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.



  1. Comments received via e-mail from Prof. Hiren Gohain, eminent Professor of English, poet, critic and social scientist:

    Enjoyed reading your things.Also gratified to find them free of pretentious jargon,which obscures whether the author really enjoys reading
    books.Khushwant did not undergo the moment of discipline imposed by new criticism.He is prone to ad hominem judgments.Auden is honest about the world on the eve of WWII,but the War did prove something he missed.The common man can fight and die for democracy,which is not simply about individual liberty.

    As for 'complexity' brought about by other voices like the Dalits,it includes,in my view,a moment of defeat and despair resulting from too
    simple an idealism.The other is not inexorable if you do not snuff it out impatiently.Mankind can change the world if it can rediscover their
    'we',their collective self and destiny.The Other is the theme of contemporary tragedy.Perhaps I am echoing Sartre?

    Hiren Gohain

  2. Comments received via e-mail from Ms. Namita Gokhale, novelist and co-founder, Jaipur Literature Festival:

    A very nice and thoughtful piece, Namita Gokhale.

  3. Comments received via e-mail from Shri Vishnu Khare, eminent poet, critic and translator:

    Very few people know that Mr. Sudeep Banerjee, a sensitive Hindi poet in his own right, was very close to Dom Moraes.

    I met Dom briefly in the company of Adil Jussawala and,if I remember correctly,Shrikant Varma.

    Sudeep had commissioned Dom,late 1970s?mid-1980s?,to write a safari-book mainly on the Madhya Pradesh tribal people.The title of the coffee-table-size book - barring the size there was nothing "coffee-table" about it - was "Answered by Flutes".You have to read it to break the "wild oats in plenty" Dom stereotypes.

    Sudeep always spoke about Dom surprisingly lovingly.There must be some letters somewhere.He also knew Leela Naidoo,his actor-wife.So far as I can recall,he wrote almost nothing on Dom in Hindi but there could exist something in English.Maybe Ashok ( Vajpeyi ) also knew Dom.In Hindi hardly anybody was familiar with him but they all loved to hate him.

    But,all said and done,Dom couldn't become the South Asian Dylan Thomas he had the potential to be.Never has so much talent has gone so much waste.I think the too-early Hawthornden did him in.

    Vishnu Khare


To Father: A Poem

To Father Sometimes you should pick up poetry And read them aloud Feel the sound of words Search for their varied meanings In dictionaries a...