Ghat of the Only World – Amitav Ghosh
Writer Amitav Ghosh and poet Shahid Ali were friends for a little while. Shahid was dying with blood cancer and their friendship bloomed when one of them was dying. One day Shahid asked Amitav to write about him, his poetry and about his Kashmir after his death. It was an unusual request and quite confused pained, Amitav agreed. Shahid died, better say, his soul left his body at 2 A.M. on December 8. An unbridgeable emptiness filled the author’s mind.“So brief a friendship” resulted in “so vast a void”.Both Sháhid and Shahid – “witness and martyr” – mingled and melted into eternity. The author kept his promise. He wrote this article on Shahid Ali – “Ghat of the Only World.”
Starting – Shahid As a Poet
Shahid or Shahid Ali was a poet. Through his poems, through his melodious words and stunning sentences, he gave liberty to live to shake hands with death. Knowing the fact very well that time was limited, Ali opened his treasure-trove of enormous life force and tied Ghosh with the ropes of nostalgia.
Shahid’s Love for Kashmir
His words revealed the heat of the political lava during his stay in Kashmir. During this short period of their friendship, Shahid had left some fabulous brushstrokes of an unambiguously different Kashmir. Even being a firm believer in the separation of politics and religious practice, he set apart the separatism, atrocities, and violence that had already led the paradise to a paradise lost. When his childhood loitered about in the room of Srinagar, he fervently placed a desire of desires to his parents. It was but to establish a small Hindu temple inside his room. He was no pharisaic at all, even at the time of his standing on the burning atlas of Kashmir. With the passage of time, idols and other trappings were bought by his mother, and the innermost part of their house became the holiest place a temple. In this way, his house became a religious confluence of Hinduism and Islam.
Shahid’s love for Food
Even during his last stage of cancer with everything confirming his death, Shahid was able to enjoy food and talked about food. Whenever there was a party around, he attended it without failure. Was it to please his hunger or was it to please his companions, we do not know.
Shahid and Cancer
For Shahid Ali cancer was like a joke. He admitted it but never admitted his defeat to cancer.“Almost to the very end, even as his life was being consumed by his disease, he was the center of a perpetual carnival, an endless meal of talk, laughter, food and of course, poetry.”He celebrated the life that anybody could think he was defeating death day by day. But death builds no paradox. Shahid was suffering from cancer, some fourteen months at the beginning of the account. When he could see nothing, his words appeared to be a moving epitaph, “I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying…”
Shahid and Amitav
Amitav kept his promise and opening into painful and tender memories with concealed skill, which hid his pain even from himself. Agha Shahid Ali was everything Amitav Ghosh lost and hence The Ghat of the Only World has been written to reincarnate him – to breathe life into their unbroken friendship.
Q. What did Amitav feel like when he was asked to write about Shahid?
A. Amitav was spellbound for a while. He could think of nothing to say. He didn’t get the words in which one promises a friend that one will write about him after his death.
Q. What do you know about Shahid as a poet?
A. Shahid’s most celebrated work is The Country without a Post Office, published in 1997. The Country Without a Post Office had made a powerful impression on his readers. His voice was unique – at once lyrical and fiercely disciplined, engaged and yet deeply inward. Not for him the mock-casual almost-prose of so much contemporary poetry. His was a voice that was not ashamed to speak in a bardic register.
Q. Both Shahid and Amitav Ghosh were friends since eternity and to eternity they will be. What makes you think so?
A. Shahid Ali and Amitav Ghosh were not chance acquaintances so their late friendship was part of destiny. It all began in 1998 when Amitav Ghosh quoted a line from The Country Without a Post
Office in an article that touched briefly on Kashmir. At the time all the writer knew about Shahid was that he was from Srinagar and had studied in Delhi. Himself having hailed from Delhi University, Amitav’s time and Shahid’s briefly overlapped. The two had friends in common, however, and one of them put Amitav in touch with Shahid. In 1998 and 1999 they had several conversations on the phone and even met a couple of times but they were no more than acquaintances until Shahid moved to Brooklyn the next year.
Q. What fed and strengthened their friendship?
A. Once staying in Brooklin, in Shahid’s neighborhood, Amitav soon discovered that the two of them 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 their friendship. They had a huge roster of common friends, in India, America, and elsewhere. They 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.
Q. Do you think that Shahid’s cancer played an important role in the making of two friends?
A. Yes, because of Shahid’s condition even the most unimportant exchanges had a special charge and urgency. The inescapable pain of talking about food and half-forgotten figures from the past with a man who knew himself to be dead was multiplied, in this instance, by the knowledge that this man was also a poet who had achieved greatness.
Q. Shahid had a sorcerer’s ability to transmute/change the mundane/ordinary into the magical. What incident does the author quote to explain this?
A. Once Amitav Ghosh happened to accompany Iqbal, Shahid’s brother, and Hena, his sister, on a trip to fetch him home from the hospital. By that time Shahid 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 tumor was visible upon his bare scalp, its edges outlined by metal sutures/stitches. 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.
Q. The title – what is this ghat of the only world?
A. On visiting the Valley of Kashmir, Jahangir, one of the Mughal emperors, is said to have exclaimed: “If there is paradise anywhere on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.” We see the repetition of the same utterance in one of his poems. He placed the glorious physiographical beauty of Kashmir beyond all – Kashmir, the paradise on Earth. Shahid, you may learn, had a deep Kashmiri impact upon him for two reasons – one, part of his education was done in Kashmir, two, he had a wound that he suffered at the Kashmir issues, division, migration, and wars. On reaching mellow fruitfulness, Ali dreamt he was at the ghat of the only world – the world of the gone. He was to bid adieu to the world of the living. Having gone past pangs of life he was cradling “in supreme consolation”, that is, “I love to think that I’ll meet my mother in the afterlife if there is an afterlife.”
Q. How do Shahid and the writer react to the knowledge that Shahid is going to die?
A. When Shahid asked Gosh for the first time that he was going to die and requested him to write something about him, Ghosh was spellbound and dumbfounded. He could not even find words. how to respond. He tried to console him “Oh dear! I can’t see a thing…I hope this doesn’t mean that I am dying,” The fear of death was very clearly apparent in Shahid’s tone of voice and usage of words. He got scared when he felt for the first time that he was dying. When his occasional memory lapses became more serious with the passage of time, the realization of death drawing nearer becomes stronger. When he was in a conversation with Amitav Ghosh, he said in a clear ringing voice- “When it happens, I hope you will write something for me.” The writer could think of nothing to say on such a topic. He consoled him that he would get well soon. But at last, he had to promise, “I’ll do the best I can.” From that very day, the writer started keeping a record of all the conversations and meetings he had with Shahid. This record helped him to fulfill his pledge.
Q. What do you understand of the Indian diaspora from this piece?
A. The term diaspora comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “to scatter about.” And that is exactly what the people of a diaspora do- they scatter from their homeland to places across the globe, spreading their culture as they go. The Bible refers to the Diaspora of Jews exiled from Israel by the Babylonians. But the word is now also used more generally to describe any large dispersion of refugees, language, or culture. With reference to the context, the Indian diaspora becomes more prominent in Ghosh’s writings.
From this text, we come to know that a number of Indians have settled in different countries of the West, especially England and America. Agha Shahid, his brother, and two sisters, Suketu Mehta and the writer form part of the Indian diaspora in America. Shahid belonged to Kashmir and migrated to America in 1975. his elder brother was already settled there. His two sisters also joined them later. These people, though living in another land, never forgot about their roots. These Indians feel a sense of unity and keep meeting each other on various. Narendra Modi recently became very famous for providing speeches to India’s diaspora across the globe.