CAPITALS: A Poetry Anthology – Abhay K.
Review by Saba Mahmood Bashir

Paperback: 399 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Language: English
ISBN: 978-93-86141-11-8

To know a country with a poem on its capital is an idea which is unique in itself. Resonating with the intrinsic culture of that place, it accentuates the ethos through various parameters. Capitals: A Poetry Anthology, compiled by Abhay K., a diplomat, is a collection of such hand-picked gems, many of which have been written by the editor himself. Set out alphabetically on the different continents, the anthology takes the reader through a course on the history of the civilization with the help of some odd 213 poems.

It is a city struggling between stillness and sound,
A city of peculiar routes and winding passages.
Of whirlpools and scents from the sea.

From lines like these from ‘Podgorica’ (the capital of Montegenro) where the winding passages take the readers through the alleys of the city to the lines from ‘Cape Town’ (capital of South Africa) where the poet connects the world of geographical beauty with the animal kingdom

I walk down Heerengracht,
where pigeons dip their necks
like question marks into the fountain.
Then left at Long, while the sun slips
Toward the sea and the moon takes its place
above the Signal Hill.

and then to the poem ‘Bamako’ (the capital of Mali), which has an interesting connect of the nature with people:

On the River Niger – brown and murky
We eat dinner with silver spoons
As women wash clothes in the evening shade
That Touareg blue against the brown earth –
resembling the sky

The anthology goes on to explore different cities, and through them, a myriad of emotions. The relationship between people, travel through the points in a city, as in the poem ‘Abu Dhabi (capital of UAE)

If only my father could once again see
the tallest towers of Abu Dhabi
If only now my father could see,
the breathing scars of Abu Dhabi

The common strain between the poems in this anthology are the trails and travails of the city over the centuries. The editor, Abhay K. has painstakingly culled out poems, both in English or some which are translated into English, from different genres and by poets of different age groups and periods. Inspite of the diversity, the imagery and the metaphor of the remains of the civilization and the current culture of the capital cities of the world shine through. There seems an inherent intimacy and an association between the poet and the city, and hence the poem. The range is exhaustive, and seems to cover the entire globe. There seems to be an indispensable desire by poet Abhay K, to unite the world through his poetic endeavors. The list of the capitals and their countries at the end of the book, is indeed, helpful, as names of those places do tumble out of the book, which are unheard and in oblivion – starting from ‘Abuja’, to ‘Accra’, to ‘Asmara’ to ‘Basseterre’ to ‘Kiev’ to ‘Kinshasa’ to ‘Lome’ to ‘Nouakchott’ to ‘Praia’ to ‘Tallinn’ to ‘Yaounde’ to name just a few.

However, one tends to read the poems of the city that one has been to before reading about the others. With that in mind, the first one that I read was on New Delhi. I am the city of ruins, a line for the poem on Delhi (capital of India) talks of mausoleums, cemeteries and tombs along with satya, shanti and navya, bringing out the innate connect between the city that was, and that what it is now. It is this link, this bridge which is the common thread that runs through the poems of the anthology, creating a colourful poetic map.