The Seduction of Delhi by Abhay K., Bloomsbury India, 2014. Pg 92, Rs. 299.
Reviewed by K. K. Srivastava
David Mason’s acute observation in The Hudson Review that “The poetry industry fuels itself on shallow rewards, lines on a resume, praise in a workshop, none of which has anything to do with the solitary effort to write real poems” reflects poorly on the state of poets and the kind of stuff being oozed out in the name of poetry. But there are honourable exceptions like the two poetry collections I read recently—Vita Nova by Louise Gluck and The Seduction of Delhi by Abhay K. The latter is a collection of forty-seven poems. Abhay K. is an Indian Foreign Service Officer and a winner of the SAARC Literary Award. He is the author of two memoirs and five poetry collections. In a unique way in itself, the poet presents his thoughts and emotions in measures exquisite. The well-known Italian artist Tarshito has created the artwork for this book.
Abhay K. has indeed adopted a novel method of narration of his poetic thoughts—instead of expressing his musings about his subjects in the first person, the poet allows his subjects to tell their stories themselves to the listeners. That is the reason George Szirtes, winner, T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry, perceives Abhay K’s poems as poems where “transformations are gentle and humane: the history is deep and lightly worn. This is the beautiful way to be introduced to a great city”.In fact, Abhay K is lending his words and thoughts to them:
I am the city of Satya, Shanti and Nyaya—-/my streets bear these names/but the Truth is—-/rapists roam my streets in peace/and my women perpetually seek justice/in one of the city courts.’
(Delhi, As I Am)
This method truly takes the reader along on a ride to the life and times of the past and present along with the subject—not as an observer and passive listener but as a fellow traveller of the subjects in their journey through history.
The pride that the City and its monuments—or, rather, symbols—has of its past grandeur, the pathetic state that they have been transformed into by the selfish and greedy attitudes of the present, and the inevitable abandonment and forlornness that is foreseen by them, are laid threadbare for all those who care to have a look.
I sense your changing mood/ your lingering lust/for blood and wealth/and your deadliest addiction—/power.
True to the core, like the musing of the City in the opening poem—Delhi, “My smell/my nakedness/entices”, despite the exploitation and abuse, Delhi has not lost her charm. She is still enticing all sorts of human invaders from near and far alike. But unlike in similar situations where the prey lies below and eagles and vultures perch above waiting to embed their beaks and talons into its flesh, here the prey—the city of Delhi—symbolically, the soul of Delhi, hovers above and beyond the reach of her marauders, unharmed and aloof, watching patiently and dispassionately, the eagles feasting below on its riches and abundance.
The poet’s concern, love and above all reverence for this great city are abundantly revealed when he laments how Yamuna is “draining darkness/from Delhi’s soul” and how Connaught Place is becoming “full of flesh/garbage/and machines…Nearby stray dogs, silent, in slumber”.
The poet’s style of narration leaves room for a lot of speculation and imagination on the part of the reader about the transformation of the landmarks of the city of Delhi. They only mention in brief about their past and present and invites the reader to gather the filings from what has already been recorded in history. The subtlety and sharpness that complement the poet’s imagination and mind are disclosed in each of his poems.
I also survived/to take down their corpses/hanging.
In short, the poet has succeeded in absorbing a voluminous history of Delhi in as few words as those of a veteran in philosophy, who from his abstract study of a situation frames his comments in a few aptly chosen words:
Soaring/poetry in the sky/unrivalled flight….a tower of victory/or a calligraphic feat.
If ever one goes around Delhi and its landmarks—be it for the first time or a hundredth time—if it is after reading this collection, he is sure to pause a moment longer to turn over in his inner conscience what he has read and savoured about the city. He will be able to visualise them with a better perspective.
If the poet himself happens to come across a passer-by who stands poised before any of these visuals with a look of sympathy and speculation in his face and eyes, uttering a sigh of despair and helplessness, then he can be sure to have met one of his readers.
The genuineness of the attitude of the poet revealed through the soul of his poems underlines the fact that amongst the many who come to this great city, all are not takers; there are givers too. Rahim is such a poem–
Couplets written in blood/My death—–/robbed.
Giving a place for something in one’s heart and loving it from within one’s soul is not at all a small thing. It is a most noble gesture beyond measure by any standards. Like the many monuments in and around Delhi, the poet has also in his own way, gifted to this great city a monument in words—this very book of collection of his poems which is to quote Abhay K. from his poem Lal Quila: “A prison/a passage/a pilgrimage.”
He is not a poet who goes in search of listeners; he lets his poems, a la Alexander Pushkin, voyage “to the banks of deserted waves, into broadly rusting oak groves” to delve into history which is to quote Pushkin again “full of confusion, full of noise—“. The desire of a reader to be surprised by the words of a poet is abundantly met through these cryptically written verses.
K. K. Srivastava is a senior Civil servant currently holding the post of Principal Accountant General, Kerala. He is a poet and reviewer with three poetry collections to his credit. Shadows of the Real– his last poetry collection was published in 2012 by Rupa & Co, New Delhi. He reviews for The Pioneer, The Kitaab (Singapore) and Bureaucracy Today. His fourth book Diary is expected next year.