The Season of the Plains (Shahid Ali)
“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 and explanations
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.
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.
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.
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.
• Allusion: ‘Siddheshwari and Rasoolan’, ‘the invisible blue god’, ‘Heer and Ranjha’.
• Visual imagery: ‘blue god’, ‘soft necks of ash’.