Alphabets of Latin America by Abhay K
This slim but meaty collection of poems regales us both with elegant poetry and a splendid, panoramic introduction to many facets of the mestizo continent
A measure of the interest this inspired poetry collection has aroused, is the fact that it has already been translated and published into Italian, and Spanish and Bengali versions of this book will be forthcoming, to be launched next February at the International Kolkata Book Fair. In 2004, having been in post as ambassador of Chile to India for only a couple of months, I had the opportunity to give an opening address at the International Kolkata Book Fair. Chile was the focal country of the Fair because of the centennial of Pablo Neruda, Chile´s Nobel Prize-winning poet, and an event that led to year-long celebrations, fresh translations into half a dozen Indian languages, and several seminars across India. On the occasion, we had a noted Chilean poet, Raúl Zurita, in attendance, with him playing a prominent role in the Fair.
In those pleasant days of February of 2004, my wife Norma went shopping for the famous cotton fabrics for which Kolkata is so well known. She was in the company of the daughter of Chile’s Honorary Consul in Kolkata, Mr Jougal Saraff. Upon entering a store, Vandana Saraff introduced Norma to the shop clerk as the wife of the Chilean ambassador to India. The young man’s eyes lit up, and he said: “Chile, Chile—the land of Pablo Neruda” and asked my wife: “May I recite a poem?” My wife said, “Of course”. And he proceeded to recite, in perfect English, one of Neruda’s poems from Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair.
Only in Kolkata can this happen,—a shop clerk knowing Pablo Neruda’s poetry by heart– a young man who told my wife he had discovered Neruda in a local library as a child, and never looked back. In that same vein, whenever I would visit Kolkata during my posting in India, I would call on then-Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, a scholar and a gentleman in the best sense of those words, in the Writers´ Building, the West Bengal’s government quarters, and we would talk at length on politics and literature. Some say that Bengalis, with their love of literature, of left-wing politics and of football, are the Latin Americans of India, and there is something to that.