The Floating Post Office By Agha Shahid Ali

As of now, there have been many poets and movies that have picturized the external beauty of Kashmir, but Agha Shahid Ali (4 February 1949 – 8 December 2001) is among those poets who have mirrored the internal pangs and pains of the state and its city. Though born in Delhi, Ali was brought up in Kashmir and migrated to the United States to obtain his education, and inspired a lot of Kashmiris through his excellent and powerful poetic works to fight for their human rights and freedom. Similar to “The Country Without a Post Office,” the poem titled The Floating Post Office, also brings forth the terrifying state of Kashmir. In the poem, the post office is a floating house boat, which is an attractive carriage, and carries terrifying messages of destruction and death in Kashmir.

Style and Form of The Floating Post Office

Similar to other poems, the poem The Floating Post Office has also been written in “ghazalesque” style, meaning the blending of the “rhythms and forms of the Indo-Islamic tradition with a distinctly American approach to storytelling. Particularly famous for his dexterous  allusions to Urdu, European, Persian and Arabic literary traditions, most of the poetry collections of Ali orbits around both cultural and thematic poles, and most of his poetic works are not abstract considerations of love and longing, rather they are concrete accounts of events of personal as well as sometimes political importance.

About the The Floating Post Office

In poem, The Floating Post Officewhich can be read in full here, the poet brings forth the very famous floating post office of Kashmir that is a floating house and an attractive carriage carrying dreadful messages of destruction and death. When the poet says the boat is “being rowed through the fog of death, the sentence passed on our city,” he means to bring forth the terrifying state of Kashmir, which is going through the turmoil of violence, and fighting, for its independence. The poet through this stanza has picturized the floating boat as a messenger of death. Ali was deeply broken by the gory state of Kashmir. The whole poem reveals the tragic state of Kashmir, and narrates how its roads and walls have gone stained with the blood of its near and dear ones. Through the poem, Ali becomes the eyewitness of the widespread tragedy, and using metaphors like post office and letters, he wishes to narrate and bring forth the prevalent tragic situation to the whole world out there. The primary object of Ali through his poetic work is to end violence in Kashmir, and help re-establish peace. This is the reason why he always seeks to resist the oppression. Moreover, The Floating Post Office is one such poem of Agha Shahid Ali’s wherein the latter doesn’t mourn the loss but expect hope to prevail in the future.

Analysis of The Floating Post Office

Stanzas 1-2

In the first section of the poem, the poet introduces the boat and postman who carries letters with him and delivers by ringing bell. The poet tells that the boat that carries letters and messages of Kashmiri is like a gondola, it has a clerk who informs about his arrival by a bell. The floating boat transfers the messages and letters of all Kashmiris. Through the messages and letters, it tells who has died and who is alive. In the first part of the poem, the boat is actually a carrier of death and destruction messages. The poet says, the one open road that is waterways used to send the messages is close now. In fact, all through the poem, the poet tries to carry this message across waters, but the one open road now seems to have been closed.

Stanzas 3-4

However, in the second part, the scene becomes more terrifying when the poet says, the boat being rowed through the fog of death, the punishment has now shifted to our own city, here by city, the poet means Srinagar, where the poet was raised. In fact, in most of his poems, Ali has synonymized Kashmir with Srinagar, but still the object of the poet through his poetic work is to depict and bring to light the bloodshed going on in Kashmir.

Similarly, the poem talks about the dreadful condition of Kashmir, and tell that the post boat was handing over the smudged black-ink letters, meaning the city was all blood. The innocent people were being killed. Here the poet has used an image of a blood-stained city, and here the city is none other than Srinagar, where the poet was brought up. The postman was handing over those blood-stained letters to us, and we were receiving them without any word. At the same time, when we gave him our response, he used to hold our letters clutched to his heart like a lover, and delivered them to their destination.

Stanzas 5-6

Defining the tragic and terrifying state of Kashmir, the poet says that letters brought by the postman are filled with blood, and asks rain, “O Rain, abandon all pretense, now drown the world, give us your word, ring, sweet assassin of the road, the temple bell! For if letters come, I will answer those letters and my year will be tense, alive with love!

In the poem, the poet continues his struggle to row the boat till the end. He says, no one can stop him to carry and deliver the letters to their destination. He will carry and deliver them “through olive/ canals, tense waters

Stanzas 7-8

The struggle to row the boat continues till the end where he feels that letters will reach the destination “through olive/ canals, tense waters no one can close” (Ali, The Veiled 208). In the last line of the poem, the poet actually pledges to carry the burden of messages from this unknown conflict, and disseminate them to the world, and he succeeds. He has been seen pleading Rain, and saying, “O Rain, abandon all pretense, now drown the world, give us your word, ring, sweet assassin of the road, the temple bell!”

In the last part of the poem, the poet himself takes the responsibility of delivering the letters and says, For if letters come, I will answer those letters and my year will be tense, alive with love! Showing courage and facing the bloodbath of rain going on in Kashmir, the poet says, nothing can stop him from delivering letters to their destination; I will deliver and hand over them “through olive/ canals, tense waters.

Personal Comments

Having studied Agha Shahid Ali, it comes to know that the poet has always been nostalgic for his home and country no matter whether he lives in America or any other part of the world. All through his poems, you will find him lamenting for the lost homes, buried and burned houses and all those catastrophic events shaking and breaking Kashmir. By virtue of his poetic works, Ali himself seeks to be witness to the tragic state of Kashmir, and using the metaphor of letters and post office he wants to carry this message at world level. His sole objective through his poetic works is to bring the ongoing violence to an end, and spread peace in the beautiful Kashmir. This is the reason why he has always been resisting the oppression. And with a view to describe all this tribulation and violence in Kashmir, Agha Shahid Ali employed the concept of messages and letters to such an extent that he entitled his poem as “The Country Without a Post Office.”

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