Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dom Moraes - A Poet Extraordinaire!

I was then working in Colaba and I used to bump into Dom Moraes quite a lot. At the bank, in the bookshop, this gentle looking, shy man with a receding chin, looked the most improbable of celebrities that he was elsewhere in the world. He wore ordinary clothes and didn't have the assumptions one would have of a poet. I knew of his fame and therefore hesitated every time I came face to face with him. How I wish I had introduced myself.

The most unapproachable thing about him was that he always looked down and not ahead of him. Mostly he had his glasses perched at the tip of his nose. The forbidding thing about him was his reputation as a poet who had made it big, and the fact that he had married one of the most beautiful women in the world, Leela Naidu. But now I realize, it wasn't his fame and the fact that he had married a beautiful woman that made him unapproachable, but his shyness. He lived and loved his own way and had had a very interesting life. Several wives, and a trusted muse with whom I often saw him at Kala Ghoda.

A brief biographical sketch.

Dom was born in Bombay; into a Goan family. His father was Frank Moraes, editor of The Times of India. Frank Moraes was well known for his journalistic writing and Dom grew up in the shadow of a celebrity. May be this was what made him very diffident and a very protected child. He received a Jesuit education and had opportunities to travel to many countries. It is probably this wanderlust that took him to several countries as a war correspondent and a travel writer.

After two years in Sri Lanka, at the age of 16 Dom arrived in England. In 1956, he began reading English at Jesus College, Oxford. The following year, his first book of poems, A Beginning, was published by David Archer's Parton Press (which had published Dylan Thomas's first) and, in 1958, it won the Hawthornden Prize for "the best work of imagination". Dom was the first non-English person to win the prize, and was also the youngest.

WH Auden read and liked his work, and, Stephen Spender - who first met him in Bombay - was publishing him in Encounter magazine.

In 1960, he published Poems, and the autobiographical Gone Away, about his travels in India. The Brass Serpent - translations from Hebrew poetry - followed in 1964, and John Nobody the year after that, that is, 1965. All were received well, Dom became a familiar and well-liked figure at poetry readings and in poets' pubs in England.

By 1966, he had published Poems 1955-65. Two years later, in 1967, he settled in Islington, and published his autobiography, My Son's Father.

In 1968, Dom settled back in India for good, only resuming the writing of verse in the late 1970s. In 1988, he published his Collected Poems, and two years after we met came more poems in Serendip.

But then the poetry muse left him. He was bitten by the journalism bug.

He traveled - he was to mention that he had visited every country in the world - and wrote journalistic accounts, travel books and a biography of Mrs. Gandhi (1980). A compelling study of several states of India including Himachal Pradesh, and Karnataka forms his travelogues.

A third volume of autobiography, Never At Home (1994), was followed in 2001 by another poetry collection, In Cinnamon Shade. He also contributed to Voices of the Crossing (2000), edited by Naseem Khan and Ferdinand Dennis, on the impact of England on writers from the subcontinent and the Caribbean. He co-edited The Penguin Book Of Indian Journeys (2001), and last year published The Long Strider. For television, he scripted - and sometimes directed - more than 20 documentaries.

Dom's contacts with English friends were, it seemed, few. He kept up with the loyal Peter Levi. His first marriage, to Henrietta Moraes (obituary, January 8 1999), and his third marriage were dissolved. His second wife, Judy, predeceased him. In the last stage of his affliction with cancer Sarayu Srivastava was his companion and muse.

More reading:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1231084,00.html
http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/jun/04spec1.htm
http://www.goacom.org/news/getStory.php?ID=987

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4 comments:

farrukh: copywriter & journalist said...

Nice to read about the life of an Indian poet - a very eventful life indeed.

Thanks John,

farrukh

John Baker said...

Thanks for this. I, somehow, missed that Moraes had died, and only picked it up from your page.
It was good to read of his life and activities and I was reminded of some of his earliest poems, which gave me great pleasure many years ago.

John said...

Hi John,

I am honored that you got the message from my blog.

Thanks

J

John said...

Farrukh,

He was a significant Indian poet who made it in the western world. However, in India, he still remains unappreciated.

J