An enduring affair

Keki Daruwalla. Photo: Sampath Kumar.  

After more than a dozen books, including five collections of short stories, Keki Daruwalla remains a man of few words. Not even the Sahitya Akademi Award that he got in 1984 for his poetry collection, “The Keeper of the Dead” goaded him to a bout of self-importance. The Padma Shri that he received last year was greeted with a similar quietude. Yet this man of many summers was moved by the growing intolerance across the country and the acute absence of freedom of expression to return his Sahitya Akademi Award. Yet again, he preferred to talk little, very little; allowing his action to speak louder than his words.

Surely, it won’t be easy being Keki Daruwalla. “I wish to make it clear that I have no party leanings. I was no lover of the corrupt UPA-2. The landscape that confronts the writer today is bleak. People will die in our country for eating beef, or pork, perhaps one sad day for eating muttar-paneer…,” he wrote to the Akademi chief Vishwanath Tiwari and stated clearly in his letter that “It (Akademi) has not stood up as boldly as it should for values that literature stands for, namely freedom of expression against threat, upholding the rights of the marginalised….That Dr M.M. Kalburgi, a Sahitya Akademi prize winner, should be killed for no other reason except his rational views is something that cannot pass muster without some protest from brother authors. A goon rings a door bell at dawn; he opens the door and gets shot. This could happen to you and me.”

“The Jan Sangh insinuation that political parties induced us to return awards is beneath contempt. But see the result. We shut them up – the General, the ‘Culture’ minister, the Haryana Chief Minister. Sab chhup ho gaye. We have done a good turn to the polity of the country,” he responds to allegations that the awards were returned with a political motive, more so keeping the Bihar elections in mind.

Against this background, he won’t exactly be brimming over with words if requested to speak about his latest work Ancestral Affairs, already hailed as “an evocative family saga from a master of both prose and poetry”?

Daruwalla has a surprise in store here as he waxes eloquent about the book, “The youngsters will get enlightened. I have gone into close details. I have used first hand knowledge without papers. My father was the tutor and guardian of the prince I have mentioned in the book. Childhood memories are good, they get imprinted on the brain. Still remember Shakir Mohammed coming to the house and saying he has a gun left by Ghazni which could knock Rajkot out. He also said, ‘Shamaldas will look behind and say, there go my intestines’.”

Indeed “Ancestral Affairs” is so rich in detailing that a man born well after 1947 could as well have been there. But considering the vast canvas of the novel wasn’t it difficult to strike a balance between the universal and the personal?

“To make it a really good novel I had to make it universal – I brought in Paris, and of course if you have Claire going back to Highgate, then that too has to get in. Aur mehnat karni padti hai. I went for six months to Nehru Memorial and studied the papers of 1947. Nothing comes for free, from a plate of biryani to a novel.”

So, isn’t it closer to Faction? “Have never heard of Faction. But the son’s story is not based on any character I know. The incidents and the plot are totally invented. So is the love affair. My publisher thinks it is a love story.”

Early in the book Daruwalla makes a subtle comment on the working of Indian princes, their lethargy, their inaccessibility. Were not these traits true of princes beyond Junagarh too? He happily and readily agrees. “Yes, true of most or many. But Junagarh was among the worst.”

Yet, to borrow a phrase from his work, isn’t there a bit of Junagarh in each one of us even today? Daruwalla disagrees completely. “Junagarh in each of us? No. Are you by any chance getting interested in five minus one begums,” he replies in a manner completely disarming.

You could say that about the book too. Interesting twists, moments of candour and subtle comments on the times that were, the people we have been. Daruwalla remains a man of few, very few words. Each one is well used.

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 8:47:49 PM |

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