Keki Daruwalla

(1937 - / Lahore / British India (Pakistan))

Biography of Keki Daruwalla

Keki Daruwalla poet

Keki Nasserwanji Daruwalla (Keki N. Daruwalla or Keki Daruwalla) is a major Indian poet and short story writer in English language. He has written over 12 books and published his first novel "For Pepper and Christ" in 2009. He is also a former IPS officer, who retired as Additional Director in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, in 1984 for his poetry collection, "The Keeper of the Dead", by the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters.

Early Life and Education

Keki Nasserwanji Daruwalla was born in 1937, in Loni, Burhanpur (now in loni, burhanpur), in 1937. His father N.C. Daruwalla, was an eminent professor, who taught in Loni Institute of Literature (LIL). After the Partition, his family left Punjab while his elder brother stayed back, and moved to Junagadh in Gujarat, then to Rampur. As a result he grew up studying in various schools and mediums and started writing short stories in school.

He obtained his master's degree in English Literature from Government College, Ludhiana, University of Punjab.


He joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1958, and eventually becoming a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on International Affairs. He subsequently was in the Cabinet Secretariat until his retirement.

Literary Life

With the publication of his very first book, Under Orion in 1970, Daruwalla established himself as a name to reckon with in Indian poetry. Senior Indian poet and critic Nissim Ezekiel applauded his work as “impressive evidence not only of mature poetic talent but of literary stamina, intellectual strength and social awareness”.

Over nine books and more than three decades, Daruwalla’s poetry has journeyed a long way both formally and thematically. However, it retains certain strong distinguishing characteristics: an ironic stance, an evocation of the multi-layered contradictory realities of Indian life, a preoccupation with diverse cultural, historic and mythic landscapes, a terse, vigorous and tensile style, supple imagism, sustained narrative drive, an ability to segue between metrical patterns and free verse, and a capacity to combine an epic canvas with a miniaturist’s eye for detail.

The characteristic features of his poetry can also be described as vigor and immediacy of language, knife-edge tone, an abiding and infatuated concern with love, death and domination, a skeptic and indignant cynicism about the plight of human society and a rare intensity in portraying living individuals. Daruwalla readily admits to critics' charges of being too much of a landscape poet who takes into his aesthetic stride the sights and sounds of England, Yugoslavia, Helsinki, Stockholm, Volgograd, and Moscow which he has visited for poetry readings. His thematic canvas transcends the boundaries of India and stretches itself into the rest of the world. Critics maintain his concern for broad landscape imagery rather than political and social issues is a result of his long career as a Government of India official.

A remarkable feature of Daruwalla’s poetry is its ability to vividly materialise its abstractions, to strike a creative tension between image and statement. His poetry has the narrative energy and sweep to paint, for instance, a vast portrait of post-Independence India as “a landscape of meaninglessness”: “Then why should I tread the Kafka beat/ or the Waste Land,/ when Mother, you are near at hand/ one vast, sprawling defeat?”

But it can also offer a fine-tuned vision of the particular, evident in his evocation of the rumbling innards of a miserable multitude listening to the speech of a corpulent political leader: “Within the empty belly/ the enzymes turn multi-lingual/ their speech vociferous/ simmering on stomach wall”.

His landscapes extend from the ancient kingdom of Kalinga under the reign of the great Indian emperor Ashoka to the seething contradictions of the modern metropolis of Bombay (“From the lepers, the acid-scarred, the amputees/ I turn my face. The road, I feel/ should be stratified so that/ I rub shoulders only with my kind”) as well as rural and small-town India (Benaras is unforgettably evoked as the place where “corpse-fires and cooking-fires/ burn side by side”, even while the sacred river Ganga flows on, “dark as gangrene”).

His most recent book, Map-maker (2002), offers a compelling series of dramatic monologues by figures as diverse as a disciple of the Buddha and an old map-maker from Majorca, suggesting that the passionate interest in other cultural and historical milieux is alive and well. But there is also a more marked fascination with inner worlds, with philosophical notions of time and space.

In Migrations, for example, the metaphysical is integrally linked to the concrete and the singular, as the poem explores the theme of migrations across space and time, from the violent biography of nations to a searing moment of personal biography: “Now my dreams ask me/ if I remember my mother/ and I’m not sure how I’ll handle that./ Migrating across years is also difficult.”


A recipient of Sahitya Akademi Award and Commonwealth Poetry Award, Keki N. Daruwalla has so far published about 12 books, consisting of mostly poems and a couple of fictional works. Some of his important works are Under Orion, The keeper of the dead, Landscapes, A summer of tigers and The minister for permanent unrest & other stories. He also edited Two decades of Indian poetry. The Library of Congress has all his books.

Keki Daruwalla's Works:


Under Orion. Writers Workshop, India. 1970
Apparition in April. Writers Workshop, 1971.
Sword & abyss: a collection of short stories. Vikas Pub., 1979.
Winter poems. Allied Publishers, 1980.
The Keeper of the Dead. Oxford University Press, 1982.
Crossing of rivers. Oxford Univ. Press, 1985.
Landscapes. Oxford University Press, 1987.
A summer of tigers: poems. Indus, 1995.
The Minister for Permanent unrest & other stories. Orient Blackswan, 1996.
Night river: poems. Rupa & Co., 2000.
The Map-maker: Poems. Orient Blackswan, 2002.
The Scarecrow and the Ghost. Rupa & Co., 2004.
A House in Ranikhet. Rupa & Co, 2003.
Collected Poems ( 1970-2005). (Poetry in English). Penguin Books India., 2006.

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Perhaps I'll wake up on some alien shore
In the shimmer of an aluminium dawn,
to find the sea talking to itself
and rummaging among the lines I've drawn;
looking for something, a voyager perhaps,
gnarled as a thorn tree in whose loving hands,
these map lines of mine, somnambulant,
will wake and pulse and turn to shoreline, sand.

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