Daruwalla, Keki N(asserwanji)

views updated

DARUWALLA, Keki N(asserwanji)

Nationality: Indian. Born: Lahore, Pakistan, 24 January 1937. Education: Government College, Ludhiana; University of the Punjab, Lahore, M.A. in English. Family: Married; one child. Career: Since 1958 member of the Indian Police Service, and since 1962 superintendent of police. Address: c/o Oxford University Press, Post Box 43, YMCA Library Building, 1st Floor, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi 110 001, India.



Under Orion. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1970; revised edition, New Delhi, Indus, 1991.

Apparition in April. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1971.

Crossing the Rivers. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1976.

Winter Poems. New Delhi, Allied, 1980.

The Keeper of the Dead. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Landscapes. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1987.

A Summer of Tigers: Poems. New Delhi, Indus, 1995.

Short Stories

Sword and Abyss. Sahibabad, Vikas, 1979.

The Minister for Permanent Unrest & Other Stories. Delhi, Ravi Dayal Publishers, 1996.


Editor, Two Decades of Indian Poetry 1960–1980. Sahibabad, Vikas, 1980.


Critical Studies: Critical Spectrum: The Poetry of Keki N. Daruwalla edited by F.A. Inamdar, New Delhi, Mittal Publications, 1991; KekiN. Daruwalla: Assessment As a Poet by R.A. Singh, Bareilly, Prakash Book Depot, 1992.

Keki N. Daruwalla comments:

(1970) There is very little that is urbane or sophisticated about my poetry. I avoid a well-groomed appearance and strive for a sort of earthy poetry, "immersed in site." A long, irregular line helps me in my descriptive passages. I tend to make my verse as condensed and harsh as possible. Exile, rootlessness, and death—as a ritual that presides over our buried lives—are themes that come naturally to me. Significant incidents I turn into what I call "incident-poems." However, I try and involve myself with attitudes to things rather than the incident itself, e.g., an earthquake, drought ("Food and Words"), ritual murder ("Caryak"), death of a child ("Fire-Hymn"). My ambition is to write a series of intensely personal poems, all interconnected and nailed round the scaffolding of a personal myth.

*  *  *

Although the Indian writer Keki N. Daruwalla has published short stories and dabbles in literary journalism, he is primarily a poet. Since Under Orion, his first volume of poems, he has shown consistency in rigor of style and an admirable skill in combining traditional prosody with free verse, narrative flow with the introspective, and the lyrical with the satirical. Possessing an urban sensibility, Daruwalla is a poet of "the octopus city," and even his perceptions of nature are conveyed through urban analogies: "the streets of dawn," "the street of virginity," "the spear-grass street."

Given his literary background, the echoes of Blake and Yeats ("gongs sound like hammered gold"), Auden ("let me hold tight to the angst, the fear / it's all I have my dear"), and Hopkins and Ted Hughes ("I saw the wild hawk-king this morning / riding an ascending wind / as he drilled the sky") are perhaps inevitable, though the use of literary references like the one to Dante in "Boat-Ride," for example, do not always seem to work. Words like "ere" and "whence," which slip in occasionally, introduce an element of archaism that jars with the otherwise exemplary terse modernism.

Despite these conscious or unconscious stylistic echoes, Daruwalla's poetry is distinguished by sharp, articulate imagery, an eye probing for meaning behind the details of everyday life, and a concern with social, political, and religious values, in particular "the spider-thread of ritual." His is a distinctly contemporary voice in Indian poetry, free from self-indulgence and from a temptation to mythologize the sordid and disturbing present through romantic images of the past. On the other hand, there is throughout his poetry an element of skepticism, often salutary but sometimes rendered hollow by a failure to see that his kind of probing can be self-limiting. It is possible that his experiences in the police services have contributed to this in some way. He is unshakably committed to his everyday environment and struck by the ubiquitousness of violence, even in sexual experience, as illustrated in "Fish in Speared by Night." His "bitter, scornful, satiric tone," as Nissim Ezekiel describes it, determines the scope of his irony and is both his strength and his weakness.

Another feature that runs through different collections of Daruwalla's poems is his acceptance of the physical reality of his environment and his belief that "destiny, stars, fate / we don't measure up to such words." For example, these lines from Under Orion—"if fate were to squeeze me hard / all that would remain of me / would be a bit of turd"—are echoed in his futuristic vision of the death of the river in the 1976 Crossing the Rivers, where three spacemen from another planet "dig through your silt-flanks / and come upon a half-burnt skull / as the Magi came upon the Christ."

Crossing the Rivers is astonishingly authentic, both in its portrayal of the sordidness of Varanasi, the sacred city of the Hindus, and in its controlled anger at its decadence, of which people seem to be unmindful. His ironic invocation of the river Ganges, through razor-sharp language and a wry humor, contrasts with that of Jawaharlal Nehru, a self-confessed agnostic equally distrustful of the empty husk of ritual, in his Will. For the latter the river is still a valued poetic layer of his racial memory, even though its religious function is suspect, but for Daruwalla "the river will not yield her secrets: / the flowers of her body withhold their perfume."

Daruwalla's definition of a poet would seem to involve the role of a social commentator. That he can transmute social comment into poetry as social gesture gives to his poetry a double-edged quality and reflects a view of life that requires a toughness of the spirit for survival. This, however, is implicit. His poems often end with a question, and even when it is not ostensibly so, the ending reads more like an opening out to a question than a flat statement, as for example in "Mother."

The enigma of survival is Daruwalla's central concern. Such is the poet's aversion to abstraction that his words become sensory images in the process of their poetic articulation. The refusal, however, to look inward, which is evident in the poems about the Ganges in Crossing the Rivers, is less apparent in poems such as "The Parsi Hell," "Mehrab," and "The Keeper of the Dead" and in the poems in the section entitled "In the Shadow of the Imambara," which draw directly from Daruwalla's Zoroastrian background even though they, too, are colored by his satiric skepticism.

Daruwalla achieves an inwardness of feeling and a suppleness of language and form whenever he deals with a human situation, a specific personage, or a place or landscape and attempts to relate this to the world of his dreams and memory.

—Devindra Kohli

About this article

Daruwalla, Keki N(asserwanji)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article