Postcard from Kashmir

About the Poet
Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri-American poet
who was a finalist for the 2001 National
Book Award in Poetry.  He was born in New Dehli and studied in Kashmir, New Delhi, and the United States, where he earned a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 1984. The next year, he earned a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona. He was a professor of English literature and creative writing at colleges and universities in India and the United States. He died of brain cancer on December 8, 2001 at his brother’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he was staying. He was 52 and had lived in Brooklyn.

Agha Shahid All is one such writer who
did border crossing, therefore, carrying
with him in his writing a pluralistic legacy
which makes him a typical hybrid writer.
He grew up in Kashmir, went on to live in
America in 1974, and use to visit Kashmir
to spend summer with his parents.

At the time of his death in 2001, Ali was
noted as a poet uniquely able to blend
multiple ethnic influences and ideas in
both traditional forms and elegant free-
verse. His poetry reflects his Hindu,
Muslim, and Western heritages.

Ali not only wrote poetry but was also an accomplished translator. He translated
into English the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the famous Urdu poet. His translation of Faiz’s poetry is titled A Rebel’s Silouhette.

About the Poem

The poem titled ‘Postcard from Kashmir’  is a prologue poem in Agha Shahid Ali’s anthology, “Half Inch Himalayas” which was published in 1987. The poem expresses the poet’s sentimental feelings for his motherland. It shows how moved he was when he received a photograph postcard from Kashmir in America. The poem establishes the volume’s theme by demonstrating the poet’s strong affection for and nostalgia for his homeland. The poems in this collection are about his longing for his homeland, his memories of it, and his exile. His homeland plagues his imagination, and he longs to experience and talk about it in this poetry. Although the poem includes 14 lines, it cannot be classified as a sonnet since it lacks the stanza form, metre, and rhyme that are essential to sonnets.

Summary of Postcard from Kashmir

The speaker in the poem expresses his sentiments after getting a postcard from Kashmir, an area of the Indian subcontinent. place. The postcard features a snapshot of Kashmir, which the speaker claims to be his home. The speaker, who lives in a western country and is geographically remote from Kashmir, looks lovingly at this four-by-six-inch photograph.

The speaker asserts that he has always admired neatness, a quality he associates with Kashmir in his childhood days. The irony of the situation is encapsulated in his claim that he now has the half-inch Himalayas in his hand. The vast and gigantic mountain range is reduced to a compact, clean picture, which the poet dislikes.

The most ambiguous sentence in the poem is “here is home,” which can refer to the poet’s incapability to leave the location where he lives or to the poet’s sacrifice of it for his homeland.

It is apparent that the poem’s ultimate goal is to reflect the poet’s boundless patriotic love for Kashmir, the region he is happy to call home.

Analysis of Postcard from Kashmir


The poem ‘Postcard from Kashmir’ reflects the poet’s feelings about his homeland Kashmir. It juxtaposes the poet’s remembrance of his home with a photograph of some Kashmiri scenery. He is reminded of his home in India when he receives the postcard. Obviously, he is not at home and is in a distant place.

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Did you find the first two lines of the poem difficult to understand? How can Kashmir be contained in a mailbox? However, when you know that ‘Kashmir’ here refers to a photo postcard depicting a scene in Kashmir, you see that the word has been employed in a different context. The postcard measures four inches by six inches, according to the second line. Why did he use the adjective ‘neat’ in the second line? It is most likely meant to imply that, while the scene from Kashmir is printed on a well-defined, rectangular sheet of paper, the poet’s memory of that region is not so well-defined. It’s murky and overlapping, and it’s tinged with conflicting emotions.

The poet tells us about himself in the next two lines. He prefers neat and well-organized things. But there’s a ring of ironic remorse in his voice as well. You’ll notice that the lines are ironic. They are saying the exact opposite of what they are saying.

The poet appears to be stating that he, who once prided himself on his clarity of thought, is now perplexed about what his home means to him. He is now looking at an image of the Himalayas on a half-inch stamp affixed to a postcard, but he is unable to describe properly what the mountains mean to him now, or what memories that picture evokes in him.

As you read on, you discover that the poet’s experience is multifaceted. For example, the word “home” can be interpreted in several ways. Is ‘home’ Kashmir or the area in America where he currently resides? If the place he is presently living in his home, why does he miss Kashmir, where he was born and spent his childhood? Continuing the poem’s intrinsic ambiguity and duality, the poet writes that when he visits Kashmir, the place will not be as colourful as the picture postcard. Similarly, Jhelum’s water will not be as vividly blue. The postcard then serves as a metaphor for his recollections of his homeland. He has a romanticised image of his homeland in his thoughts. It is thought that distance makes things appear more beautiful than they are. His memories of Kashmir are more colourful than the real Kashmir.

Why does the speaker claim that his love would not be ‘overexposed’ in Kashmir? The term ‘overexposed’ has been used herein the manner that it is used in photography. When more light than necessary is allowed to fall on a negative, it is said to be overexposed. When this happens, the positive that is printed from the negative plate becomes fuzzy. His passion for his motherland is overexposed in America because it is tinged with too much longing and nostalgia, making it impossible to comprehend.

Style

The poet speaks the poem in a tone that suggests he is talking to himself. You’ll see that the poet builds on ideas of light and darkness. The ‘ultramarine’ in line 9 contrasts with the ‘black/and white’ in lines 13 and 14. As a result, we might conclude that the poet uses visual images to describe his love for his birthplace. You’ll also observe that when the poet describes the reallocation, he uses expressions like ‘four by six inches,’ ‘half-inch Himalayas,’ ‘Jhelum,’ and ‘waters,’ all of which have a specific meaning and can be visualised. But when he talks about his feelings, he uses terms like “home” and “love,” which are difficult to visualise. He accomplishes this contrasting effect in the poem by balancing concrete and abstract words.

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Textual Questions


Q. How has Kashmir ‘shrunk’ into the poet’s mailbox?
Ans: The poet, actually receives a mail with a photograph of his homeland called Kashmir. Being, geographically distant, he is overwhelmed by the photograph of the land he cherishes and wishes to return. Moreover, he wishes to return.

Moreover, the short and small photograph cannot represent a region which is massive in area. He is not certain whether he can ever return to his native land and claims that this is home- Which either can mean that he has to satisfy himself with photograph only or the foreign place, which he has compromised into his home now.

Q. Explain the ironic effect of the line “Now I hold the half. Inch Himalayas in my hand”.
Ans: Agha Shahid in many of his poems describes his nostalgic feelings about his homeland. The childhood memories of his native land are in his mind and he tries to imprint them while looking at the photograph received by him through a postcard. He expects Kashmir to be the same neat and clean but the lost beauty of his dreamland can be traced from the line:” Now I hold half-inch Himalayas in my hand”, the half-inch Himalayas are Ironical to the extreme that the vast and massive geographic area has shrunk and lost is neat and clean attitude. In addition, the Irony of not ever returning to the birthplace finds a poor substitute in four by six-inch postcard with a photograph in it.

Q. Why does the poet use the word ‘overexposed while describing his love for Kashmir?
Ans: The photograph of the native land received through a postcard has been symbolically used by the poet. The photograph presents a micro picture of the land, he cherishes and desires to return. At the same time, the poet feels it impossible to leave the place he works. So, the running ultramarine waters of Jehlum, the massive mountain range of the Himalayas make the poets’ love for this land overexposed. The irreducible gap between reality and aspiration make the poet overemotional and he cherished the photograph that works a link between the land he can’t return and the land he cherishes. The poet even vaguely contrasts the beauty and brilliance of the cherished homeland with the Kashmir he might visit in future.

Q. Why is Kashmir compared to a giant negative, black and white skill undeveloped at the end of the poem?
Ans:  The speaker of the poem assumes that the real sights of Kashmir will be different than the images of the native land formed during the poet’s childhood. Living in a distant land he is not sure about the current beauty and atmosphere of his native land. The photograph presents a poor substitute for the same the words giant negative black and white still underdeveloped present the contrast between the actual beauty of the land and the scenic view in the photograph. It can never carry the same spirit and brilliance of the land. Since his native land is divided between India Pakistan and China, the place never can develop properly. In short, the photograph fails to satiate the poet’s love for his homeland. 

Q. How does the poet’s sense of nostalgia get reflected in the poem?
Agha Shahid Ali spent his childhood in Kashmir. After early education, he moved to Delhi and then to the U.S for further education.  While making a career by teaching in the U.S, he often wrote poems depicting the beauty, love and brilliance of his home. 

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Among many anthologies, the Half Inch Himalayas also deals with the poet’s nostalgic feelings about the land to which he feels impossible to return. 

Living in a Foreign land, the poet once receives a postcard from Kashmir. He believes that his homeland too has metaphorically shrunk to the postcard. As his homeland is really divided between three countries, he claims that he holds the half-inch Himalayas in his hand.  The poet also compares the homeland he knows with that he might encounter once he returns. He claims: “When I return the colours won’t be so brilliant”.

The longing for the homeland is profound but the chances of his return are dim. Looking at the Photographs he claims “this is home”, but some critics believe that the time is ambiguous and can also mean that the place of his current dwelling is his home. The poet even talks of the ultramarine waters of Jehlum. The contrast between the land of his dreams and the actual land of Kashmir is expressed through the line “And my memory will be out of focus”.

In short, the ultimate aim of the poem is to project the poet’s nostalgic feelings for his homeland and the same has been done aptly. 

Q.  Explain the various poetic techniques that the poet uses to emphasise the beauty of his homeland?
Ans:  Like T.S Eliot, Agha Shahid experimented with the diction, metre and overall structure of his poems frequently. Agha shahid not only introduced the Ghazal genre in English But brought innovations in the translation world. The poem in question Post Card from Kashmir is a fine example of experimentation with poetic techniques to get the desired aims. 

The poem comprises of 14 lines but cannot be called a sonnet since it lacks both the content and form of traditional sonnets. There is no fixed stanza structure, metre and rhyme prerequisite of traditional sonnets. 


Irony has been employed in this poem tilted Post Card from Kashmir, the word home either can mean Kashmir and the U.S where the poet presently resides.

The speaker mentions that he is a great lover of neatness. The irony is found in the fact that he can now hold half inch Himalayas in his hand. The massive and enormous mountain range reducing to half-inch Himalayas surely brings Irony with it. It signifies that one of the most impressive aspects of his homeland has been shrunk and made to seem far less unimpressive and insignificant. Although the postcard lies in the speaker’s hand he has lost touch with the very reality of his homeland. The technique of ambiguity is also used in the poem. The most intriguing line is “This is home” which either can be the place depicted in the photograph “or” the place where he currently resides. The line emphasises the fact that the poet is unable to return to his native land. 

There is ambiguity towards the end of the poem, as the poet reveals that he is out of focus and believes the giant negative she lies underdeveloped. 

Note: This post is submitted by an anonymous person.

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