In Remembrance of Agha Shahid Ali
Dilip began reading from one of the three books of verse by the late Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali who had lived for a long time in the US and developed his own sytle of writing wherein the language was English but the ethos was Indian / Kashmiri / and drilling downwards, one could see a south Asian influence. ASA died young as recently as two years ago with brain cancer. Dilip showed us an autographed copy saying how much ASA had enjoyed the evening at Pune.... there was some disagreement about the date, but 1989 or 1990 seemed to be favoured by most.
Fourteen persons were present. I knew Priya, and Arshia Sattar who runs Open Space... I recommmend all to click on www.infochangeindia.org and see some of the enormous work they all have been doing..... the other faces remain a high speed blur since quick introdutions were swept aside and the evening's main discussion began somewhat abruptly. Dilip's knowledge of Urdu poetry is excellent, and so is his pronunciation -this was the first time I met him though we knew each other from the email circuit and common friends like Sujit Patwardhan the environmentalist and Jazz aficionado. Four foreigners had turned up too. Some of them were doing scholarly research on Indian poetic traditions.
Dilip explained the ghazal format, its inherent rigidity and how the Urdu poets masterfully manage to beat around those restrictions and produce ambivalent couplets which can carry opposing meanings. ASA tried a lot to get this sort of playfulness and amazing skill into his writing, though he wrote in English. Someone wanted to know about inevitability of local politics affecting his poetry. Blood bath cannot leave a poet untouched, So amongst the many poems we read turn by turn, one poem dealt with the paradise on earth having turned into a veritable, impenetrable hell.
Dilip, Arshiya, Priya and myself, we all read one or two poems each-this emboldened others to try out their skills in reading too. The ensuing hydra-headed dicussions went on for another two hours.
All in all a wonderful evening though no coffee nor tea were served -producing rather a hollow feeling inside. God, have I turned into a hardcore caferato ? Sunil, caferati is
plural as my smattering of Italian tells me. Graffito and graffiti... cognoscento and cognoscenti so on and so forth.... correct me, readers if I am wrong.
(c) Max Babi