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Jussawalla, Adil (Jehangir)

JUSSAWALLA, Adil (Jehangir)

Nationality: Indian. Born: Bombay, 8 April 1940. Education: Cathedral School, Bombay, 1947–56; Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, 1957–58; Felsham House, Sussex, 1958–60; University College, Oxford, 1960–64, M.A. in 1964. Family: Married Veronik Jussawalla in 1971; one stepdaughter. Career: Supply teacher, Greater London Council, 1965; language teacher, International Language Centre, London, 1965–69, and at various colleges in Bombay, 1970–72; lecturer in English language and literature, St. Xavier's College, Bombay, 1972–75; member, International Writing Program, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1976; book reviews editor, Indian Express, Bombay, 1980–81; literary editor, Express Magazine, 1980–82, and Science Age, 1983–87, both Bombay. Literary editor, 1987–89, and since 1989 editor, Debonair, Bombay. Address: Palm Springs, Flat R2, Cuffe Parade, Bombay 400 005, India.



Land's End. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1962.

Missing Person. Bombay, Clearing House, 1976.


Television Scripts: Train to Calcutta, 1970; War, 1989.


Editor, New Writing in India. London, Penguin, 1974.

Editor, with Eunice de Souza, Statements: An Anthology of Indian Prose in English. Bombay, Orient Longman, 1976.


Critical Studies: "Four New Voices" by Brijraj Singh, in Chandrabhaga (Orissa, India), 1, 1979; "The Poetry of Exile: An Introduction to Adil Jussawalla" by G.S. Amur, in Osmania Journal of English Studies (Huderabad, India), 13, 1977; "The Poetry of Adil Jussawalla" by N.M. Rao, in Living Indian English Poets, edited by Madhusudan Prasad, New Delhi, Sterling, 1989.

Adil Jussawalla comments:

It is difficult for me to talk about my own work, except that I feel that the poems I am writing now have more to do with restrictions of various kinds than the ones I wrote before. The restrictions need not always be traps. Ways are to be found to deal with them.

*  *  *

Adil Jussawalla, like most contemporary Indian poets writing in English, is an urban poet. Alienation and the unreality of the city are recurrent themes in his works. Sometimes overlapping with these themes is the unreality of the definitions of identity and experience. Jussawalla is not a prolific poet (he published only two books of poems, Land's End and Missing Person, between 1962 and 1976), but his is a significant voice that has assimilated the influence of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot—"Webbed in English ironies, I cough."

Jussawalla's harsh lyricism "sings" of cacophony and of the alienation of an Indian middle-class intellectual in foreign lands (Land's End) and in post independence India (Missing Person)."I see things in quite a different light," he claims. "Fog," from Land's End, sums up this difference:

                       My songs, like charred paper
                        Over the fuming stoke
   Furnaces, fall to the invisible river, but the world
       Flesh and devil crowd in my skull like smoke.

Land's End comprises poems written abroad and explores the torments of being in exile. Many portray the unease of an expatriate, whether with the social and cultural context or with the landscape. "A Prospect of Oxford" perceives "the city made unreal by the height," and "smudged Derbyshire" in "Halt X" breathes "danger and disquietude only." "November Day" and "Westmoreland" are also critiques of nineteenth-century English romanticism. The former, which recalls the image of falling leaves so central to Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," is an ironic assertion of the need for human endeavor, despite its underlying futility: "Cleaned of all my deaths /Once more [I] stand firm against /A lifeless sky." "Westmoreland" is a self-conscious evocation of the "strange remoteness" the poet perceives in the English countryside that "Wordsworth and Coleridge, and God know who" once inhabited.

"Seventeen," dated 1957, when Jussawalla was only seventeen, and the first poem in Land's End, speaks of the early replacing of a sensuously alive sensibility with "a cold assumption of arrogance"; now "things talk no more /though I listen." Neither Land's End nor Missing Person, however, explores the personal causes of this early loss. We learn only that Jussawalla's habit of detachment runs concurrently with the "moral of silence and exile" and is enriched by an increasing social and political concern. His anguish is more immediate in "Missing Person," a poem sequence in two sections written in an impersonal style using several unidentified personae. "Missing Person" deals with the struggle to come to terms with the effects of colonialism and a bewildered sense of the marginalization of the middle-class intellectual in contemporary India. In a general way one senses the influence of Pound's Mauberley and Eliot's The Waste Land. The passivity of the Indian middle-class intellectual in a decadent setting and a recognition of the need for self-assertion or for change through renewal are evident in Jussawalla's verse:

   For years we prompted his first
   words, scolding the servants for theirs:
   "Sweetie, say:
   Let there be light, let there be us.'
   We heard:
   "Let there be dung.'

The shifts are cinematic and skillful, the phrases chiseled, and the images echoic, and the overall effect is of a sensibility that is essentially auditory. Jussawalla has said, "I do tend to feel the sound of words and base my poems on them," and "I cannot get away from rhymes, internal or end." "Missing Person" sometimes results in attitudinizing, however, and lacks the complete vision that makes Mauberley and The Waste Land two of the greatest poems of the twentieth century. Jussawalla's defense of his fragmentary lines ("Perhaps "Missing Person' can only be looked at in bits and pieces") sounds like his admission of the trap of the fallacy of imitative form into which he has willingly fallen.

Poems such as "Sea Breeze, Bombay," "The Exile's Story," "Approaching Santa Cruz Airport, Bombay," "A Letter from Bombay," or "Nine Poems on Arrival," though lesser poems than "Missing Person," are more accessible and have a more cohesive structure. "Sea Breeze, Bombay" is effective in portraying Bombay as a gatherer of refugees but is marred by a rather pat ending in which the spirit of the city, symbolized by the cool sea breeze, is so detached that it "settles no one adrift of the mainland's histories." Its strength, however, is in Jussawalla's method to "connect with myth and history." It is a method even more profitably applied in "The Exile's Story" and with heightened political overtones in "Karate," "Song of a Hired Man," "Immigrant Song," and "Freedom Song."

It is another manifestation of Jussawalla's alienation that, whereas in Land's End he fumbles with Anglo-Catholicism, in Missing Person his lingering religious feelings give way to a Marxist revolutionary ideology. The change is first hinted at in "Poppies for Marx" in Land's End. It is again alluded to in the subtitle of a film, "Missing Jack: A Slave's Revolt and Fall," and in the epigraph from Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth.

—Devindra Kohli

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