Here’s something that was almost lost, but it found its way back thanks to an erudite reader*. The stanza is from Dom Moraes’ poem Another Weather. I read it in the first heat of this summer. What a summer to have read it in:
For this weather I think I see things clearer.
All spring I drank until my money went,
Weeping for the horizon. Now I’m nearer.
Things happen here without my full consent.
And I accept them all. What is my choice?
I have few muscles; I must trust my voice.
Some lines are timeless for no fault of their own. The poem was written in July 1959; that’s 61 years to the day today. Yet it struck me as a song for our times. Life on a loop I suppose, one weather to another, one season to another.
If you know of Dom Moraes then I admire you. If you don’t know Dom Moraes, I don’t blame you. When you sign up to be a poet you are also signing up for obscurity. Guess it was true of him as well. But here’s a little primer to get you started on all things Dom, in the words of his protege - Jeet Thayil :
“The Bombay poets were assholes,” Thayil says now. “They didn’t care about young writers. They didn’t care about anything but themselves. And they had this closed citadel, into which nobody was allowed. There were one or two among them who betrayed the code and were friendly, and Dom certainly was the main one. In fact I think he took some pride in not considering himself part of groups. He was welcoming and would try to help you if he could.”
Moraes died in 2004. I ask if Thayil misses him, and the first long pause stretches between us.
“Is he a personal saint of yours?” I ask.
“Yes, absolutely.” And then, even more quietly: “I agree with that.”
But there’s a lot more to Dom than just that. He was a Bombay original. Besides poems, Moraes also wrote essays, columns and novels and was notably a biographer of Indira Gandhi. He was massively productive despite being an alcoholic and despite a 19 year writer’s block when it came to poetry.
And it is not just the prolific output, it is the stature he carries in the hallowed halls of the Indian literary scene. Here’s something I came across last year in a magazine:
… at a party in Bombay, VS Naipaul was seated next to a drunk man. The man introduced himself—Behram Contractor, better known as Busybee to the readers of his daily newspaper column on the city, “Round and About”—and asked Naipaul who he was. “My name is Vidia Naipaul,” came the reply. Busybee was amazed. “You are not the VS Naipaul, the famous writer?” Naipaul nodded. “You are a very good writer,” Busybee said. “But Dom Moraes is a better writer than you are.”
He was a craftsman and an astute champion of talent. A writer’s writer.
Let me leave you with my favourite anecdote of his - in an interview in the eighties, when asked what he thinks is the biggest drawback of Indian writers of English, he replied - “they don’t know English.”
**If you want all of Moraes is one place, the man and his music then this profile is where you want to be.
*** Dom’s father Frank Moraes was incidentally Nehru’s biographer