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Imagining History, Imagining the Universe


A.J. Thomas

COLLECTED POEMS 1970-2005
By Keki N. Daruwalla
Penguin, Delhi, 2006, pp. 355, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 8 August 2006

Keki N. Daruwalla is a poet who has, by his intrepid creativity and vast output, justified to the world the use of Indian English in writing poetry. There isn’t another poet who has creatively used the language to write poetry on such a wide range of themes. Keki’s poetic career is an answer to those who were — and some still to be found, amazingly though! – sceptical about poetry written in the language of the firingis. Keki himself tackles such people in his satirical poem, ‘Invocation’:   We who write in asura nagari in the land of the devas …….   We who parrot a language that came across the black waters, and scrambled our caste, so that no one could help us, …………   where shall we go from here?   Yet again, in the poem ‘Mistress’ he describes Indian English as his mistress, thus: No one believes me when I say   my mistress is half-caste. Perched On the genealogical tree somewhere is a Muslim midwife and a Goan cook. But she is more mixed than that. Down the genetic line, babus and professors of English have also made their one-one night contributions.   That the poet is proud to be celebrating the ethos of his motherland, winning a battle over the ‘foreignness’ of English, becomes clear in his short poem ‘Two Words’ that appears in his last collection, The Map-maker (2002):   Manzil and destination are two words that mean the same thing. Yet ‘manzil’ pulses with light at the tasseled edge of the dark. Manzil means dusk and ice at the sweltering end of day. Manzil means birds bickering as they roost; breeze on the terrace, salt tidings from the sea as it mutters to itself in its reveries. Destination is a garage where you park your car for the night.   More than three decades ago, when I began to follow Keki N. Daruwalla’s poetry, mainly through The Illustrated Weekly of India and other journals, there were also many other strong voices around in Indian English poetry, like Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, A.K. Ramanujan, Arun Kolatkar, Dom Moraes and so on . What set Keki apart then was his raw energy that exploded like a meteor in the midnight sky. Keki, in his youth, refused to be carried away by movements or fads, even at the height of the ‘existential angst’ celebrated by ‘modernist’ writers in the sixties and seventies. For Keki, poetry always ...


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