SRINAGAR: Kashmir University (KU) has finally owned celebrated poet Agha Shahid Ali—12 years after he died of brain tumour.
Breaking the trend of limiting the poet’s mention to informal gatherings and discussions within the varsity, KU’s Department of English has for the first time dedicated an entire event—a three day seminar—to Ali. And while the seminar, titled ‘Literature and the Sacred: Legacies, Issues, and the Path Ahead’ inaugurated on Monday, is not specifically meant to discuss Ali, a similar event exclusively “on Shahid’s poetic journey from East to West” is being organised in September.
“We dedicate this seminar to Agha Shahid Ali who singularly put Kashmir on the map of international poetry,” Head of the English Department, Hameeda Nayeem, announced in her inaugural speech after welcoming the delegates to the “Valley of paradoxes, of stifling political atmosphere, of battleground of ugly manipulations, and of blood, tears and heartbreaks.”
Belonging to a prominent Kashmiri family of educationists, Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi in 1949, grew up in Kashmir, and studied at the KU’s English Department. Later, he received further education at Delhi University and earned his Ph D in English Literature from Pennsylvania State University in 1984 and an MFA from the University of Arizona in 1985.
Ali’s famous works include Call me Ishmael Tonight (2003), Rooms are never finished (2001), and The country without a post office (1997), which, in particular, was based on the situation in Kashmir.
Since Ali’s death in December 8, 2001, many foreign universities he was associated with have been commemorating him, but a similar effort was unheard of in KU where he had been reportedly denied a job in late ‘80s.
“So far, we have failed to commemorate him (Ali),” admitted Nayeem. “The universities outside have been remembering him through seminars and by including his works in their curricula.”
“After this event, we will hold a seminar exclusively on Agha Shahid Ali in September,” she announced, and recited some versus from Ali’s famous works.
The inaugural session of the seminar lived up to its literary expectation with noted Kashmiri poets Rehman Rahi and Zarief Ahmad Zarief enthralling the audience with their poetic brilliance. Rahi read his poem ‘Kharaaj’ while Zarief presented his satirical lines titled ‘Wasiyat’, after keynote speaker Prof G R Malik and ‘grandson-of-the-soil’, (as Prof M L Raina described himself) threw light on the subject chosen for the seminar.
Informing about the start of choice-based credit system, the varsity vice-chancellor Prof Talat Ahmad said, “The way we saw famous Kashmiri poets read at the seminar concerning English literature more or less explains the use and importance of the choice-based credit system.”