Vol. 4 Num 157 Sat. November 01, 2003  

Indian Poetry in English: Daruwalla
Keki Daruwalla (b. 1937), the winner of both the Sahitya Akademi and Commonwealth Poetry award, has published six volumes of poetry as well as a collection of short stories. He gained immediate fame with his first book Under Orion in 1970. Sometimes a poet's own words reveal him the best:

On reading poetry, a laughable proposition in many quarters these days: "One shouldn't move away from poetry - for much of our aesthetics come from poetry; religion started with poetry, thought started with poetry; the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata, Iliad. If you believe in the occult, when the Devi descends, she descends on the shaman (who) has also been reciting slokas. I have written essays on science and poetry and religion and poetry. There must have been a time when science or knowledge was all combined in one man or one lady. Poetry is literally god- given. It can't be put aside because people have taken to the TV or computer or magazines."

On the disappearance of poetry as a genre: "Poetry reflects contemporary reality and your internal response to contemporary reality, more intensely than any other genre. Possibly, drama can sometimes do it, but novels certainly can't. For fiction is narrative and a narrative can never be sudden, while in a poem you can say in one page what in fiction you can in thirty, sometimes. I feel surprised that people don't take to poetry and one of the reasons is that possibly students are forced to read poetry.

Poetry should always be optional and a pleasure. Poems that touch a chord in the heart should be prescribed. But many do write poetry. But the interest dies out, both in writing and reading. That shouldn't happen."

On social comment in poetry: "Social comment is absolutely necessary. Otherwise you write in your own prostate world. Comments shouldn't be left only to editors in editorials, and journalists and filmmakers."

Collage I

Rock'n'rollers around Ravi Shankar
mods around Maharishi Mahesh
and Beatles around both
and we are thrilled.
They have a lot to learn
from the ragas still, these bums!
It is that same sentiment
that Tagore-euphoria
after the Nobel prize.

At times we do well
in dog-shows.

Since Oppenheimer quoted Bhagavad Gita
after the first A-bomb.
Since Allen Ginsberg and the psychedelics
wore dhotis, and with clanging cymbals
chanted cow and Krishna
I stand bowled by Indian culture
and Indian hemp.

Who says we have done nothing?
We have abolished zamindari
and liquor and English
and driven out the whores from the G.B. Road.

What have we forbidden,
veils in front of eyes
or eyes behind veils?

We have inaugurated crematoriums
with an unclaimed corpse.
A VIP has opened
the sluice-gates of a drain
and given it an epithet
'the drain of hope'.

Some day, here
the sun will refuse
to light the path for lepers.
In India
the left hand is outcaste
because it cleans the ass.

Discussing personal destiny
and collective destiny
you turn bitter.
My horoscope is only a half-truth.
Where are inflation and taxes
floor-crossing and black gold
written on it?

If we had plague
and doctors searched for the virus
there would be black-market in rats.

Collage II

They were quick to notice
the flame in my spine
had gone limp.
'Go to Auden and Sartre' they said
'for a vocabulary of defeat'.

From a saturnine priesthood
of parchment faces and plaster voice
they picked out figures
like poison-bottles from a secret shelf.
'For a landscape of meaninglessness
go along with him
he has a palette smeared with almost-colours.
For impotence which is disembodied
and become a way of life...
for greater insights into the fear of death
go here...
and she's your girl for the abyss
she knows one tone of darkness from the other.'

My looks turned to yours;
we were meeting each other outside of ourselves.
But Mother your face was so fissured.
I couldn't see my face in it.

In the drought year
armlets couldn't stay upon the arm,
the limbs had shrivelled so
Mother, some men have heard you
crying to yourself.

Mother, you are a floating foetus
on a larval bed
around which we thrash about
'black colonies of summer fish'.

Corruption is the chemistry of flesh.
No wonder the senses suppurate, passions putrefy.
But you survey it all
with a smile pasted on your lips
inanities pasted on the smile.
Somewhere in the dust and drift of history
you lost your good-luck amulet
and your face.
Today you are an empty slogan
that walks an empty street,
walls tarred with slogans.

Mother I hope
something happens to my vision
the day you
dragging your feet
wounds smeared with ants
crawl towards Benares
to die.

Then why should I tread the Kafka beat
or the Waste Land
when Mother, you are near at hand
one vast, sprawling defeat?