BOOK REVIEW: The Country With No Post Office by Agha Shahid Ali

The Country Without a Post OfficeThe Country Without a Post Office by Agha Shahid Ali
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of 27 poems about life in conflict-riddled Kashmir. Kashmir is a territory in the Himalayas that’s governed by India, but claimed by both India and Pakistan—and, it should be noted, has a significant population of residents that want to be part of neither country. In other words, there are some who’d like to see an independent Kashmir. However, at the moment Kashmir is one portion of one of India’s 29 states, Jammu and Kashmir—a state which is, itself, tripartite (Hindu Jammu, Muslim Kashmir, and Buddhist Ladakh.)

It’s a telling quote from Tacitus with which the author begins the collection. Solitudinum faciunt et pacem appellant. I won’t claim that I didn’t have to look this up, but it means: “They make a desert, and call it peace.” The first poem echoes variations on that quote.

There are a range of poetry styles within this collection, including: rhyming verse, free verse, poetic prose, and ghazal. A ghazal is a Middle Eastern style of lyric poem which has a pattern of rhyme and is metered to be set to music; there are several in this collection. Some of the poems are sparse and some are wordy, and variety is the order of the day.

The 27 poems of this collection are divided among five parts. The book is brief (under 100 pages), and it contains only a prologue and notes (some of which are interesting) with respect to ancillary matter.

This collection paints a portrait of war and life in a war-torn locale. It’s as much the latter as the former. The title poem, “The Country With No Post Office,” suggests the sapping nature of life where the institutions of governance and civil society have broken down.

I’d recommend this collection for those who enjoy poetry, but also for those interested in the conflict in Kashmir.

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DAILY PHOTO: Flag Runners, Wagah Crossing

Taken in April of 2016 at the Wagah border crossing

Taken in April of 2016 at the Wagah border crossing

Taken at the Wagah (Attari) Border Crossing Retreat Ceremony. Kids running with the Indian flag toward the border with Pakistan. These were some of the more skilled flag wavers, which–oddly enough–meant they did less “waving” of the flag. Those who waved the flag tended to wrap it around the pole. These kids had technique, just hold on tight and run like the dickens.

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DAILY PHOTO: Dance off, Pakistan. Me & You

Taken on April 9, 2016 at the Wagah border crossing retreat ceremony

Taken on April 9, 2016 at the Wagah border crossing retreat ceremony

The universal gesture for "Come on, get up and dance, already!"

The universal gesture for “Come on, get up and dance, already!”


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Before the retreat ceremony at the Wagah crossing, there are patriotic festivities including a women-only session of dancing in the street. Why women only? I’d like to say that it’s just so that the message that Indian women are liberated is loud and clear–so that Pakistan will take note of it. However, I suspect that it also has to do with the large number of young Indian men who are… [how can I put this delicately] too horny to be trusted amid a crowd of gyrating females. [Of course, arguably, there’s probably a circularity problem. Being segregated perpetuates the issue.]

At any rate, like Kevin Bacon, they are attempting to dislodge the stick of ignorance. [See what I did there.]

DAILY PHOTO: Fancy Hats of the Wagah Crossing

Taken at the Wagah / Attari border crossing between India and Pakistan on April 9, 2016

Taken at the Wagah / Attari border crossing between India and Pakistan on April 9, 2016

 

A show of zeal and machismo

A show of zeal and machismo

 

Sergeant calls to the troops

Sergeant calls to the troops