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Features » Sunday Magazine
July 13, 2013

The poet who remained a boy
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Subramanium . The Hindu The partner who gave him back his voice: Dom Moraes with Sarayu Srivastava. Photo: S.

. Dominic Frances Moraes merely mumbled. He had an extraordinary gift with words but when you met him. says Geeta Doctor. Special Arrangement TOPICS books and literature authors and poets poetry The greatest asset of Dom Moraes. whose 75th birth anniversary falls on July 19. was his closeness to women and beauty.

one a doctor. the accent round and rich and neutral. an opium. the dark eyes with the hair tumbling over them. the white suits that he affected.” Even as Dom the narrator records the scene from the stains on the poet. Her Catholic faith and her mental instability (tragically she was committed to a mental asylum outside Bangalore when he was still a young boy) contributed a great deal to the images of terror and despair that a permanent loss of faith led him to document with his characteristic anguish gilded with a carapace of rich imagery. He was born on July 19.invented as a heritage monument of a vanished age.He was known to be famously shy. 1938. at a time when most Indians found it difficult to make such journeys. in phrases such as ‘Hips to launch many ships/nippled bowls of cream and honey’. women fell upon him like fresh laundry..” (From Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil). Not British or American or Indian but godlike. but mostly tormented. relationship with his mother Beryl Moraes. Then again because he documented his conquests.. an eastern edition of Dorian Gray turned golden by the Orient sun. It co uld not be more different from Jeet Thayil’s portrait of a drink -sozzled character named Newton Xavier who has a walk-on part as an artist who is also a poet in Narcopolis. In many ways it’s his closeness to both women and beauty that has become his greatest asset. His best poems are those that speak of his often tender. give/Me the scent of your skin & clean hair. vampires.artist’s kurta —“drink? blood? semen?.like evening at the PEN where the audience has been invited to listen to Xavier. like Man” and goes on to mumble “So.” This is the image that Ranjit Hoskote has chosen to put on the cover of the poems edited by him in his anthology of poems by Dom Moraes. When he first went to London as a young boy of 18. As poet. As one of the persons who knew him then remembers when he entered a pub in Soho. movie monsters clanking out of their experimental cloisters.garbled account of the seamy side of Mumbai interspersed with revelations about literary matters. Beryl and Frank Moraes. He’s been dead for more than nine years now. but Dom can still elicit a shiver. Then he started to read and his voice was mild.open your arms to me. mythical messiahs waking from their thousand years of sleep is being reincarnated as something rich and strange.the wonderful fact that he was too drunk to stand” — he launches into an epiphany that is as memorable as the real Dom at his best. exile in two cultures. speaking so softly that the audience had to lean forward to hear him. Dom is being re. “He was going to read a new poem he said. . “You could not take your eyes off him. I heard the coldness under it and it gave me a shiver. even in that heat it gave me a s hiver. The narrator who is named Dom reports on a Dom. people recalled his skin the colour of honey. There’s even a poem that nails the Moraes method gloriously: “God & Dog & dice and day/Live forever. editor. the words perfectly articulated. the other one of the best respected intellectuals of his time who travelled the world with his young son. a sometimes companion to beautiful women who then regretted their choice. anthologist. Most striking of all was the tone of absolute authority. the gifted child of gifted parents. The avid collector of gothic tales who had a fascination for the undead.

he chose them with a lepidopterist’s avidity to pin them to his quest for immortality. Her best Dom-based memory is that when he left her. She fell for his “shy mumbling face”. Henrietta Moraes (1931-1999).Indian’ poetry. Even if she was eventually to play Zelda to his Fitzgerald. . he quickly found other mentors in W. For a young woman who started life as Audrey Wendy Abbott in Shimla to an air force family based in India. like Dom. somewhat inappropriately one imagines. The second wife. Francis.His earliest mentor was Nissim Ezekiel. neither homespun desi. at home and yet not really here. Strangely enough it is through the women in his life that Dom stumbles into life these days. She could be called “La Grande Horizontal” from the number of nude portraits for which she lent her body to artists now as famous as Francis Bacon. She is now the subject of a play written by Sue Maclaine called. I’m going out for some cigarettes” and never returned. A New Beginning and was hailed as something of a prodigy. who has been the subject of an intimate but not entirely all-revealing biography co-authored by her and Jerry Pinto in which she reveals that it was out of pity that she married Dom in 1969. nor effete European but desperately evolving a third alternative.H. no doubt: “Darling. that’s what you did when you picked up the manners and mocking mannerisms of being an upper class Indian who had transcended his background in the England of that time. When Dom went on to win the prestigious Hawthornden Prize in 1958. she made a career by being famous for her lively wit and generous display of her body. With a nuclear physicist Indian father and a Swiss Indologist mother. He offered Dom. for instance who married him in his Soho years when he was 19 and she 25. he said. When he came back to Bombay. Both have been d escribed as “luminous” in their ability to attract attention. still in schoolboy short pants and shirt at 14. was certainly the most colourful. who painted her all nose and meaty slivered cheeks. he chose to write of his first teacher in a languidly barbed and dismissive manner. now described as the best known practitioner of a genre known as “Anglo. Unlike Leela Naidu (1940-2009) the famously beautiful third trophy. mumbling. Then again. a cigarette and advised him to write fiction. the city that appears most often in his work. he was a practising outsider. met most of the celebrated performers. It did not last. whose emergence was recorded in a tender wolf’s growl of a poem that made it to the front pages of the Indian press of that time. Auden and Stephen Spender. Judith’s presence led to some calming vignettes of an English suburban life and the birth of a son. filmmakers and artists of her time. We have no record of how he left them. for his first book of poems. That first cigarette from Nissim was apparently more effective than his advice on poetic matters. his badly matched socks and apparent inability to take care of himself. being both the youngest and the first Asian to win the prize. Together they constituted an aristocracy of the new Indian. Dom returned to India in 1968. In an early biography. “Still Life: An Evening with Henrietta Moraes”. both as a place that he could inhabit and exhibit with a showman’s ease. It might be said that they were kindred souls. Leela Naidu had. Or it could be that like John Fowles’ The Collector. and Lucien Freud more adept at flesh and pubic hair. each one complementing the other in their desire to compete and complement the other with their passionate devotion to drink and to themselves.

show him at his most trite. Or to quote from one of Dom’s poems.com Comments Recommended Post a comment Be the first one to post a comment Your Name: email: Make a comment 100 characters left .1 Car Site India's No. the last devoted partner who took him in hand and gave him back his voice. ‘Brandeth’.” (From Ranjit Hoskote Selected Poems. Never mind.No.This is perhaps why it is wholly understandable that Ranjit Hoskote should try and fit the boot of ‘early transcultural” artist on to Dom’s feet and make him walk again through his poems. he notices the “penguin colonies/badly designed as butlers”. Penguin Modern Classics). The Long Walk about Thomas Coryat. Selected poems. These. Sarayu Srivatsava.com .” When visiting the Antarctica. Visit Now for Used & New Cars! www. In his last book written with Sarayu Srivatsava.readingfanatic. to the Congo to Vietnam and closer home in the failure of the Indian State at Ayodhya and Gujarat in the aftermath at Godhra.com Gaadi. a Victorian eccentric who walks all the way from England to India. Tel Aviv where he searched for evil in the bland face of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann at his trial. he’s worth the catch.” He was menopausal long before his time.gaadi. After watching the B-12 bombers with their napalm bombs leave for Vietnam. This may be the place to put on record Dom’s travels and reportage of some of the troubled hotspots of the 20th century. Even falling. The Long Walk More In: Sunday Magazine | Features | Books | Authors Ads by Google Free Online Book Download Read From 1 Million Free Titles Download Today for Free eBooks! www. he describes a wound he has received on his shoulder with a line that is so banal as to make one squirm: “My wound was pleased it had a wife to kiss it. It’s no wonder that he complains of a “menopause of the mind./He became next day’s news. Keywords: Dom Moraes.1 Auto Portal. “He spun like a sun in his fall. however./He fell till he ceased to feel/dignified. has the freshness of the early promise. any more.

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