Monday, 16 October 2017

Wish of a dying man (part-1)

        About the story - A dying man, an expatriate from Kashmir, asks the author to write something about him after he is gone. The following piece is what author wrote to keep his promise.

        The first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his approaching death was on 25 April 2001. The conversation began routinely. I had telephoned to remind him what we had been invited to a friend's house for lunch and that I was going to come by his apartment to pick him up. Although he had been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months, Shahid was still on hiss feet and perfectly lucid, except for occasionally lapses of memory. I heard him thumbing through his Engagement book and then suddenly he said: oh dear I can't see a thing. There was a brief pause and then he added : 'I hope this doesn't mean that I'm dying...

Although Shahid and I had talked a great deal over the last many weeks. I had never before heard him touch on the subject of death. I did not know how to respond: his voice was completely at odds with the content of what he had just said, light to the point of jocularity. I mumbled something innocuous: 'No Shahid - of course not. You'll be fine.' He cut me short. In a tone of voice that was at once quizzical and direct, he said: 'When it happens I hope you'll write something about me.'

I was shocked into silence and a long moment passed before I could bring myself to say the things that people say on such occasions, 'Shahid you'll be fine; you have to be strong... '

From the window of my study I could see a corner of the building in which he lived, some eight blocks away. It was just a few months since he moved there: he had been living a few miles away, in Manhattan, when he had a sudden blackout in February 2000. After tests revealed that he had a malignant brain tumor, he decided to move to Brooklyn, to be close to his youngest sister, Sameetah, who teaches at the Pratt institute - a few blocks away from the street where I live.

To be continued........ 

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