Six Poems

01 May, 2014

ABOUT THE POEMS Central Delhi now seems merely a neatly laid out city of government abutting the old walled city. But in and around the architectural work of Lutyens one may imagine the ghosts of many governments past. In these poems by Abhay Kumar, a cavalcade of disenchanted spectres walk the streets of Delhi, and the long passage of centuries has not diminished the regret or rancour of their thoughts. Till time itself has come to an end, it appears, they will continue to broadcast their claims about legitimacy, treachery, history and fate.

Side by side, in another landscape, Russia, the souls of Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoevsky wander, one dispersed amongst his fictional creations, the other towering like a colossus over his own body of work and aflame with the drama of both life and literature.

Dara Shikoh

I wander the streets of Delhi

seeking my name

Dara—the scholar, the Sufi

Shahjahan’s licit heritor

I was trapped and assassinated

by my own treacherous brother

I see, masters of Delhi

have named streets

after murderous Aurangzeb

but Dara Shikoh

the people’s prince

no one remembers, no one cares.


Na tha kuchh to khuda tha, kuchch na hota to khuda hota,

Duboya mujhko hone ne, na hota main to kya hota?

(When there was nothing there was God, if there had been nothing there would have been God,

Being has ruined me, if I did not exist what would have been?)

Months of journey

on bullock-cart, palki, boat

tonga, ekka and what not

Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow,

Allahabad, Banaras, Banda,

Patna, Murshidabad,

finally Calcutta, then endless wait

to petition Lord Amherst—

‘double my paltry pension (of rupees sixty two)’

I returned Shahjahanbad

scorned, derided

my family debt-ridden

my dignity robbed

my brother died in my arms

none of my sons survived

I turned into a stone wrapped in human skin

then came the worst

the massacre of Delhi

my friends were butchered

I alone survived

to take down their corpses hanging

from the trees, the lamp-posts

to usher them into their graves

to lament my destiny.


Raised heads in awe

murmur, hushed voices, sighs of relief

in admiration of the Qutub

I, the Slave King

calmly quiver in my tomb

in oblivion.


Cynosure of the eyes

of the last Mughal

the lion’s rival

the poet-laureate of Delhi

time is the greatest judge

it has judged Ghalib the best

I accept it

turning in my grave.


Your long nose

and even longer overcoat

still wander

at odd hours

on the Nevsky Prospect

guarded by an army of dead souls,

are you still enamoured

with heaven

on a marshy land?

Why disguise yourself

as an inspector general,

a police chief,

or a lowly clerk,

don’t you know

the tsars and communists have left

St Petersburg?


Harrowing prophet,

impassioned, irrational

sick and spiteful

how could I be otherwise

my father murdered by his own serfs

I and my Petrashevskian friends

arrested for treason

sentenced to death

to face the deadly bullets of the firing squad

I miraculously escaped

seconds before triggers were pulled

was shipped off to Siberia

for metamorphosis, to live

in the house of the dead

I came out a believer

to return the world to God

I fought heroic battles on blank pages

with an army of charismatic devils, saintly prostitutes, mystic terrorists

possessed idiots and deadly demons in a fallen world

I became tormented Raskolnikov,

chafed Stavrogin and atheist Ivan Karamazov.