progress of our friendship. We found that we had a huge roster
of common friends, in India, America, and elsewhere; we
discovered a shared love of rogan josh, Roshanara Begum and
Kishore Kumar; a mutual indifference to cricket and an equal
attachment to old Bombay films. Because of Shahid’s condition
even the most trivial exchanges had a special charge and
urgency: the inescapable poignance of talking about food and
half-forgotten figures from the past with a man who knew himself
to be dying, was multiplied, in this instance, by the knowledge
that this man was also a poet who had achieved greatness—
perhaps the only such that I shall ever know as a friend.
One afternoon, the writer Suketu Mehta, who also lives in
Brooklyn, joined us for lunch. Together we hatched a plan for
an adda— by definition, a gathering that has no agenda, other
than conviviality. Shahid was enthusiastic and we began to
meet regularly. From time to time other writers would join us.
On one occasion a crew arrived with a television camera. Shahid
was not in the least bit put out: ‘I’m so shameless; I just love
the camera.’
Shahid had a sorcerer’s ability to transmute the mundane
into the magical. Once I accompanied Iqbal, his brother, and
Hena, his sister, on a trip to fetch him home from hospital. This
2019-20
T T T T The he he he he G G G G Ghat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only W hat of the Only World orld orld orld orld 57 57 57 57 57
The Ghat of the Only W orld 57
2
Garcia Lorca is Spain’s most deeply appreciated and highly revered poet
and dramatist.
was on 21 May: by that time he had already been through several
unsuccessful operations. Now he was back in hospital to undergo
a surgical procedure that was intended to relieve the pressure
on his brain. His head was shaved and the shape of the tumour
was visible upon his bare scalp, its edges outlined by metal
sutures. When it was time to leave the ward a blue-uniformed
hospital escort arrived with a wheelchair. Shahid waved him
away, declaring that he was strong enough to walk out of the
hospital on his own. But he was groggier than he had thought
and his knees buckled after no more than a few steps. Iqbal
went running off to bring back the wheelchair while the rest of
us stood in the corridor, holding him upright. At that moment,
leaning against the cheerless hospital wall, a kind of rapture
descended on Shahid. When the hospital orderly returned with
the wheelchair Shahid gave him a beaming smile and asked
where he was from. ‘Ecuador’, the man said, and Shahid clapped
his hands gleefully together, ‘Spanish!’ he cried, at the top of his
voice. ‘I always wanted to learn Spanish. Just to read Lorca
2
’.
Shahid’s gregariousness had no limit: there was never an
evening when there wasn’t a party in his living room. ‘I love it
that so many people are here,’ he told me once. ‘I love it that
people come and there’s always food. I love this spirit of festivity;
it means that I don’t have time to be depressed.’
His apartment was a spacious and airy split-level, on the
seventh floor of a newly-renovated building. There was a
cavernous study on the top floor and a wide terrace that
provided a magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline, across
the East River. Shahid loved this view of the Brooklyn waterfront
slipping, like a ghat, into the East River, under the glittering
lights of Manhattan.
The journey from the foyer of Shahid’s building to his door
was a voyage between continents: on the way up the rich
fragrance of rogan josh and haak would invade the dour, grey
interior of the elevator; against the background of the songs
and voices that were always echoing out of his apartment, even
the ringing of the doorbell had an oddly musical sound.
Suddenly, Shahid would appear, flinging open the door, releasing
a great cloud of heeng into the frosty New York air, ‘Oh, how
nice,’ he would cry, clapping his hands, ‘how nice that you’ve
2019-20
58 Snapshots
come to see your little Mos-lem!’ Invariably, there’d be some half-
dozen or more people gathered inside— poets, students, writers,
relatives— and in the kitchen someone would always be cooking
or making tea. Almost to the very end, even as his life was being
consumed by his disease, he was the centre of a perpetual
carnival, an endless mela of talk, laughter, food and, of course,
poetry.
No matter how many people there were, Shahid was never
so distracted as to lose track of the progress of the evening’s
meal. From time to time he would interrupt himself to shout
directions to whoever was in the kitchen: ‘yes, now, add the
dahi now.’ Even when his eyesight was failing, he could tell from
the smell alone, exactly which stage the rogan josh had reached.
And when things went exactly as they should, he would sniff
the air and cry out loud: ‘Ah! Khana ka kya mehek hai!’
Shahid was legendary for his prowess in the kitchen,
frequently spending days over the planning and preparation of
a dinner party. It was through one such party, given while he
was in Arizona, that he met James Merrill, the poet who was to
radically alter the direction of his poetry: it was after this
encounter that he began to experiment with strict, metrical
patterns and verse forms. No one had a greater influence on
Shahid’s poetry than James Merrill: indeed, in the poem in
which he most explicitly prefigured his own death, ‘I Dream I
Am At the Ghat of the Only World,’ he awarded the envoy to
Merrill: ‘SHAHID, HUSH. THIS IS ME, JAMES. THE LOVED ONE ALWAYS LEAVES.’
Shahid placed great store on authenticity and exactitude in
cooking and would tolerate no deviation from traditional methods
and recipes: for those who took short cuts, he had only pity. He
had a special passion for the food of his region, one variant of it
in particular: ‘Kashmiri food in the Pandit style’. I asked him
once why this was so important to him and he explained that it
was because of a recurrent dream, in which all the Pandits had
vanished from the valley of Kashmir and their food had become
extinct. This was a nightmare that haunted him and he returned
to it again and again, in his conversation and his poetry.
At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me:
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
2019-20
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