ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Lost Kashmir: Violence, Memory and Materiality in Agha Shahid Ali’s Poetry


Chatterjee Antara - Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Humanities and Social Sciences, Bhopal, India


30- Creative and social engagement with conflict: a perspective from the South Asian Diaspora


 This paper will explore how the material becomes a crucial repository of diasporic memory and affect in the poetry of the Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali. Ali articulated through his oeuvre the angst of an embattled, conflict-torn Kashmir in the 1990s, his poetry a layered terrain for the interplay of his complex and entangled emotions surrounding home, exile, conflict, memory, displacement and travel.

Ali’s poetry includes scattered but sustained references to material objects, which signify a distinctive Kashmiri culture and ethos, but also inscribe narratives of violence and loss through the channels of capital and (neo)colonialism, like the Kashmir shawl and saffron. Other material objects that recur in Ali’s poetry include the letter, sent and lost (The Country Without a Post Office, and the picture postcard from Kashmir (Postcard from Kashmir). These material markers contain multiple and intermeshed connotations of a home lost through physical and emotional displacement, but also through

violent conflict, and the photographic gaze of consumption projected on Kashmir’s famed natural beauty.

This paper will engage with the material in Ali’s poetry as a site of memory, loss, displacement, violence but also of travel and (re)inscription.