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The following account has been penned down by the Amitav Ghosh who is also the narrator. He had promised one of his friends (Agha Shahid Ali) to write about him after his death. The chapter is a mixture of fun, emotional memories and a heart wrenching departure of a noble soul that was genius along with a merry-making, food-loving person.
The narrator talked about Agha Shahid Ali. Shahid was under treatment for cancer for fourteen months. He was still on his feet and had occasional memory lapses. Shahid told the narrator to write something about him after he died.
The narrator wished him a speedy recovery. Shahid lived in Manhattan a few blocks away. He had a brain tumor and moved to Brooklyn to live with his sister. The narrator also lived in Brooklyn.
Shahid was serious about the writing. The narrator could not come up with any words to say to Shahid, yet he agreed to write about him. The narrator took the pen and wrote everything about that conversation.
Shahid was also a writer. His book The Country Without a Post Office had a great effect on the narrator. The narrator first met Shahid in 1998. They both knew about each other’s preferences. They both loved Rogan Josh, Roshanara Begum and Kishore Kumar.
In Pursuit of Knowledge
Suketu Mehta, a writer, joined them both. They made a plan for a friendly meeting. They started to meet frequently after that. Shahid was a private person, but the narrator loved the camera.
One day, the narrator went to the hospital along with Shahid’s sibling to bring him home. In the hospital, Shahid’s head was shaved, and they all could see the tumor that had bulged outward.
Shahid was suffering very badly, yet when he came to know that one of the hospital workers was Spanish, his face gleamed with joy because he always wanted to learn Spanish.
Shahid: The Foodie
Shahid always hosted parties in his house. He loved the atmosphere of festivity. The entrance in Shahid’s house was a mixture of many cultures, according to the narrator. There were always people in his house. He loved food (rogan josh) very much.
Shahid met poet James Merrill through his parties. James had a long-lasting effect on Shahid’s poetry. Shahid had a special place in his heart for Kashmiri cuisine. He also told the narrator about his love for Bengali food.
Though he had never been to West Bengal yet, he had Bengali friends. Shahid also loved the ghazals of Begum Akhter. Shahid was very passionate about poetry.
Once Shahid was giving his last lecture, and the narrator was fortunate enough to witness it. His students adored him. An Indian student wished him with a crying voice. Shahid told him that it stirred a tide of patriotism in him whenever he beheld another South Asian.
Shahid’s time in Penn State was happiest. He met different people during this time. He was later appointed as professor at the University of Utah in 1999. The Kashmir conflict had a great effect on his poetry. He believed that religion and politics should never be mixed.
Shahid was a secular person. He liked every religion. Once, he aimed to make a Hindu temple, and his mother helped him make one. Among other notes, the narrator had this copy of a phone call between him and Shahid on 5 May.
During the phone call, Shahid told the narrator (Amitav Ghosh) that there was no hope of surviving this deadly disease. He wanted to spend his last time in Kashmir but later changed his mind.
Shahid, in his end-times, was calm and resolute. His only strong point about dying was that he would meet his mother in the afterlife if there were one. Shahid died peacefully on 8 December and was laid to rest in Northampton. The narrator still feels his presence.