Abhay K, ready with his new collection of poems, loves history

Published - June 10, 2012 09:35 pm IST

Living heritage: Devotees offering prayers at the Firoz Shah Kotla. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Living heritage: Devotees offering prayers at the Firoz Shah Kotla. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Seeing him in his office in Shastri Bhawan, one can't help asking whether Abhay Kumar, a man of dynamic thought and the will to push through new projects, and a poet to boot — his fourth collection of poems in English will be launched on June 28 — feels constrained by the trappings of bureaucracy. He merely smiles in reply. After all he is a diplomat too. But civil servants who break the stereotype of the bureaucrat bounded by the rulebook are welcome. Dreamers are the ones who bring change to a stuffy world. And this Deputy Secretary in the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is certainly a dreamer. Not surprising, in his upcoming anthology, he has written an anthem for the earth. “We all have a national anthem but not for the earth,” he says. This anthem deals “with our planetary identity. It has concerns for mother earth and aspirations for global brotherhood through a global parliament.”

Meanwhile, on a weekend, it is hard to contact him on his mobile. “I was walking around Feroze Shah Kotla and left my phone at home. I had gone to see the Ashokan pillar. It's very high, about 2,400 years old. It is such an amazing view,” he explains, reminding you that his other passion is history, especially the many historic cities of Delhi that have great attraction for him. “I was just looking at how much effort was made to bring that pillar from Ambala. It was pulled by ropes, and each rope was pulled by 200 men,” he exclaims.

He has also been going around the mosque there. “It is the largest after the Jama Masjid and the second largest of the Tughlak period.”

What enthrals him about the ancient ruins is the fact that the place holds religious significance for people even today. “I saw a lot of people come for arji there,” he says, referring to the practice of placing a paper with their name and photograph along with a lighted lamp in the belief that one's desires or needs will be fulfilled. “There are a lot of cellars, and they are all lit up, with candles and diyas and lots of incense. It's an out of the world experience. It's all silent. The kind of quietness that can scare you,” says Abhay, adding, “My perception that these monuments are dead is wrong. People still look at them as religious places.”

As for lighting lamps and candles in a protected monument and “pasting” the arji there, he notes, “I was wondering how does ASI allow it, and I asked the security guard whether it happens every day. They said people come every day. I asked how do you allow it, and they said so many people come with shraddha (faith), and they have the belief that their wishes can be fulfilled. So we are lenient.”

This is an example, says Abhay, of how India is accommodating in its policies related to matters of faith. He also recalls his visit to Purana Quila. Last weekend the Delhi High Court asked the priest of the Kunti Devi Mandir within that structure to move out of the premises where he and his family had made their residence, but allowing worship to continue there. “These are just two examples of monuments where people are continuing their religious beliefs,” notes Abhay.

Speaking of ruins, his latest poem collection is titled “Remains”. The reason is that these are the last of the poems he wrote when he was posted in St. Petersburg, Russia. “It's divided into six parts,” says the poet who writes under the name Abhay K. While the first contains meditative poems, the second, called “Light of the North”, pays tribute to great writers of the region, including Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Blok and Akhmatova, as well as great institutions such as the Hermitage museum and the rivers Ganga and Volga which he compares “as two mothers”. While the third section deals with “the primal force, which is another name for beauty,” exploring the phenomenon that great beauty attracts us from the very depths because it is a force embedded within us, the fourth contains autobiographical poems.

The fifth brings us back to a more mundane level of experience: “the grim realities of international immigration in India”. And the sixth offers the concept that “there are only two realities — you as an individual, and the planet.” Because all boundaries “are manmade” So, when one travels the world and finds that the air, water, geography and all other elements change, “the planet remains the same.”

Abhay is prolific. Since his return to the Capital nearly two years ago, he has been busy not only publishing the St. Petersburg poems but also creating new ones, this time dedicated to Delhi. This collection, titled “Seduction of Delhi”, can be expected some time next year, he promises.

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