Amitav Ghosh, “The Ghat of the Only World”: Agha Shahid Ali in Brooklyn“, 15 December, 2001. [pdf]
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.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory: …
There is nothing to forgive. You won’t forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.
There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.
If only somehow you could have been mine, what would not have been possible in the world?
Once, in conversation, he told me that he also loved Bengali food. I protested: “But Shahid, you’ve never even been to Calcutta.”
“No,” he said. “But we had friends who used to bring us that food. When you ate it you could see that there were so many things that you didn’t know about, everywhere in the country …”
This was at a time when his illness had forced him into spending long periods in bed. He was lying prone on his back, shielding his eyes with his fingers. Suddenly he broke off and reached for my hand. “I wish all this had not happened,” he said. “This dividing of the country, the divisions between people—Hindu, Muslim, Muslim, Hindu—you can’t imagine how much I hate it. It makes me sick. What I say is: why can’t you be happy with the cuisines and the clothes and the music and all these wonderful things?” He paused and added softly, “At least here we have been able to make a space where we can all come together because of the good things.”