Keki N. Daruwalla is the most prolific and among the most proficient poets writing in India today. In terms of sheer quantity, he is next only to Jayanta Mahapatra, but Mahapatra is a bilingual poet writing in both English and Odia. Also, he is also almost 10 years older than Daruwalla.
This is Daruwalla’s 11th volume of verse. Ever since he published Under Orion back in 1970, Daruwalla’s poetry has grown in diverse directions. Under Orion contained some scorching satirical verse on the Indian political and social scenario. This brand of poetry—if it can be called a brand—has recurred from time to time in his books. Given to occasional overwriting, Daruwalla is a formalist at heart, with much of his poetry’s power emerging from this discipline. He uses internal rhythms expertly, and his language can be tender, as in these lines from “There Are Wars”:
And I have lived with love.
And also with the green of grass, and birdcalls,
lived with poetry and light that rusts at dusk
and is alive at dawn,
and lived with my masks and those of others—
Have lived with love and friends.
Lived with death and grieving.
What else is there to life?
Daruwalla’s usual voice is more caustic, with shades of black humour. He is also among the few Indian poets who has written about foreign nations—or at least has poems set abroad, including Alaska. And mythology, both Indian and Western, he draws upon heavily. Unless you are familiar with them, the poems can be difficult to follow.
My favourite lines come at the end of the first poem in this collection, called “Night Train”:
Through the frost-white window
seeding of colour starts:
light bickers with mustard flower
over a tone of yellow,
a banyan philosophizes
over its hedge of prop roots
burrowing into the grass,
a gout-afflicted scarecrow
stretches its arms sideways,
a pond flowers white with herons.
The last line is striking. Simple yet stirring.
“Daruwalla is also among the few Indian poets who has written about foreign nations—or at least has poems set abroad, including Alaska.”
Now in his mid-80s, Daruwalla has a voice that is still young and vibrant, making use of mythology to analyse contemporary times, and celebrating the power of nature, animals, and the relevance of history.
Manohar Shetty has recently edited The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told, published by Aleph.