Print Edition - 2015-01-24  |  On Saturday

The enchantress beckons

  • The enchanting spell that Delhi casts is what Abhay K tries to capture in his latest anthology of poems
- Abhinawa Devkota
The enchantress beckons

Jan 23, 2015-

On reaching Kashmere Gate, take a turn to Lal Quila and proceed until you reach the green overhead bridge. Then take a turn to the right, towards Jama Masjid. Upon reaching the entrance to the monument, take left. In that narrow alleyway, where men with skullcaps and women in their burkhas jostle with beggars, pickpockets, hawkers, shopkeepers and tourists (always with their cameras; all too eager to take the perfect shot) you will find Karim’s. Sit down and order one of those delectable Muglai cuisines. Let the succulent, spicy meat melt in your mouth. And you are bound to be transported back to the days of the Mughals. For the food there is still prepared by the descendents of the cook who worked in the court of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

The city might have changed, but the memories are too entrenched to fade away. Delhi does not just captivate visitors with its ruins and monuments that hark back to its glorious past. Its magic lies in the way it infuses in them a liberal dose of its grandeur by all means possible: its overcrowded alleyways are abuzz with an ancient noise, its parched soil still exudes the same fragrance after the first monsoon shower; and its weather?  Quite a few fountains build by the Mughals, who came from the lush green orchards of Samarkand, to relieve themselves from the blazing heat of the Delhi summer are still functioning.

And this enchanting spell that Delhi casts is what Abhay K tries to capture in his latest anthology of poems: The Seduction of Delhi. His poems, a collective ode to the city, not only portray the magnificence and rich history the city carries (in the form of Qutb Minar, Lal Quila, Jantar-Mantar, Feroz Shah Kotla, Lodhi Garden, Connaught Place, South Block  and Safdarjung’s Tomb, to name a few), they also weave together the lives of the people who lived there and are living there (Nizamuddin, Amir Khusrow  and Galib exist alongside flower girls, bureaucrats, maids, immigrants and rag pickers). It’s a city that has been there since the days of the Mahabharata (Indraprastha), and since then it has been ruled over by numerous dynasties like the Gupta, Tomar,  Rajput, Khilji, Tughluq, Lodi, Mughal and the British. While its glimmer has bedazzled the world at times, at other times the city has also helplessly witnessed Afghans and Marathas fight on its plains. Numerous rulers and a succession of dynasties have ruled over this piece of land. And although time has wiped out their existence, their traces still remain. They not just partook from the city and its people, they also left behind their own unique fingerprint, thus enriching the city. As the poet says:

Beloved of poets, emperors and merchantsI am the palimpsest cityAscending from my ashes as the phoenix.

He doesn’t just define Delhi as it is. Rather, he places the city on a meshwork of time to observe how it has changed. Thus, his poems are entangled in the maze of the past, present, and sometimes future (as in the case of Rag Pickers) at the same time.

But this collection, for me, is more than just poems. Through a clever and precise deployment of drawings, along with poetry, the book successfully etches a mosaic of the city.

Tarshito (Nicola Strippoli) and his team have done a fabulous job in rendering clear images of the place mentioned by the poet. Though minimalistic, the artworks are successful in summoning the essence of the city.

Overall, Abhay K’s work reads as an honest tribute to the city, albeit with a hint of lamentation at places. But then, nostalgia and lamentation go hand in hand. Even the last of the Mughals, who so loved the city, lamented, as a captive in exile, that he wouldn’t get to lie down in Delhi hereafter:

 Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn ke liye

Do gaz zameen bhi na mili koo-e-yaar mein   

(How unfortunate is Zafar, to not even find two yards of ground to be buried in the land of his beloved.)

In Mehrauli, Delhi, one can still see the ruins of Zafar Mahal, the palace where Bahadur Shah Zafar wanted to be buried.

Published: 24-01-2015 09:10

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