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Padma Shri Keki Daruwalla (Author | Poet)

About Him

Keki Daruwalla is a major Indian poet and writer in English. He has written over 12 books. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, in 1984 for his poetry collection, The Keeper of the Dead, by the Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters. He was awarded Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India, in 2014. He was also the Head of Jury for DSC PRIZE for South Asian Literature 2015. Currently, he is the Advisor to the First International Young Author Awards, UAE.

Welcome Keki Ji., I would like to ask you the following questions:

  • 1.
    You mentioned in one of your interviews that you have been writing both prose and poetry since your childhood. Share with us one of your earliest memory of your writing. How was the literary climate around you when you were growing up?
    I started writing in the early nineteen sixties. The publishing avenues were close to zero. As I wrote my poems I did not even think of a publisher. There were just two journals—The Illustrated Weekly of India which reached every middle class home, and Quest, published from Poona which had a limited circulation. My first poems were published in Quest, January issue of 1964, placed there by Khushwant Singh. I was writing bad stories and bad poems. A book was something too far to even think about! One might as well have dreamt of winning a lottery. In 1965 I started writing a little better. When Martin Luther King was shot, I felt terrible and dashed off a poem to the Weekly, and was sure it would be published. It was! I became known!
  • 2.
    Few of our reader would know that you also made a distinct mark in civil services. You joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1958, becoming a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on International Affairs in 1979. You were later in the Cabinet Secretariat until your retirement in 1995 and were also awarded both the Police Medal for Meritorious Service (1975) and President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service (1985). It is incredible that with such a busy schedule, you continued to write. Can you share with us how you found time to help our readers who are busy in their corporate lives but still have a desire to write?
    I can ascribe my output first thanking my wife and family. They let me write. You need commitment and a passion for writing. Any event that hit one, I tried to think how I could make a story or a poem out of it. I borrowed books (poetry) from the USIS and the British Council, and read voraciously. Poetry must get down into your system, and that can happen only if you read a lot, and now and then marvel at how the poet has managed to bring it off. I wrote on weekends.But there were periods when I couldn’t even think of writing, for instance when I was with the PM. It would be a fourteen hour day.
  • 3.
    The characteristic features of your poetry besides being described as having vigor and immediacy of language and knife-edge tone is also described as having immense concern with love, death and dominationand cynicism about the plight of human society. How would you describe your process of writing? Are you an intuitive writer or a method writer? Do you select a topic to write on or you choose to write what hits you. Please share some interesting moments with us.
    Am not sure if there are two separate writers—intuitive and methodical. As far as stories are concerned I do plot them, following the nebulous trail of a metaphor or trying to make a point. Poetry has to be more intuitive. I write about what hits me. Yes I did write about love and death—but what else is there to write about in poetry? Name a poet who does not talk of them. We humans differ from other living beings by being conscious of death as the end. Death-consciousness is a vital part of our mental make up, and how we face life.
  • 4.
    Your latest book is ‘Daniel Comes to Judgment’ by Niyogi Books. Your publisher has labeled you as ‘Vintage Daruwala’. It is a beautiful bouquet of old and new stories, I particularly loved the description from ‘A House in Ranikhet’ that makes me want to go there for a writing retreat next - “the quiet October afternoon, the arc of snow peaks struggling to keep their heads above the ascending clouds; oak on the higher ridges, and every now and then an old cedar that dwarfed everything else. Old cottages with their red-tiled roofs. And the silence, above everything else, punctuated every now and then by a gust of breeze through the pines, with the yellow needles drizzling down.” Which is your personal favorite?

    Ranikhet was a lovely time. My first daughter was born, I bought a car, and we lived through two winters there. But my favourite stories would be the title one, Trojan Horse (because it is an elongated metaphor), Winter Solstice.

  • 5.
    Your five favorite books and authors?
    Books I admire are as follows:
  • 1. Hope Against Hope by Nadhezda Mandelstam, gives an account of their lives under the Stalin regime, the privations and the zulm.
  • 2. Duino Elegies by Rilke.
  • 3. The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (Expanded Edition) translated by Judith Hemschemeyer.
  • 4. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.
  • 5. Collected Poems of Auden.
  • 6.
    Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you handle it?

    Not really. At the moment though, the novel I am writing, presents me with a block. I don’t know how to proceed. But will get over it!I have almost never forced myself to write a poem. (Incidentally, you CAN’T force yourself to write a poem). I can think of one or two short stories I forced myself to write. One of them was Bars, it turned out well.

  • 7.
    On a personal front, what does a weekend mean to you? Your favorite pastime?
    I am old. A week end means long hours at the newspapers, a visit to the IIC library and possibly a meal at the club. Please remember I live alone.
  • 8.
    There is one question that I throw at all my guests, what is your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
    I have no favourite non-alcoholic drink! Perhaps nimboo-paani.
  • 9.
    What would be your advice to aspiring authors of ‘The Write Scene,’ who are working on their manuscripts?
    I am not fond of the word advice. I consider it presumptuous of the fellow who thinks he can give advice. Have been a low profile man all along. But my suggestions are as follows. For poets: (a) Read a lot of poetry. Go on line read from poetry journals—Poetry Chicago, Kenyon Review and a host of others. (b) Don’t fall for rhyme, to start with. Most beginners can’t handle rhyme. (c) Practise rhyme a lot, till you get control of it. Never let the rhyme run away with your poem or your lines. A time will come when the sense (I mean what you want to say) will lead and not the rhyme. (d) An outpouring of emotion is not poetry. Someone has just sent me an ‘outrage poem’ on the death of the Chinese Nobel Prize winner. Good emotions don’t make good poetry always. (e) Go for half-rhymes now and then. (f) don’t try to be too post-modern.(g) Now and then try your hand at some political poetry. (h) Avoid prosaic language, by which I mean a reporter’s language. For instance don’t write ‘unless and until’—a typical desi usage, or ‘heavenly abode’ (leave that for obituaries. (i) Lastly be demotic. Stories: Don’t spell out everything. Leave something to the reader’s imagination. And the modern stories believe in leaving the end hanging. And please ‘site’ the story - place , time etc. and go into detail . Come to the abstract after you have made a name in the concrete.
  • 10.
    We are very happy to have you as our Advisor on our initiative of ‘Young Author Awards’ which has been conceived with a belief that by rewarding Authors we can cultivate the climate of writing. Can we have your views?
    I can only agree. Every writer needs a spur to go on. Good luck to you all.

To hear him recite his poems and short stories please visit the Library of Congress New Delhi Office (The South Asian Literary Recordings Project) - https://www.loc.gov/acq/ovop/delhi/salrp/kekidaruwalla.html

Padma Shri Keki Daruwalla (Author | Poet)