The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Keki N Daruwala



By Aminah Sheikh

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write to express myself, and there is a hell of a lot in me to express.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Am trying to say many things in my book. Firstly what a short story can do and achieve. The title story “Daniell comes to Judgement” is about how fate conspires to deal with a corporate honcho who is trying to exploit a brave girl. The second story about Garima is about a divorce, the wife returning to her mother’s house and after all the dejection, the garden getting watered and suddenly the fragrance from the buried bulbs revives her. And the passages at the end of the story simply have to turn lyrical — language always has to keep pace with the twists and turns of a story. And don’t forget the story “Bars”, based on my experience in the National Commission for Minorities – pastors being arrested for converting a corpse! Hey Prabhu, the Hindutva police under a Hindutva regime in MP can do anything.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Writing aesthetic. Koi aesthetic vesthetic nahin Madam. Jo dil mein aya likh diya.

Who are your favorite authors?

Shakespeare, Pasternak, Brodsky, Mandelstam and Akhmatova, Paul Celan, Auden. Aur bhi bahuth hain. Incidentally I am also one of my favourite authors!!!

Indian authors: Manohar Malgonkar, Salman Rushdie, A.K. Ramanujan, Nissim Ezekiel, Ranjit Hoskote, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Adil and Sridala Swami.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

My first novel For Pepper and Christ, which covered a huge chunk of history and religious beliefs and navigation and what have you. I tried hard and succeeded to quite an extent in plucking out the essence of an age. The subtle difference in perception of Venice and Genoa and the Iberians had to be correct in each nuance. And writing about Egypt in the 15th Century was no joke. The second most challenging thing was writing a poem on the blindings in Bhagalpur, as I returned after a year at Oxford. But both these will pale before the challenge I have set myself in writing my third novel, which I am at present writing.

What’s your idea of bliss?

My idea of bliss: (a) an early morning walk at the Priyadarshini Park, with the sea at high tide. (b) Sitting in Ranikhet in the evening, watching the snow view, dusk reflected in the Trishul and Nanda Ghunti snow and a glass of wine or whiskey in my hand.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?

When fools and knaves rise to the top, and they invariably do. I remember Aeschylus, who said, “The success of a fool is a grievous affliction.” As I watch the world, I am always being grievously afflicted.

What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

(I don’t know what boondocks mean). Russians—Akhmatova, Brodsky, Mandelstam, the German Paul Celan, and why not some of our own poets — Nissim, Dom, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Sridala Swami.

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?

Fire in the house! My laptop.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.  

Don’t believe in gods, do the right thing, but not out of fear — jannat and dozakh and all that hogwash, and don’t follow zen and yoga, etc. — can’t believe that inhaling through one bloody nostril and exhaling through the other will make something flower in my spine, something called the kundalini. On which happy note, au revoir.


Keki N Daruwalla, poet and writer, lives in Delhi, and has written over ten poetry volumes, a novella, two novels and half a dozen short story collections. His works have been translated into various European languages – Spanish, Swedish, Magyar, German and Russian. Born in 1937, Daruwalla did his Masters in English Literature from Punjab University and also spent a year in Oxford as a Queen Elizabeth House Fellow. A career bureaucrat with the central government, he has been a Member of the National Commission for Minorities. He retired from government service as Chairman JIC.