The Dacca Gauzes

July 28, 2006 at 11:08 pm 5 comments

Agha Shahid Ali

Listen (to Shahid Ali read)

“…for a whole year he sought
to accumulate the most exquisite
Dacca gauzes.”

— Oscar Wilde /
The Picture of Dorian Gray

Those transparent Dacca gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:

a dead art now, dead over
a hundred years. ‘No one
now knows,’ my grandmother says,

‘what it was to wear
or touch that cloth.’ She wore
it once, an heirloom sari from

her mother’s dowry, proved
genuine when it was pulled, all
six yards, through a ring.

Years later when it tore,
many handkerchiefs embroidered
with gold-thread paisleys

were distributed among
the nieces and daughters-in-law.
Those too now lost.

In history we learned: the hands
of weavers were amputated,
the looms of Bengal silenced,

and the cotton shipped raw
by the British to England.
History of little use to her,

my grandmother just says
how the muslins of today
seem so coarse and that only

in autumn, should one wake up
at dawn to pray, can one
feel that same texture again.

One morning, she says, the air
was dew-starched: she pulled
it absently through her ring.

Another wonderful poem by Shahid Ali, from the same interview I refer to in the previous post. This one, he recites from memory.

Grandmothers and their stories :), the amazing ‘woven air’, the texture of morning air in autumn and of course the tragic end of these muslins and their weavers. It is near impossible to grow up in India, without having heard about them – the fabled weave from Dacca.

The stories were mythical to us as children, how one could fold up a six yard sari and stuff it in a ring, and this would serve as inspiration for us, as we eagerly volunteered, to help my mother fold her starched Sungidi saris, before handing them over to the Dhobi. An exciting experiment in how many times one could fold a sari, especially a heavy cotton one (also a lesson for mothers, on how to keep active 7 year olds occupied and indoors on sunny summer afternoons ;) ). These stories were always accompanied by a sad lesson in history – the Indigo farms, the famine in Bengal. The catch with the Dacca Gauze of course was, ‘No one now knows,…’


Entry filed under: Agha Shahid Ali, Black Mamba, English.

Tonight The Purist

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Laurie  |  October 11, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    Thank you for letting me hear Professor Ali’s poems in his voice. I went to a poetry reading at the University of Utah before he died and he read “The Dacca Gauzes,” one of my favorite poems.

  • 2. Robin Kemp  |  August 4, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Hearing the Beloved’s voice again is a great source of joy to me. I knew Shahid as his student at Warren Wilson College and as a friend and incredible cook. I feel he is with me, my guardian angel of poetry.

  • 3. 133. So Many Things Have Disappeared « Tell Me Another  |  December 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    […] Tara-kaki’s words put me in mind of these lines from the late Agha Shahid Ali’s poem, The Dacca Gauzes: […]

  • 4. tariful islam  |  January 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    how beautifully a poet able to describe a nations tradition!.. I thrilled more and more as I read it….

  • 5. Nabhendu Kothari  |  August 5, 2012 at 5:31 am

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    I had to ask. Does managing a well-established website like
    yours take a massive amount work? I am completely new to operating a blog but I do write in my diary on a daily basis.

    I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my experience and views online. Please let me know if you have any kind of ideas or tips for new aspiring blog owners. Appreciate it!


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