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A Requiem To Domsky

Dom Moraes (Domsky to his friends) is not easy to read. While his prose was limpid and lyrical, his poetry tended to be somewhat obscure as the works of many modern poets.

A Requiem To Domsky
Jitender Gupta
A Requiem To Domsky
Collected Poems: 1954-2004
By Dom Moraes
Penguin Pages: 355; Rs 395
Dom Moraes’ interest in poetry started very early in his life. In his preface to this collection, he writes, "I was about ten years old when I started to read poetry.... I had an instinctive feel, even at that age, for the shape and texture of words." By the time he was 14, he began to write it himself. He learnt French in order to be able to read Villon in the original. Poetry became a lifelong passion. But for a longish break (1965-1982), he continued to write till the end of his life over a month ago. It would appear that the writer’s block which had lasted 17 years was finally overcome when he met Sarayu Srivatsa to whom he dedicated this collection.

Dom Moraes (Domsky to his friends) is not easy to read. While his prose was limpid and lyrical, his poetry tended to be somewhat obscure as the works of many modern poets. His words have resonance but you have to read every line two or three times before you can comprehend their meaning. People brought up on simple rhyming verse like Twinkle, twinkle, little star will find Domsky’s poems obscure. However, one can detect a few themes which recur consistently. He was obsessed with death. The hawk was his symbol of doom. His mother’s insanity haunted him all his life. He sought escape from it in hard liquor and making love. He sums it up in A Letter:

"My father hugging me so hard it hurt,
My mother mad, and time we went away.
We travelled, and I looked for love too young.
More travel, and I looked for lust instead.
I was not ruled by wanting: I was young,
And poems grew like maggots in my head."

With the arrival of Sarayu, he turned to writing on love but death remained a permanent fixture. We are not told how and when he fell in love with her. The confession is made in Fourteen Years.

"Fourteen years, the same mixture
As when first I met her:
...Her breasts always ready:
Mindmarks and handmarks on each other:
I study the landscape of her body
As architect, husband, and brother."

He confirms their love remained unabated.

"Under our feet the harsh subcontinent
where you and I were born,
...Eight years I have inhabited your weather,
the clear and darker seasons of your mind.
We have been more than married. It was meant.
We’ve lived in each other. It was meant to be."

Domsky was stricken with cancer but refused to undergo chemotherapy. He almost wallowed in the prospect of an early end with the ghost of his insane mother hovering over him.

"From a heavenly asylum, shrivelled Mummy,
glare down like a gargoyle at your only son.
...That I’m terminally ill hasn’t been much help.
There is no reason left for anything to exist.
Goodbye now. Don’t try to meddle with this."

Dom Moraes died in his sleep in Mumbai on the evening of Wednesday, June 2, 2004. He was only 68. With him died the best of Indian poets of the English language and the greatest writer of felicitous prose.

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