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The Ghat of the Only World Summary in English
Agha Shahid Ali was a Kashmiri, settled in the US. He was a cancer patient. He had been under treatment for 14 months. But he was still on his feet and cheerful. Only sometimes he became unconscious, lost his memory and his eyesight for a short while. On 25 April 2001, he spoke to the writer about his approaching death. The writer tried to console him, but he was cut short. Shahid, however, made a request. He wanted the writer to write something about him after his death.
Shahid and the author had studied together at Delhi University. But they had never met. In 1998 and 1999 they had several conversations on the phone and also met a couple of times. But the acquaintance could not grow until both moved to Brooklyn, US. They were in the same neighbourhood. Shahid lived in a building some eight blocks away. He had his sudden blackout in February 2000. He had a malignant brain tumour. So from Manhattan, he moved to Brooklyn, where his youngest sister Sameetah lived. When Shahid spoke about his approaching death, he laughed but he was dead serious. He entrusted a great responsibility to the author. ‘You must write about me,’ he said. And the author promised to grant his wish. Since that day he started noting down all his conversations with Shahid. And that record helped him keep his word.
Shahid was a poet who wrote in English. The author had read his 1997 collection The Country without a Post Office. He was greatly impressed also. Once they became neighbours at Brooklyn, they began to meet very often for meals. Shahid’s condition was serious but that illness did not depress him. The author and Shahid had many common friends. They also had a shared love of rogan josh and liking for Kishor Kumar’s songs. Both disliked cricket and loved old Mumbai films. They began to meet regularly.
One day the author went along with Shahid’s brother and sister—lqbal and Hena – to fetch him home from the hospital. It was on 21 May. Shahid had already been through several operations that failed. A hospital orderly arrived with a wheelchair. But Shahid sent him back. He thought he was strong enough to walk out of the hospital on his own. But his knees buckled after only a few steps. The hospital orderly was summoned again with the wheelchair.
Shahid loved company, partying and shared meals. He didn’t have time to be depressed. His apartment was on the seventh floor. But it was worth going all the way up. There was the fragrance of rogan josh and songs to welcome the visitor. Shahid would open the door and clap his hands joyously. There were poets, students, writers and relatives in the house. Even though his health was failing, he loved to talk, laugh, eat and, of course, enjoy poetry. His deep interest in kitchen matched with his skill as a poet. James Merrill had great influence on his poetry. He dreamt that he was at the ghat of the only world.
Shahid was not a fanatic. He regretted that Pandits had left Kashmir, and he expressed that feeling in his poetry. He loved Bengali food also. He loved the poetry of Begum Akhtar. His repartees were equally sharp. Once at Barcelona airport, the security guard, a woman, asked him what he did. His answer was he was a poet and his vocation was to write poetry. Finally, that woman asked if he was carrying anything that could be dangerous to the other passengers, Shahid cried ‘only my heart.’
He was very popular as a teacher. He taught at several colleges and universities. He was appointed a professor in 1999, and he had his first blackout in Feb. 2000. After 1975, Shahid lived mainly in America where he joined his brother and two sisters. His parents continued to live in Srinagar. The political violence in Kashmir had a great effect on him. But he was not a political poet. He was true to his art form of language. His vision was all-embracing. He had a secular outlook. In his childhood, he once created a small Hindu temple in his room in Srinagar. His parents never stood in his way.
On 4th May, he had gone to the hospital for a test to discover whether the course of chemotherapy had the desired effect or not. The next day he told the author that the doctors were going to stop all his medicines and there was not much hope. He wanted to go back to Kashmir to die, to be with his father. But for certain reasons, he changed his mind. He died in the US and he was laid to rest in Northampton. He died peacefully in his sleep at 2 p.m. on 8th December.