English Language and Literature Blog

Keki. N. Daruwalla As A Poet – An Overview Through His Poems

Keki. N. Daruwalla is a significant poet who made his mark on the Indian Poetic scene in the 1970’s. He is often considered to be an eloquent, angry, not-so-young man. Keki. N. Daruwalla as a poet, his satirical tone of poetic presentation sets him apart. His anger and contempt are directed against the dull, passive Indian life-style, the general incompetence, romantic illusions and so on. Yet he would claim himself to be a poet of the landscape. He says ” My poems are rooted in landscape which anchors the poem. The landscape is not merely there to set the scene but to lead to an illumination”.

Daruwalla’s anger against corruption reveals a strong ethical and moral consciousness which often finds expression in satirical outbursts.His bitter ways of saying things are rather unusual in India n poetry. Another important feature of his poetry is that even as he works on Desire, memory and the immediacy of experiences, he creates moods of depression. Because he feels that India is a land of darkness and despair with its passivity, fatalism and meaningless rituals. Yet he attempts to portray this real India by striking a balance between the outer reality and his inner consciousness of it.

Daruwalla believes that there can be no real tragedy in the modern world, for we are unfit subjects for tragedy and our little lives can be hardly fit subject for tragedy. Modern tragedy, according to him, will reflect our personal feelings of anger and related feelings of the negative kind. It reflects the social evils of our times, and these evil practices add emotional life alone is not everything, and that one has to turn inward and find the power of “conscience” One must also think about and prepare for death which is another reality.

I the words of Bruce King, Daruwalla’s poetic world is a “full-populated world of politicians, writers lovers, family fakes, the corrupt, the tragic set in many places and with many events. It is a larger, fuller, often more tragic (although not necessarily deeper or poetically superior) world that that found int he poetry of Ezekiel, Kamala Das or Ramanjujan

Keki Nasserwanji Daruwalla was born in Lahore in January 1937. After taking his Master degree in English Literature from Panjab University he oined the Indian Police Service. His first book of poems Under Orion was published in 1970 and his second collection of poems Apparition in April in 1971. His thrid book Crossing of Rivers was published in 1976. His Winter Poems came out in 1980. His poems figure in a number of anthologies, and he has himself edited an anthology of modern Indian Poetry under the title Two Decades of Indian Poetry in English – (1960-1980). He won the Sahitrya Academi Award in 1984.

Keki. N. Daruwalla known for his biter satire tone and as one who writes from his experience of violence. He shows a preoccupation with some of the darker sides of existence particularly with the themes of death and destruction.

Daruwalla is one who believes, like many other poets writing in recent years, that poetry should derive its inner strength from a social awareness and a sense of commitment to changes that society is in need of, and also the environment.

You may also be interested : Keki N. Daruwalla’s poem Routine : Analysis

Keki. N. Daruwalla ‘s poetry through his masterly touches.

As a painter of the rural landscape Daruwalla is remarkable. His focus is mainly on the north of India with its beautiful plains and pastures, its attractive hills and frightening rivers. Through this act of the will to focus very often of rustic Indian he demonstrates how he is different from many other poets of India writing in English in our times.

The vast landscape of this sprawling land comes alive in the pages of Daruwalla’s poetry through his masterly touches. It gets its articulation in various forms and features – as hills, rivers, valleys, trees, plains and pastures, It grips its imagination inescapably, and he tackles it both in its wild and mild aspects. The poem “The Ghaghra in Spate” is an example of the wild aspect, unfolding the terror that strikes the villagers at night as they fight the river. The change of the river’s course every year and its colors at different times of the day are graphically depicted in the following:

And every year
the Ghaghra changes course
turning over and over in her sleep.
In afternoon she is a grey smudge
exploring a grey canvas.
When dusk readies her
through an overhang of cloud
she is overstewed coffee
At night under a red moon in menses
She is a red weal
across the spine of the land.
(Under Union)

Daruwalla’s portrayal of the biting tone in the poem “In the Tarai”

A simila portrayal of the low-lying areas of the Tarai infected with malarial mosquitos and hard-core bandits is to be found in the poem “In the Tarai”, which is addressed to his friend Raju. But here, instead of showing compassion and understanding as in “The Ghaghra in Spate” the poet becomes bitter and sarcastic. The following extract may be cited as an illustration of this biting tone:

It is not a bad district they all say
Over the Ghaghra you have a ferry
to carry your car
There’s an ice factory in town
(ice that drops and seats like flesh)
There’s a dhobi in your compound
but take a tip, don’t get your
bush shirts starched
they will hand limp all the same
and smell like an insemination centre.
(Under Orion)

The poet has written a whole cluster of such poems and put them together under a separate seciton called “Poems from the Tarai” in Under Orion. The other poems in this section are : “The Parijat Tree”, “The Beggar”, “Graft”, “Death by Burial”, “Ruminations I and II”, and “Rail road Reveries”.

The Parijat Tree by Keki. N. Daruwalla

From the above, “The Parijat Tree” is an instance of the wild aspect of land scape, and the tree grows to be a symbol of greenery inspiring men to Yoga and meditation :

And so they came to the Parijat tree
Squatting in the shade of its fleshy branches
Cross-legged and transverse-limbed
All Yoga was here –  all the asans
every fluent stance
in the arboreal jungle
of this single tree.

The entire poem is structured around a legend about the Pandavas after the battle of Kurukshetra. Contrasted to this we find the scenes in “Death by Burial” and “curfew –  In a Riot – torn city”, which are impressive in the whole range of Daruwalla’s poetic universe. The poem “Railroad Reveries” is a nostalgic recollection of the charm of the distant landscape as experienced by the poet during a cold wave”.

A landscape of distance
of meaningless milestones
crouching on the flanks
Swallowed in the dust and the express –  smoke
The sad-eyed bitch upon the platform
kicked about by urchins doesn’t squeal
head drooping, eyes bored, she walks away.

The book Apparition in April by Daruwalla

Daruwalla’s second book, Apparition in April, though not as rich in landscape painting as the first one, has nevertheless, a few remarkable poems such as “The Snowman”, “Pilgrimage to Bandinath”, “To Writers Abroad”, and “The Old Man of the Sea” ( which is marked especially for its evocation of the dazzling yet devastating seascape). Here is Some stray, sporadic forays into landscape – portrayal, they are sufficient to show the poet’s continued march along his chosen direction. As an illustration, the following except from ” Pilgrimage to Badrinath” ma be quoted:

Along the valley of the burning sun;
On Flinty bridle paths which centuries have trod
in penance and anonymous dust,
the caravan of pain proceeds towards the gods.
Stony eyes turn northward towards stone
and the grey austerity in the stance of hills;
the snow-hush under granite skies,
and the wind biting like a dentist’s drill,
Whipping the mist into a horizon.

Another illustration of his penchant for portrayal may be found in his “To Writers Abroad”, where the scene is laid in Delhi,precisely in the lanes around the Juma Masjid:

Lanes around Juma Masjid
welcome you to their coils
to spire and minaret
amulet and charm
the cry fro baksheesh and the muezzin’s call
and the dervish hawking potency drugs
cave erotics call you to their glooms
where goddesses suffer from mastitis
Wounded statuary, one nostril
at Somnath, the other at Ghazni
The river calls: Clay-lamp libation
offered to the eclipse to realise the sun
Ghats aflame with the dead:
Sorry we can’t lay on these days
a suttee –  display in the flesh for you.

What strikes us most is the cinematic, sudden shift of the scene by which the poet takes us from the heart of the metropolis to the river Yamuna and its Ghats aflame with clay lamps and libations and burials of the dead.

Crossing of Rivers, Keki. N. Daruwalla’s 3rd Collection of poems

Daruwalla’s third collection of poems, namely, Crossing of Rivers, has a number of poems dealing with landscape, the central metaphor here being, the river Ganga, About this river metaphor, Vrinda Nabar, in an illuminating article on Daruwalla, writes thus: “The river’s rhythm is that of life and death, of birth and rebirth, of passion and rejection…

… in and around it are all the sings of stagnancy, the tonsured heads, the fossilized anchorites, the tattooed harlots, and the dead who are brought to it shrouded in the anonymity of white”.

The book has three parts – “The Waterfront“, Crossing of Rivers, and “In My Fathers’s House“. Opening with the poem “Boat ride Along the Ganga”, this book attempts to expose the age-old Hindu customs and rituals and their custodians. The tone is highly bitter and biting as evidence in the following:

Dante would have been confuses here
Where would he place this city
In paradise or Purgatory, or lower down
Where fires smoulder beyond the reach of pity?
The concept of the goddess baffles you
Ganga as mother, daughter, bride.
What place of destiny have I arrived at
Where corpse-fires and cooking fires
burn side by side?

Keki. N. Daruwalla writes, “I am not an urban writer and my poems are rooted in the rural landscape. My poetry is earthy, and I like to consciously keep it that way shunning sophisticatino which, while adding gloss, takes away from the power of verse”. There is an obviously Indian element in Daruwalla’s verse, esecially in hi use of landscape. When it is not ornamental, the landscape comes alive as a presence on its own. The language is then pared to the bone. Images are concrete and exact.

Writing a Poem” says Daruwalla, “is like a clot going out of the blood”. It is because his poems are closely related to his own experience as a man. It is this genuiness that adds to the value of his poetry.

Crossing of Rivers contain some charming snaps of landscape as well as those of “nights-cape”, rivers-cape” and “ghosts-cape”. In this context the poem “Nights-cape” deserves special mention. To quote a few lines:

Votive lights are muzzled in the fog:
bloodstains on a frosted window.
As the night grows older
a flesh turns to carbon on the ghats
and the river keeps moving,
dark as gangrene,
temples have to strain their necks
to rise above most scarves
wrapped around their shoulders
The fog on the river is like
a loaded raft
which the current cannot move
Temple lights
are a splash of rhododendrons
and temple spires, cypress-dark
mark the waterfront ethereal
Is this a ridge
blank with pine
rising out of mists
or a city of the dead
brooding over a ghostscape?

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