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Mad Hearts of Poetry, Resistance and Nostalgia

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

The concept of being voiceless and having your voice taken away are two very different but similar things. The struggle of one’s homeland mostly results in the latter for the citizens. Those grave times, which still continue with the unanswered questions of Kashmir and Palestine were understood by the world through poetry.

“A person can only be born in one place. However, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare.”

The saga continues, Palestine remains unrecognised by the prominent nations in the international communities and Kashmir never stopped bleeding crimson. The struggle of these regions produced world-renowned poets who championed resistance through their art. Agha Shahid Ali of Kashmir and Mahmoud Darwish of Palestine are what we can consider being cut from the same cloth. Even though they were divided by their nationalities, their writing is what united people struggling to free their homes. Both the poets were born in the same era. Mahmoud was the elder one born in 1941 in Al-Birwa, a Palestinian village. Shahid, born eight years later channelled the same curiosity Mahmoud had.

The state of Israel was established when Mahmoud was six and thus, began a never-ending conflict. Al-Birwa was captured by Israeli rebel forces which forced the poet and his family to seek exile in Lebanon. It is of no wonder as to why he chose Palestinian conflict and displacement of its people as a primary backdrop for his works. Secondary backdrops included lost families, lovers and citizens in a state of dilemma about their identity. Through his poem ‘Identity Card’, Darwish describes the trauma a Palestinian has to go through while being verified by an Israeli official at a security checkpoint. He wrote:

“Put it on record.

I am an Arab.

I am a name without a title,

Patient in a country where everything

Lives in a whirlpool of anger.”

As for Palestinian’s sibling Kashmir, blood never really stopped flowing since 1947. Plagued by rebels, state violence and community violence Kashmir has seen violence for decades now. Agha Shahid Ali’s works highlighted the Kashmiri conflict. In the poem Farewell published in ‘The Country Without a Post Office, he bids farewell to his homeland.

“They make it a desolation

and call it peace

When you left even

the stones were buried:

The defenceless would have

no weapons.

My memory is again in the

way of your history.

Army convoys all night like

desert caravans:

In the smoking oil of dimmed

headlights, time dissolved—all winter—its crushed fennel.

We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?”

Shahid’s ‘Rooms Were Never Finished’ which spotlighted the same struggle in addition to his feelings of devastation post his mother’s death (and the journey to bring her body back to Kashmir), was the finalist for National Book Awards for Poetry in 2001. He always worked poetry into his everyday life. Author Amitav Ghosh, a dear friend of Shahid’s describes how he worked poetry into his daily life through his essay ‘The Ghat of the Only World: Agha Shahid Ali in Brooklyn’ as:

On one famous occasion, at Barcelona airport, he was stopped by a security guard just as he was about to board a plane. The guard, a woman, asked: “What do you do?”

“I’m a poet”, Shahid answered.

“What were you doing in Spain?”

“Writing poetry.”

With the emotions of nostalgia for one’s homeland, it is ironic that these poets are laid to rest far away from their homes. Both Mahmoud and Shahid are buried in the United States. In 2021, the Zionist oppression through settler colonialism was brought to light as Israeli forces continuously bombed the Gaza strip. For Kashmir, times were difficult when the state had been cut off from the outside world on

August 5th, 2019 post the abrogation of Article 370 which granted it a special status. As for their poets of resistance, they leave behind a legacy of literature that reflects their brave hearts and spirits. It is through this literature that one understands the humane side of conflicts and the trauma that one bears due to the loss of one’s identity. Their hearts continue to bleed through their words and it becomes important for us to carry forward the questions of their respective homelands and find the right answers. Even though they never met in their lifetime, in a parallel world they do sympathise with each other.

A hypothetical letter from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali

Dear Shahid,

August 5th marks another unread chapter of your homeland. They still make it a desolation and call it peace. When the identity of one’s home is taken away, how do you go back from that? The triad of memory, nostalgia and longing looms over my friend; for we have been buried far, far away from our homes. The country that you call home still does not have a post office, with letters burning with the anger of lovers who are unable to meet.

I write this letter years later my dear Shahid, wishing you well and telling you that you are not alone. Our homes still burn in broad daylight and at night they seem like stars up close. I am going to ask you to hold on to your anger and be strong. We can do nothing but hold on to the place where if you left home in the morning you never knew if you would return. Resistance through poetry is all we have my friend and we shall seek it.

It rains as I write this. Mad heart, be brave.

All my love,


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