Academic journal article South Asian Studies

The Subcontinent Palimpsest in Alamgir Hashmi's Poetry

Academic journal article South Asian Studies

The Subcontinent Palimpsest in Alamgir Hashmi's Poetry

Article excerpt

I

Acclaimed, at the turn of the millennium by Indian poet and critic Vinay Dharvadkar for his style as the "enfant terrible of contemporary Pakistani Poetry in English" (245), and acknowledged as "The most widely published and well-known English -Language poet from Pakistan" (Coppola 214), Alamgir Hashmi has come to be recognized as "a major world poet...a cosmopolitan writer"(Goodwin vi). A close reading reveals that Hashmi's poetry is replete with spaces which are layered in terms of historical and cultural inscription, erasure and reinscription. The discussion focuses on this Pakistani poet's palimpsest reading of inscriptions on the Subcontinent by various conquerors such as the Aryans, Ashoka, Tamerlane, Alexander the Great and Muhammad Bin Qasim in order to illustrate the cultural accretion which has made the Sub continent such a rich area of historical study. This paper seeks to explore how Hashmi blends the accuracy of a historian and the skills of an archaeologist with the rich metaphors of a poetic consciousness, The result is a reconstruction of the multilayered socio cultural experience of the Subcontinent and a restoration of the historical erasure of culture and civilization wrought by conquest and colonization.

The study is divided into separate sections .The first section briefly traces the evolution of the term 'Palimpsest' from the ancient to modern ,from manuscript to metaphor. This is followed by the analysis of three of Hashmi's contemporaries namely Shuja Nawaz 1, M. Athar Tahir2, Salman Tarik Kureshi 3,who also attempt palimpsest readings of the historical inscriptions on the Sub continent ,and thereby forge links between the rise and fall of civilizations in this region. The comparison would facilitate a literary overview of the context in which Hashmi reworks the Palimpsest . The succeeding sections explore individual poems by Alamgir Hashmi drawing on other Pakistani poets writing in English ,such as Adrian A. Husain4 and Zulfikar Ghose 5 who also share Hashmi's desire to establish a connection with their multicultural heritage. This comparison highlights the fact that Hashmi's stylistic method is more complex and comprehensive in terms of the readings it generates. This is because the process of exposing constitutional layers of a solid body is facilitated by cutting a cross section, and then examining it under a microscope .In the same manner, Hashmi takes a slice of history and presents it under the poetic lens revealing all the different layers of cultural and social accretion which may otherwise have been ignored or passed over as insignificant. Thus it is Hashmi alone who attempts to replicate the form of a palimpsest on the poetic page so that the layering of history and the erasures wrought by conquest or colonization can be seen simultaneously.

At the literal level the word 'Palimpsest' is derived from ancient Greek meaning "scraped again"( OED 393) and refers to "Paper, parchment or other writing material prepared for writing on and wiping out again like a slate"( OED 393). The reference is to valuable papyrus, or vellum which was used as a writing surface in ancient times and had to be partially erased in order to be used again. However, in most cases the lower layers on such surfaces can be restored by archaeologists and are partially still visible under its recent use or overwriting. This word appeared in the seventeenth century when British historians used it for discussing ancient writing tools and manuscripts, and McDonagh in Writings on the Mind notes that "the palimpsest became a recurrent metaphor in the nineteenth century for the human psyche and for history" (208). It was however in the twentieth century that 'Palimpsest' began to be used metaphorically when applied to literature, film and theatre "to refer to the multiple meanings of any word and the multiple layers or levels of meaning in any text" (Murfin and Ray 264) implying a process of looking beyond surface meaning in order to see the deeper subtext. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.