Iris Murdoch writes, “Tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify. The good artist is a vehicle of truth.” Akhil Katyal is one of those who demystifies prevailing tyrannical forces. Through his poems, he tells the truth, the naked truth, of our society. He calls soldiers from the border, claims Nusrat as our own, and recollects those times when “God was a little joke about mangoes” in his second poetry collection “How Many Countries Does the Indus Cross”
The genius of Akhil Katyal is that he’s too naïve to notice the impact his poetry has had—and will always have—on its reader, including myself. “Indus“, to me, is an immediate inquiry into how to keep a mind-of-your-own in times of great derangement of the human mind and soul by polluting it with skewed ideology and agenda-driven nationalism.
Dedicated to the great poet Agha Shahid Ali, “Indus” is divided into—how ironic to place this word “divide” when the only job of this poetry collection is to “unite”—three parts: To Will the Distant Mountains to Glass, To Will the Distant Mountains to Glass, and To Will the Distant Mountains to Glass.
The book, title of which, “I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight,” is taken from a poem by Agha Shahid Ali is published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective.
Just to complement Katyal’s work, this review is also divided. There are two parts: Akhil’s Poetry and Akhil’s Poetry.
I remember my English teacher saying, when I was in ninth grade, “if it doesn’t stay with you—sometimes making you laugh, cry, or think—then I don’t know if it’s poetry.” She was right.
I could feel a scintilla of emotions while reading “Indus”. Sometimes I thought the poet was teasing me. His (or maybe the editor’s) placement of poems follow a pattern—a deadly pattern—of memory, dream, and reality.
Memories of a distant past leaning against the door as if mocking at you. Dreams of a just, free, and happy society. And, realities? Those are depicted without even the slightest hint of a coverup. They are an attempt to make us see things what we have mastered to un-see.
From Farida Khanum’s musical notes to an innocent inquisition posed to Dr. Siras (“What did you tell the neighbours: Teacher, Professor, Poet?”); from the Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh to Iowa; from Akhil to ABVP; from Gurgaon to Gurugram, Katyal poses difficult questions, looking for answers, attempting to reconcile with a namesake (or may be not), and taking a jibe at the newfound enthusiasm of renaming places.
Some of these poems which I read, courtesy his Instagram account, stayed with me; and I often smirked, while in the Metro, whenever I used to hear the announcement “Next station is Guru Dronacharya,” immediately recalling a line: “Eklavya be like ‘Bitch, please!'”
Others like: “[Varun is Typing]” is a reality—of people in love, of people thinking that they’re in love, of people looking to find reasons to avoid their love. It’s a meditation on the online behavior which we exhibit when we’re so hopelessly battling to find ways to communicate that we desire to communicate, but we don’t want to send our desperation across (or even hint at our underlying vulnerability)—in the messages we send. Let’s keep it simple: drop a “Hi!”. I ache to hug my love whenever I read this line: “Rohit, it has been six years since you left/and I am beginning to forget your face.” It’s strange, but it’s this universality of emotions which my English teacher wanted to express, and Akhil’s poetry collection covers it deftly.
If Agha Shahid Ali, romantically and figuratively, could see Kashmir from New Delhi, then it isn’t an exaggeration to say that you can see a reflection of Agha’s genius in Akhil’s work.
For light-hearted nationalists, be advised. He’s a fully-loaded poet. He boldly creates music out of different fault lines of the sub-continent, and he does so with an astonishingly effortless charm. Yes, charm. There’s charm in the confluence of passions: to call a soldier back home; to request the reader 500 years from now to ensure that ‘Akhil loves Rohit’ is there, chiseled by the author, on the staircase to Humayun’s tomb; to inform us that “Vivekananda loved Biceps, Bhagwad & [yolo] Beef”.
These are almost heady themes to cover in one’s poetry collection: Kashmir, Tips on getting Bharat Ratna, Class, Caste, Politics, Partition, Homosexuality, Section 377, and the honorable Prime Minister with his 56-inch chest (I haven’t measured it, but I’m going by his words, like everyone is.) And, the laudable thing is, he’s done a great justice to the themes he’s covered.