A Map of Longings
Penguin Random House - June 21
Now Available on Amazon
Read an excerpt from the book
Scroll.in, Indian Cultural Forum & Hindu Businessline
This first definitive biography of Agha Shahid Ali offers a rich portrait of the poet and the world he inhabited. Shahid is widely regarded as one of the finest poets from the Indian subcontinent, and his works are read across the world, touching millions of lives. A pioneer of ghazal writing in English, he wrote extensively about loss, nostalgia and home. A witness to the conflict that ravaged his homeland Kashmir, a loss he lamented in his collection The Country without a Post Office, Shahid has today become a symbol of hope in a violent world.
In this biography, Manan Kapoor explores the concerns that shaped Shahid's life and works, following in the footsteps of the 'Beloved Witness' from Kashmir to New Delhi and finally to the United States. He charts Shahid's friendships with figures like Begum Akhtar and James Merrill, and looks at the lives the poet touched with his compassion and love. He also traces the complex evolution of Shahid's evocative verses, which mapped various cultures and geographies, and mourned injustice and loss, both personal and political. Drawing on various unpublished materials and in-depth interviews with Shahid's family, friends, students and acquaintances, Kapoor narrates the riveting story of a major literary voice and presents Shahid's poetic vision, revealing not just what he wrote but also how he taught the world to live.
Praise for the Book
In A Map of Longings, Manan Kapoor draws a scintillating portrait of one of the finest poets of the late 20th century, whose influence has grown immeasurably in the two decades that have followed his far-too-early death in 2001. Kapoor's absorbing, immersive account presents Agha Shahid Ali as the superb literary artist he was, single-mindedly exploring the traditions of poetry and experimenting with its resources across several languages.
— Ranjit Hoskote
Shahid called himself 'Kashmiri-American'. But for more than two decades he lived in India, with formative years in Delhi, before he emigrated to the United States. Manan Kapoor's immersive study returns the poet to his roots, which are inescapably Indian-there's no other word for the syncretic mastery of the Hindi, Urdu and English traditions that shaped his work.
— Jeet Thayil
In A Map of Longings, his critical biography of the poet, Manan Kapoor heroically rises to the task of capturing Ali’s complex genius, inflected by a wide range of influences: a liberal Muslim upbringing, a voracious appetite for reading, an abiding love for the ghazal, bold embrace of his homosexuality, life as an academic in the US and, above all, his unshaken love for his homeland, Kashmir, riven by decades of conflict and unrest during his lifetime.
— Somak Ghoshal, MintLounge
Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, [Manan] Kapoor fits in snippets from interviews and essays, anecdotes narrated by friends and family, as well as fragments of poetry to bring out Shahid’s piquant charm, humour, whimsy, zest for life.
— Rakhshanda Jalil, The Hindu
AT THE OUTSET of A Map of Longings, Manan Kapoor describes the presence of poetry in the late poet Agha Shahid Ali’s life as a wound. It is a claim representative of the kind of biographer he has chosen to be—involved, precise, and forensic in matters of influence and craft. In a little less than 250 crisply written pages, Kapoor demystifies the poet whose spectre looms large over South Asian poetry in English, who has enthralled many a young poet with his reminder that, “The world is full of paper. / Write to me.”
— Urvashi Bahuguna, Open Magazine