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Book Review: Under Something Of A Cloud

Book Review: Under Something Of A Cloud
The cover of Under Something Of A Cloud,
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Experience a journey from Bombay to Colombo through this collection of Dom Morae's travel stories

Amit Dixit
June 05 , 2019

Sarayu Srivatsa, the late Moraes’s partner and executor of the Dom Moraes Literary Estate, and a literary talent in her own right, has edited this surprisingly compact volume of travel writing from one of India’s leading prose stylists. Surprising, because as a writer and foreign correspondent, and even as a child, Moraes travelled around the world and wrote extensively about it. But, as Srivatsa says in her emotional introduction, “It was not easy to select passages... for this anthology…I don’t wish to inflict a form and contour on his life and writing, nor censor or distort all that I know personally of him. In the tradition of the Haiku form that selects a simple moment and illuminates the minute in it rather than the overall, I am trying to find a simple way of seeing the infinitesimal relationships of things in the world he inhabited.

“The selection, therefore, is steered by something hidden in them: of the sense of loss and losing, of loneliness, and the consequent pain, his and those of others, those of the world’s tragedies. Essentially, this collection is an attempt to share his way of seeing the world—with the eyes of a bewildered boy and the mind of a man who saw too much too soon.”

The extracts, although few are, mercifully, not short. They provide a full-bodied flavour of Moraes’s travel writing, something that a lot of little snippets could never achieve. The collection begins with an extraordinary journey from Bombay to Colombo that the family made when Moraes was just a child, with his mother’s slow descent into insanity serving as a backdrop. Also included are a quietly humorous account of a trip to Nepal with the writer Ved Mehta and an encounter with the Dani tribe of Indonesia, who at the time enjoyed a reputation for cannibalism, among others. As a traveller, Moraes shied away from nothing, not even Ahmedabad just after the 2002 riots. This would have been doubly difficult, given Moraes’s tortured existence. His writing made him suffer too. Srivatsa writes about how he used to struggle over every sentence, chiselling it to perfection, surrounded by a wasteland of discarded drafts. That’s how he became a master of the form, his prose as luminous as his life was dark.

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