One of the things poems do is bring into focus the everyday. It could be the pavement astrologer sitting outside Delhi railway station
‘The planets gather dust
from passing trucks’,
or, in the verandah of a family house in Srinagar,
‘a pile of damp letters—one to my father to attend a meeting the previous autumn, another an invitation to a wedding.’
The examples, of a Delhi astrologer and a Srinagar house, are from Agha Shahid Ali. The first is from The Half-Inch Himalayas (’87), the second from The Country Without a Post Office (’97). In the 10 years between their publication, the world, for Ali, changed beyond belief.
What had changed is explained in a note to Rooms are Never Finished (’01). "In 1990," Ali writes in the note,
"Kashmir...erupted into a full-scale uprising for self-determination. The resulting devastation—large-scale atrocities and the...