The Season of the Plains (Shahid Ali)

Introduction

“The Season of the Plains” brings alive the pangs of separation experienced by people who are living away from their homeland. Absence of a particular season in exile acts as a trigger for longing and nostalgia. Shahid Ali lived most of his adult life outside his homeland, Kashmir and passed away in the USA. This brings an intensely personal feeling into the poem.

The poem talks about the background of his mother. It explores the story of Krishna and Radha, and the oral tales “on the shores /of the Jamuna”(44). The Indian classical music of the celebrated ‘Banaras thumri-singers’ is drawn parallel to the love and longing of Heer and Ranjha, the legendary lovers of the land of Punjab.

ANALYSIS

Agha Shahid Ali’s multi-cultural belonging laid an ultimate effect on his poetic endeavor. His motherland, Kashmir, where he grew up, is witnessing the agony of war and claims of ownership between India and Pakistan, to the present times. Ali’s upbringing amongst three languages have also created a poetic gallery with fusion of themes and cross-cultural subjects.

Augmenting his poetic zone, Ali’s migration from India to United States, has raised the concept of travel, migration, diaspora and cultural plurality.Reading Ali’s poetry under this lens, it is intriguing to understand the implicit meaning of home as well as the poet’s traditional and cultural affiliations to one’s native land. His poems also throw light on Kashmir’s colonial history and the after effects of colonialism on the present, socio-economic growth of the land of Kashmir.The idea of nation in Ali’s poetry is composed in response to the actions taken by the political powers for the land of Kashmir. Strolling around the beauty of Kashmir, Ali comments upon the pain and fear of the nuclear war. So, the war and violence are simultaneous frames through which his verses circulate.

Kashmir is a place that lacks communication and it meets its voice on the poetic platform of Agha Shahid Ali. Kashmir forms the center of Ali’s world. The constant urge of the poet to long for the beauty and identity for his land raises the relative question about the political unrest between India and Pakistan. It is the vehicle which the poet opts to reflect the loss of his homeland which was once called the paradise on earth.In this respect, Akshaya K. Rath, remarks, “That Shahid Ali constantly portrays Kashmir as a disturbed place has a long history and an extensive purpose in mind. The large –scale atrocities, constant subjugation, mass rapes, curfews and tortures in army camps are embedded in Shahid Ali’s poems, so as to show the real image of a place that was once termed ‘the blessed land’ or ‘paradise on earth’.Kashmir, has now emerged as the ‘no-man’s land’ which is full of harsh realities. It is about war, ownership, identity, peace and search for a new horizon. Ali’s poetry evolves such perspectives and concern for Kashmiri people. Therefore, it is a captivating task to estimate the expression of ‘Kashmir’, the character and role of Kashmir and the artistic subject of the Kashmir in the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali.

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The natural beauty of the land of Kashmir was unparalleled in yester years. Its beauty was admirable in ancient time and it was termed as
‘paradise on earth’. In ancient times, it was a land where people from Hindu and Muslim religion, lived in complete harmony. Thus, such Hindu-Muslim bonding made the land a beautiful picture of strong socioreligious bond.Unfortunately, with the course of time, Kashmir has sadly turned into a land of war and violence. The political lust and religious discord has fractured the beauty of Kashmir into pieces. It has turned into continuous war of the ownership between the two countries-India and Pakistan. Both the countries claim ownership of the land. The people of Kashmir have been badly affected due to this political and religious war. Many people have migrated and left their home due to unbearable socio-economic conditions and the harsh realities, ruling this land. Thus, the people of Kashmir are in constant search for their identity and their lost homeland.Making ‘Kashmir’ as an indivisible vehicle of his verses, the poet has raised issues and agendas before the readers about the loss and the longing, the feeling of alienation and exile, for his motherland. The character of Kashmir is reflected through language, tradition, scenes and communication, in most of the poems of Agha Shahid Ali. Thus, it is interesting and motivating to glorify the various roles of motherland in his poetry. It is also compelling to understand the fate of Kashmiri people on the twists and turns of political powers. Ali, too longs for his motherland Kashmir like any other diasporic writer. His poetry dwells on the words taken from the land to stress his love for the place.Ali’s poetry makes reader experience his narrative within many frames.History is witnessed and visited through different shades of memory as in the poem “The Seasons of the Plains”. The poem “The Seasons of the Plains” discusses his mother’sbackground. It explores the myth of Krishna and Radha, and the oral stories “on the shores /of the Jamuna”(44). The Indian classical music of the celebrated ‘Banaras thumri-singers’ is drawn parallel to the love and longing of Heer and Ranjha, the legendary lovers from the land of Punjab. The secular image of India is drawn in all the poems of this volume.

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Explanations and Summary

EXPLANATION:

“The Season of the Plains” brings alive the pangs of separation experienced by people who are living away from their homeland. Absence of a particular season in exile acts as a trigger for longing and nostalgia. Shahid Ali lived most of his adult life outside his homeland, Kashmir and passed away in the USA. This brings an intensely personal feeling into the poem. The poem talks about the background of his mother. It explores the story of Krishna and Radha, and the oral tales “on the shores /of the Jamuna”(44). The Indian classical music of the celebrated ‘Banaras thumri-singers’ is drawn parallel to the love and longing of Heer and Ranjha, the legendary lovers of the land of Punjab.

Summary

The poet’s mother, having actually been born in Lucknow and married in Kashmir, misses her past life in her hometown. She especially misses the monsoon season which does not occur in Kashmir. She keeps listening to the Banaras thumri-singers who sing of longing and separation. The monsoon is a season of relief and enjoyment for children who drench themselves in the rain after the scorching summer heat. But for lovers, who have to hide their love from the conservative and censuring society, the rain intensifies their feeling of separation. The poet becomes curious whether his mother longed for somebody, especially during the monsoon, in her hometown. His mother says nothing to this except humming a lover’s lament.

soaking their utter summer: Children drench themselves in the rain because it brings relief from summer‘s scorching heat.

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their love forbidden: The lovers are not allowed to disclose their love because they live in a conservative society which forbids such relationships.

soft necks of ash: The shape of the burned out incense stick with the soft ash hanging around on a curved slender thread of burnt wood.

Theme

The theme of separation has been dealt with in the poem at two levels: separation from homeland (home-sickness) and separation in love. Separation from homeland is an intensely painful experience.

The poet’s mother finds the beautiful seasons of Kashmir painfully wanting because unlike Lucknow no monsoon occurs here. She keeps listening to Siddheshwari and Rasoolan who sing thumris of longing when the rains come.

Home-Sickness is the core theme of this poem. It shows his devotion to his home. It’s about how he feels away from home and how he finds home based on memories. Ali found himself to be a complex blend of various cultures that shaped his identity, but he still prefers to call himself a Kashmiri-American. He combines the landscapes of Kashmir and America in his writing, along with the feelings of exile (nostalgia about home-sickness). Shahid expresses his frustration for loss; his home that he will never see again.

The poem is also about separation in love. As the lovers await each other’s message fearing their love may be discovered by society, the rains bring sharp feelings of separation and longing. The anxious nightly watch of the lovers has been captured in the image of the incense stick burning away overnight and leaving behind but a soft neck of cold ash.

Point of view

The poem is written from the point of view of an exile. It vehemently advocates that separation from homeland and separation in love are both deeply felt and cause agony that cannot be expressed.

Tone

The tone is nostalgic and melancholic as the poem deals with separation and longing. The tone is reinforced by the imagery of the incense stick.

Devices/techniques

Allusion: ‘Siddheshwari and Rasoolan’, ‘the invisible blue god’, ‘Heer and Ranjha’.

Visual imagery: ‘blue god’, ‘soft necks of ash’.

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