Voice of a subaltern subject
Gaurav Kanthwal

Collected Poems (1970-2005)
by Keki N Daruwala. Penguin.
Rs 350. Pages 355

Collected Poems (1970-2005)A major contribution towards the consolidation of Indian literature in English. Besides consolidation, the anthology traces the development and the maturity of the poet. Many leading publishers have already come up with anthologies of major poets like A.K. Ramanujan, Nissim Ezekiel, Dom Moraes and others. It is a welcome step to turn the public perception towards the marginalisation of Indian English poetry.

However a conspicuous omission is an Introduction which would have clarified the intent, objective and the utility of the poetry, poet and the book itself and hence its indispensability.

Daruwalla’s poetry is a kind of probing into the present unrest, anxiety and disillusionment to offer a valuable insight to society. He writes in his Two Decades of Indian Poetry: 1960-1980 "`85I feel even in poetry content is more important than form. For me poetry is first personal—exploratory, at times therapeutic`85a social gesture`85" His skeptical, ironic and rationalist poetry is expressed in a ‘bitter scornful satiric tone’. Poems like Curfew in a riot-torn City’, Pestilence, The Epileptic, Love in Meerut traverse whole India, inhabited by politicians, beggars, writers, lovers and family, yet with complete disinterest. This self-effacement enables him to exercise his intelligence and attribute distinctiveness to his poems.

His poems are predominantly preoccupied with the themes of death, violence, history, myth, religion, personal lives and incidents. Notable among his New Poems 2000-2005 are We, the Kauravas, Gujrat 2002, To a Palestinian Poet and Yahudi.

His is a voice of a subaltern subject (To Writers Abroad) continually bringing forth the pluralities of India, its contradictions, harmony and diversity of experiences, all attributing a distinct identity to the nation and itself. As in History "This too was history/though no one ever wrote it."

Being`A0from a minority community lends a greater distance and a relative objectivity to the environment and thought process of a poet. Memories, desires and senses are unusually activated and sensitised due to the confrontation between the abstract ideas, ideals with the realities of experience. "You face reality on a different plane/where death vibrates behind a veil of fire".

Daruwalla’s poetry oscillates between freedom and control. His poems begin in a controlled manner but deviate in between and are ultimately brought back under control. The themes of poems like Gujrat 2002, Death of a Bird and Routine convey anxieties and insecurity in an individual with respect to a plural society and nature. His poetry juxtaposes violence, aggression and sexual desires of society against the repression, hypocrisy and deceit of an individual.

The speaker and characters in his poems are isolated and alienated from society. This dislocation and subsequent distrust roots from the frigidity in our lives, further accentuated by the awareness of the impossibility to assimilate among its own people by virtue of being an Indian English poet.

One can see contradictions and multiplicity of his poetic persona in poems like Yahudi: "Ours was hardly an exile/in Gujrat we were always home." and in the very next poem Gujrat 2002 he says, "There is no place here for the lyre and the lute."

Daruwalla’s diasporic experience urges as well as enhances his creative writing besides arousing an interest in history to know our past and how it influences our present.