Keeping the poetry flag flying

Keeping the poetry flag flying

Renowned poet Keki Daruwalla says no matter what, poetry will continue to enjoy a special place in people's lives

Keki Daruwalla

As soon as Keki Daruwalla starts speaking, one can sense the drama and poesy in his enunciation and use of words. And with his impromptu recital of ‘Sleep’ by Tennyson, you become audience and participant, drawn into Keki’s passion for poetry and the written word.

Daruwalla speaks of his love for the magic of rhyme and even blank verse, from the days of his youth, aided by a huge collection of books in the library of his English professor father, N C Daruwalla. His early influences were the Romantic poets, with Coleridge and Browning being special favourites. Later, he was drawn to the European poets, in translation, as also certain American favourites; he names Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Archibald MacLeish and Anthony Hecht.

It is this romance with poetry that made Keki opt for verse as his medium of expression. Early attempts at poetry, when he was all of 23, resulted in some ‘floundering verse’ as he terms it, but everything changed in 1965, the year of his marriage. Daruwalla is happy to admit that the romance in his life aided his muse, as from then on, his poetry flowed effortlessly. However, he does admit that in the early days, his poems were too long, which he later learned to prune, to get to the crux of the idea sooner.

Keki Daruwalla feels that whilst long working hours in the police force did not impede his writing of poetry, it did come in the way of attempting prose.

Some of his early short fiction did see the light of the day in the good old ‘Illustrated Weekly of India’, which once enjoyed immense popularity under the editorship of Khushwant Singh, who, incidentally, studied English under Keki’s father in the Government College, Lahore.

Since this century, Daruwalla has moved to writing long fiction and is very happy with the transition. He has published three novels with ease. From the time of the Emergency, the poet has enjoyed lampooning governments and he does so even today, through the medium of doggerels and by writing “political verse very stridently.” He expresses unhappiness over the revamping of Delhi, saying that a poor country can ill-afford such a huge expense. He adds, “just because a government has secured a majority in Parliament, it does not give them a right to change the country as we know it.”

Quizzed about the fate of English poetry in India today, Keki feels there are at least 50-100 good poets who are keeping the flag flying and names Ranjit Hoskote, Arundhati Subramaniam and Jeet Thayil, among others. He rates Salman Rushdie and Amitava Ghosh as among the best writers of Indian English fiction and also speaks of enjoying Anuradha Roy’s first novel immensely.

When quizzed about how poetry sells less in India as compared to the West, Daruwalla feels this could have something to do with the standard of poetry-teaching in schools and colleges today. “They should make it exciting for the kids,” is his earnest view. In the olden days, schools insisted that poems be memorised, which allowed the rhyme and the cadence to sink in, creating a kind of romance with the language used. Someone recently told the poet that in the days of Google, it is no longer necessary to learn up a poem, sadly missing the wood for the trees.

Still, Keki Daruwalla feels that poetry will always have its own place in people’s lives and makes a special reference to Hindi and Urdu poetry. “When you are really down, there is nothing like reciting a couplet or two to restore your mood.” The ‘nasha’ or intoxication of poetry will always prevail, he feels.



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