Friday, July 19, 2013

‘My writings will tell you where I am’ : Thoughts on Dom Moraes on his 75th Birth Anniversary


‘Almost I can recall where I was born:
The hot verandas where the chauffeurs drowse,
Backyard dominion of the ragged thorn,
And nameless servants in my father’s house,
Whispering together in the backyard dirt
Until their talk came true for me one day:
My father hugging me so hard it hurt,
My mother mad, and time we went away.’
Dom Moraes
 ‘A Letter’ from POEMS (1960),

‘My mother’s parents were both doctors...and Roman Catholics. My paternal grandfather was an engineer, and a Roman Catholic too, but the Hindu caste system of their forefathers had worked on Indian Catholics over the years, splitting them into communities: and my parents’ families came from different Catholic communities. A great deal of fuss ensued, but in 1937 my parents married, and on July 19th, 1938, I was born.’
Dom Moraes
My Son’s Father, p. 7

I have been thinking of posting something on Dom Moraes (19 July 1938-2 June 2004) and the perhaps the idea that egged me on was to write a piece on the poetic nature and elements of his prose writings. I have been sort of fascinated by his poetic prose for a long time, something which I find in equal measure in the Hindi writer Nirmal Verma (1929-2005). In fact, the idea struck me to do some kind of comparative analysis of their writings—both being contemporaries, though Verma was a bit senior, and both sort of ‘outsiders’ to the Indian socio-literary and cultural ethos in their own way.

I tried to probe, I got a feeling that the tag of being an ‘outsider’, has been used quite indiscriminately for Dom Moraes. Some blame Dom himself would have to take for he seems to have used it to create an aura of mysteriousness around him as reflected in his verse and the titles of his books like Gone Away, Never At Home, Absences etc. However, what disturbs me more—and this needs to be evaluated further—is the claim of certain critics that Dom actually hated India. Khushwant Singh, one of the most over-estimated commentators of our times and the perfect practitioner of the art of employing superlative degrees and exaggerations without any qualms, went on to say in his Tribune article (Saturday, October 13, 2007, Requiem to Dom Moraes), “He (Dom) disliked everything about India, particularly Indians”, adding in good measure, “The only exceptions he made were good-looking women he took to bed.” I deliberately quote the second line from that para of Singh, because even in an article written by Geeta Doctor in The Hindu as recently as on July 14, 2013 under the title ‘The Poet Who Remained a Boy’, the focal point states, “The greatest asset of Dom Moraes, whose 75th birth anniversary falls on July 19, was his closeness to women and beauty.”  

My concerns are two-fold: One, this is the way how journalists approach the literary figures and do greatest disservice to the personality as well as to the readers, and secondly, which is more important, is how new generation of readers and critics should make their own assessment of writers or for that matter of any public figure of the times gone by for better understanding of their relevance.

The first concern I am not going to dwell on here because journalistic simplification of literary dilemmas is a deep-rooted disease, and hence I am only leaving it to the judgment of the readers.

For the second, I wish to look at the cosmopolitan, almost alien figure of Dom Moraes as it has been handed down to us from the standpoint of the sort of cue that he gives in his masterly crafted poem titled ‘Babur’—the last poem of his Collected Poems 1957-1987, published by Penguin Books in 1987:

            If you look for me, I am not here.
            My writings will tell you where I am.  

For this kind of close reading, I would rely upon his autobiographies My Son’s Father  and Never at Home, and his Collected Poems 1957-1987, while touching briefly on his travelogue The Open Eyes: A Journey Through Karnataka and some other relevant writings.