The Country Without a Post Office

by Agha Shahid Ali

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Why does the speaker say that the houses are empty in "The Country Without a Post Office"?

Quick answer:

The speaker says that the houses are empty because people have fled the violence and mayhem in Kashmir to take refuge on the plains.

Expert Answers

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Some brief background helps make this poem understandable. It was written in remembrance of a time in 1990 when a rebellion broke out in Kashmir, leading to the mail not being delivered there for seven months. This period was also marked by violence, mayhem, rape, fires, and death, causing many people to flee their homes. The main group leaving was Pandits, Hindus who feared they would be killed by Muslims.

In the poem, the narrator mentions the "empty" houses. Ali ends the stanza on that word, then begins the second stanza with a question that repeats the word. He goes on to explain that the houses are empty because

so many fled, ran away,
and became refugees

from the violence. The speaker says these refugees fled to the "plains." He says the soldiers burn their houses. He notes, too, that the people left try to bury the flames, but still, the places burn.

In part 2, the speaker talks of coming to try to find a friend he has not heard from in months, saying he looks for him in houses that are "buried—empty."

As the poem goes on, the speaker laments the many people who are dead or missing and whose letters, left behind, tell a poignant story of destruction and displacement.

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