A Lost Memory of Delhi is written by Agha Shahid Ali. Before beginning with the summary and detailed analysis, it is advised that you read the text of the poem once. Read poem.
The setting of the poem is an overlap of the present (when the poet is writing) and the year 1948, when the poet is still not born. His father is young and mother is a new bride. He imagines how his young and newly married parents would have strolled by the river Yamuna and other such events. Ali describes his parents, his childhood home and tries to place himself within the memory, which he has built perhaps on the basis of accounts told by his parents and old family photographs.
The poem is an interesting experiment in terms of narrative time and imagery as evoked in photographs and real life. At one level the poet is looking at a moment in the past, even before his birth, when his parents are a young newly-wed couple, and at another level the narrative is in the poet’s present when the parents are no more and he yearns to reach out to them again.
He follows their short walk from the bus stand to their house and leaves them as they enter the house. He peeps inside and imagines seeing some of the objects like the lanterns that he had seen littered in the house as he grew up. The house itself, a faded figure in these photographs, is a bright and lighted reality. There is a sharp contrast between the faded photographs and the house lit up with up with lamps against the backdrop of star studded night sky. This sets distance in time between the real life and people and their memories preserved in dull faded photographs.
The closing lines have a childlike frustration: the stars seem to tease the poet as he fails to register his presence with the couple. The two time frames run parallel and merge at times in the lines “I pass my parents” and “I knock keep knocking“. The poet’s sense of humour comes across in the reference to “a road without a name” in a country obsessed with naming every nook and corner after some historical, political or religious figure. The star studded sky at night is now a fantasy in the urbanized Delhi – it is a memory of a lost Delhi. Also, note the use of the old name ‘Jamuna’ for River Yamuna to create a realistic image of the olden time. The movement of the poem is from casual observations about the location to a slow inward movement till the stars seem to communicate with the poet.
Structure and Form
The poem “A Lost Memory of Delhi” is written in free verse form. The poem lacks punctuation marks. The entire poem in continuation with no commas and full stops, not even at the end. However, some lines do begin with capitals. This structure emphasizes the dream like sequence of the poem. It blurs the line between the past and the present, merging the two.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Auditory Imagery in ‘the bells of her anklets’, ‘like the sounds of china’, ‘ringing with tongues of glass’, ‘I knock keep knocking’.
- Visual Imagery in ‘teashops being lit up with lanterns’, ‘they go into the house’, ‘always faded in photographs’.
- Alliteration in ‘I knock keep knocking’, ‘my mother is a recent bride’
- Anaphora in ‘they don’t they wont’
- Anthropomorphism in ‘tongues of glass’, ‘tongues of stars’
Liked this post?
Subscribe !NS¡GHT to never miss out on our events, contests and best reads! Or – get a couple of really cool reads on your phone every day – click here to join our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
!NS¡GHT is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views. If you have a complementary or differing point of view, start sharing your views too!
Featured Image: https://unsplash.com/@frontiersman