KEKI N. DARUWALLA: THE POET AND NOVELIST by ASHA VISWAS. New Delhi: Bahri Publications, 2011. 173 pp., Rs. 500/-, ISBN 978-81-909771-3-5
Keki N. Daruwalla, who has been writing for over four decades now, is a leading name in Indian English poetry today (p 31). The uniqueness of his verses has been recognized by critics and admirers everywhere. There have been several books on his poetry, both original and edited, discussing imagery, diction, design, and viewpoint, but the latest one by Asha Viswas, dedicated to her students, should be very useful to students and teachers alike.
Professor Viswas, herself a good poet with three volumes of poetry to her credit, treats Daruwalla on the same pedestal as Nissim Ezekiel and Jayanta Mahapatra, and finds him a more representative voice than Jayanta Mahapatra and others. I fully agree with her.
Asha considers all the nine volumes of poetry and one novel by Keki and appreciates the variety he demonstrates both in form and content (p 34). She too discovers that Keki writes with control over emotions and effectively uses techniques such as word play, irony and satire (pp 75-76). She reflects on the poet’s large thematic canvas which inheres his personal experiences as also his preoccupation with the often contradictory realities of Indian life, diverse cultural, historic and mythic landscape, and existential realities. To quote Bruce King, Keki Daruwalla writes tough poetry with awareness of the “moral ambiguities and unresolvable conflicts of the human condition.”
Professsor Viswas’s introductory chapter seeks to define and highlight modernity and Indianness of Keki, besides his “depth of feeling, economy of language, and originality of insight” (cf pp 13-17) that confers on him “a central place in modern Indian English poetry.”
In the second chapter, ‘Moorings’, she scrutinizes the poet’s personal life vis-à-vis the growth of his poetic career from 1960s. She draws on her personal interview with the poet to develop the chapter besides reviewing the reviews of all his collections, two books of short stories, one novel, and one anthology, Two Decades of Indian Poetry: 1960-80. She underlines the poet’s global perspective, experiences and interests.
In the third chapter, ‘Treatment of Myth in Keki’s Early Poetry,’ she refers to his mythical poems (five in Under Orion, four in Apparition in April, thirteen in Crossing of Rivers) to demonstrate the poet’s searching mind, mythopoeic attitude, and eclectic vision. Professor Viswas also uses the techniques of stylistic analysis to interpret some of the early poems of Keki.
The fourth chapter seeks to highlight the poet’s modernity, realism, non-moral approach, existential concerns, lack of faith in the system, and avoidance of “stock response” and “abstract notion”. She observes: “His satire and his iconoclastic approach invigorate his subject matter as does the speed of his verse and masculine vigour.” (p 76)
The poet-critic’s discussion on the poems in Landscape (ch. 5) aims at demonstrating Keki’s “maturity of vision” that transmutes the “external world into internal consciousness” (p 78) and helps him attain inner peace (p 81). Asha Viswas finds in the collection a “perfect harmony between impression and expression” a la Sanskrit poets (p 90).
The sixth chapter is a critique of A Summer of Tigers which offers instances of passion and irony (pp 94-98). With her skills in stylistic analysis, Asha Viswas tries to highlight the poet’s “exploration and experimentation” (pp 95, 104) and his sensitivity for “speech rhythms and their syntactic and lexical features” (pp 98, 114) on the one hand, and his love for mythology and “racial history” (pp 99, 102, 111) and his criticism of Pablo Neruda (pp 110-11), on the other. As she notes: “His best poetry is about the mountains, high pastures, seas and rivers. It is his rootedness to the ritual scene that gives Keki a shot in the poetic vein.” (p 112)
The seventh chapter deals with Night River, a “global work” (p 116). While the poet’s search for permanence in Landscapes brings him to the world of nature, in Night River he “changes his route from nature to human imagination” (p 115). Here Asha Viswas finds Keki Orpheus-like and descending into “the darker depths of what we call the subconscious and unconscious.” She seems right as Daruwalla himself admits that here he has tried to dive into the “depths of consciousness and solitude” (p 117) which is, in fact, “a defence against time, decay, and even death” (p 127). She also discusses some of his dream-poems (pp 118-121) and island-poems (pp 125-26) in the volume.
The eighth chapter concerns Keki’s ninth collection, The Map Maker, recording his voyage “both within and without.” Here one finds instances of the “subjective and physical, individual and universal merging into… (an) integrated consciousness” (p 128). Asha praises his craftsmanship in melding history, peoples, nature, religion, biography, and vision into “intense reflection” and poetry “that speaks out of the still centre of the being, the narrative and the dramatic voice” (p 159). Her analytical comments on pp 140-158 should help every serious student follow the poetry of Daruwalla in the right spirit.
The last chapter discusses Daruwalla’s historical novel For Pepper and Christ (2009) which “presents a dialectical discourse of clashing interests in the backdrop of trade and religion (p 161).
The bibliography at the end testifies to the years of labour Professor Viswas has put in to write the book, keeping in mind the needs of students both at the Honours and Postgraduate level, and researchers and teachers interested in Indian English writing. It is a positive contribution from a poet-professor who views Keki N. Daruwalla with critical empathy and imagination.