At the time of her death – on the morning of 19th October, 2019 – Allison Busch was the associate professor of South Asian Literatures at the Department of Middle Eastern South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS), Columbia University in New York. She was highly regarded in her field and was a driving force behind the study of Hindi-Urdu at Columbia University. She taught classes on Mughal history, courtly cultures and Asian humanities and offered seminars on premodern and modern Hindi literature. I joined the Department of Middle Eastern South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS), Columbia University, in Fall 2015, as a PhD student of Professor Allison Busch. In the next four years, our relationship deepened as I found a caring and protective advisor in her. Ever aware of her responsibilities, Allison made sure that her students do not undergo any problems whatsoever. Working in an often-unforgiving academic environment she always stood her ground sincerely. Her life, cruelly cut short, is an inspiration for her students and colleagues. Most of us, scholars who work on South Asian literatures, have benefited immensely from reading her book on Brajabhasha poems in Mughal India – Poetry of Kings. The book not only opened new directions in Mughal studies but also highlighted the importance of little studied literary archives in writing intellectual histories. Throughout her career, Professor Busch made important contributions towards rethinking Indian aesthetics, classical Hindi literature and vernacular intellectual practice in early modern India. Her scholarship pointed out the need to move beyond Persian and Sanskrit in studying Mughal intellectual cultures and also underlined the importance of claiming the past on its terms rather than imposing modern standards of reading. For me, Allison Busch will remain as the most important mentor I met in graduate school who shaped my academic life and taught me the virtues of hard work, diligence and persistence. The poems that follow are a small tribute to her presence in my life (and many other lives). Allison lives through my writing and I will always be her student.
315 Knox Hall
The telephone rings all afternoon,
its noise, an elephant’s cry drowning
the voice of the city – drab, bold, and blunt!
Everyone ask me, am I doing okay
Am I taking care of myself
Am I surviving well
in a world where you aren’t there anymore!
It’s a simple truth
like the poems you loved to hear
over and over,
some say I have been orphaned.
I remember a spring afternoon in
315 Knox Hall, New York,
the city alive after a long winter,
you were there to see me off
as we laughed about research lives,
fieldwork struggles and never learning to accept
life as it comes. Just as it comes.
You walked with me to the door.
Your eyes moist,
Your embrace tired,
Lone warrior locked in a cruel duel!
Now, all afternoon, I hear stories –
they are remembering you
on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere,
just as you did,
every time I left New York
one line, only story that remains –
how have you been, Samyak? I am remembering you!
Reporting a death
On 20th October, 2019, at 6:00 AM IST
they told me you are dead.
Celebrated in her field, gone too soon
Repeated throughout the day
wherever I go
people borrow, syllables, words, phrases
she was kind she was generous!
All afternoon spent in looking for you amidst
whispers, sighs and outpourings.
When evening arrived, they looked certain
I asked –
Where did you hear?
Who brought it to you?
None remained to answer.
Now, the night walks in, now only embers
Now, only the last breath
One more time
I will meet you one day
when we have more trees, more poems
to sing about, more legends
where queens rule as kings!
We will teach together, one more time,
Kabir’s love for Bulle Shah’s god
and Lalla’s mad heart,
the only truth that stripped all lies.
We will dine, one last time,
as you teach me how to carve
I know we will meet again,
We have to
when they ask me to tell who you were?
who you are? I know
we will be speaking together, one voice,
happy and content.
Samyak Ghosh studies Literature and History at Columbia University in New York