Fire-Hymn by Keki N. Daruwallla by Bijay Kant Dubey SignUp
Boloji.com
Channels

In Focus

 
Analysis
Cartoons
Education
Environment
Opinion
Photo Essays
 
 

Columns

 
Business
Random Thoughts
 
 

Our Heritage

 
Architecture
Astrology
Ayurveda
Buddhism
Cinema
Culture
Festivals
Hinduism
History
People
Places
Sikhism
Spirituality
 
 

Society & Lifestyle

 
Health
Parenting
Perspective
Recipes
Society
Teens
Women
 
 

Creative Writings

 
Book Reviews
Computing
Humor
Individuality
Literary Shelf
Memoirs
Quotes
Stories
Travelogues
Workshop
 
 
Literary Shelf Share This Page
Fire-Hymn by Keki N. Daruwallla
by Bijay Kant Dubey Bookmark and Share

Fire-Hymn is one of the best hymns ever written by Daruwalla who is not only a poet, but a novelist, a short story writer, a travelogue-writer and an anthologist too besides being an IPS officer who has worked in various capacities. One from Lahore, he is a Parsi by faith and upbringing, but an Indian writing in English. After serving the U.P., mainly the Terai regions and being posted in Delhi, he joined the RAW wing and worked as a Member of the National Minorities Commission. His first book of poems appeared from Writers’ Workshop, Calcutta.  A recipient of the Sahitya Akademi award and the Padma award, Daruwalla is a modern Indo-Anglian poet so robust, bombastic, verbose, masculine and optimistic. Generally, disease, death and tragedy, loss, suffering, violence, bloodshed, curfew and tragedy are the code words of his poetry. To read the hymn is to know the Parsi texts, beliefs and rituals. To understand him is to cut the ice of the Parsi psyche, is to delve deep into the things archetypal and racial enough. To read him is to be reminded of the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning and the masculine toughness of Ted Hughes. As a poet, he is more inclined to tragedies,  Greek, Shakespearean and so on.

Fire-Hymn as a poem describes the scene of a ghat, a burning ghat near the river where the dead bodies are cremated, consigned to the flames. The poet visits the ghat and sees the bodies burning or the ashes with the embers within. He also sees the bodily parts and limbs while going along the riverbank.

A  Parsi though he should not have but instead of as for compulsions, the Tower of Silence being away from, miles and miles away, he consigned to once, as he says about his first child. We know that the Parsis dispose off their dead on the Tower of Silence, an erected structure on which the dead bodies are placed and the birds of prey keep on perching, cleansing the flesh. Whatever be that, it is no doubt a fire-hymn, fire which had been so sacrosanct, is it still now and side by side which is also at the same time so dubious too in wreaking havoc. When we read the poem, the pictures and images of the Fire Temples flash upon the  mind’s plane, how were the fire-worshippers of  beyond India were in the past.

One day while strolling by the river-bank, the poet comes to mark the sudden blaze, flaring up of the fire, burning logs, sometimes quelled under the ashes or sometimes ignited by the  wind which but takes him by surprise. All those things take him over, draw the attention and they talk of the Fire, the Holy Fire and the jobs it does, the obsession with it and the aberration felt thereof. It is quite natural that the people like it not to see the burning ghats and even if, they try to avert their gaze or divert their attention. The burning pyres, smoking, fire catching upon and feeding, so playful and flirting, sometimes disgusting and annoying are the heart-rending scenes. Talking about the fire, his father hints towards the half-burnt bones lying on the ghat. How does sometimes fire leave it undone? How does it forget to cleanse it all?

The poet himself a Zoroastrian clinches the fist and feels the pain and swears to save the fire from the sin of forgetfulness which it occasionally forgets and as thus he gets hitched to some twenty years ago remembering it how he lost his first born baby which he consigned to the flames though he wanted it not personally as the Tower of Silence was some thousand of miles away and away from the place he was.

The burning ghat erupted phosphorescence:
and wandering ghost lights frightened passers-by
as moonlight scuttled among the bones.

Once strolling at dawn past river-bank and ghat
we saw embers losing their cruel redness
to the grey ash that swallows all. Half-cooked limbs
bore witness to the fire's debauchery.

My father said, "You see those half-burnt fingers
and bone-stubs? The fire at times forgets its dead! "

A Zoroastrian I, my child- fingers clenched
into a little knot of pain,
I swore to save the fire
from the sin of forgetfulness.

It never forgot, and twenty years since
as I consigned my first-born to the flames---
the nearest Tower of Silence was a thousand miles---
the fire-hymn said to me, "You stand forgiven."

Broken, yet rebellious, I swore this time
to save it from the sin of forgiving.

The starting lines of the poem take us to Dawn at Puri written by Jayanta Mahapatra wherein he describes the funeral pyres on the sea beach adjacent to the Puri temple and the blaze taking the lookers on by surprise. On reading the poem, we think within if this the way of the world, of human life.

Fire-Hymn as a poem is Miltonic, Donnian as well as Shelleyian in the sense that Daruwalla invokes it like Milton writing Paradise Lost as well as sides with the rebellious questioning of Satan, is metaphysical like Donne and is Shelleyian for the revolt adding to the dimension of thought and idea. The duality of his soul is Hamletian, to be or not to be, whether he should have consigned or not. Why does fire take it on and finish it? Is it not ashamed of its deed? Is it not cruel and callous? How the Divine Scheme of things! The other point of deliberation may be his personality, psyche split in between the two, the Hindu way and the Parsi way, which way he should be with. This is but human nature because sometimes man thanks fire as for doing the holy job and sometimes rebukes for being so callous and hard, burning to ashes, wiping or erasing out of memory. Sometimes it takes time in dispensing with and it appears to be tedious to complete. There is something of the Book of Job and the Kathopanishada, Job mourning and questioning and Nachiketa and Vajashrava discussing and in the end Nachiketa and Yama left in the fray. There is something of prayer whispered, something confessed, something asked for condoning or pardon and he stands pardoned, a sinner I, sinful is the activity of mine, the sinful soul seeks the Almighty to pardon, to condone all the guilt committed out of ignorance, unmindfully. When he talks of cleansing of sin and purity and something as holy overtaking his guilt and consciousness, he seems to be reverting  to George Herbert and G.M. Hopkins. Fire-Hymn as a poem is purgatory and cathartic.

It is very dramatic and full of internal action though outwardly laden with weighty words. It is good to know the Parsi heart and soul, the Parsi spirit; the Parsi psyche and self. What Daruwalla has in this poem is similar to that one expressed in Bombay Prayers. Nissim Ezekiel's Philosophy and Hymns too are the same in spirit and tone. There are the images of three, father, son and the lost new-born. The poem is spooky and ghostly too as one shudders at generally in seeing the sights continuing around, going by near the crematorium seconded  with the coming and going of man. There is something of memoir and remembrance when he talks of the consigning of the first new-born to the flames.

The title is apt and suggestive because it is about the Holy Fire doing the job, sometimes doing in totality and sometimes keeping it half-done as the case is herein. The Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, but they take it for holy representing God and His Light and this light is but knowledge, the knowledge of the self.

Fire-Hymn is a poem of the fire flame, how it goes on leaping and licking, how the tongue and stride of it, but sometimes misses the target or say forgets it to do its duty.

The dialogue between father and son is very philosophical and observational:

My father said, "You see those half-burnt fingers
and bone-stubs? The fire at times forgets its dead! "
A Zoroastrian I, my child- fingers clenched
into a little knot of pain,
I swore to save the fire
from the sin of forgetfulness

The discussion is lively as well as down to realities. What does it last here? What does it happen to the body which appears to be own? The  reference to half-burnt fingers and bone stubs attaches to the pathetic   and tragic side of the body. But the son as a Zoroastrian feels the pain of consigning to flames and wants it not to repeat it again.

Let us see how he relates to what it had happened to him some twenty years ago, as in the absence of the Tower of Silence, he consigned to flames:

It never forgot, and twenty years since
as I consigned my first-born to the flames---
the nearest Tower of Silence was a thousand miles---
the fire-hymn said to me, "You stand  forgiven."

Broken, yet rebellious, I swore this time
to save it from the sin of forgiving.

The Fire-Hymn in response to the dilemma going within, the spiritual malaise raking him murmured that he has been forgiven so keeping it in view the poet too seeks to save it from the sin of forgiving. The fire is burdened with the disposal of the dead.

The burning ghat, erupted phosphorescence, wandering ghost lights,  frightened passers-by, moonlight scuttled among the bones, etc. add to the spooky element and to suspense. It arouses fear and terror.

Everything but finishes it here, nothing remains it for ever, the poet comes to feel it, as because when the pyres extinguish they, only the white ashes lie in, the fire embers too put out after losing their lustre:

Once strolling at dawn past river-bank and ghat
we saw embers losing their cruel redness
to the grey ash that swallows all.

The embers, the cruel redness and the extinguishing fire with the remnants of white grey ash tell of the body turned to dust. Cruel redness tells of how fire reddening and feeding upon destroys it all.

Half-cooked limbs are but the fire’s debauchery as sometimes it forgets to do away with:

Half-cooked limbs
bore witness to the fire's debauchery.

Whatever be the note of rebellion or the rebel taking up the cudgels against, the Fire, Holy Fire finally forgives the soul in askance or feeling the crisis within. Fire-Hymn is one step forward in the direction of the acquiring of good thoughts, good words and good deeds as for the spiritual crisis felt within and resolved. John Donne’s ‘Death, Be Not Proud’ too is a poem of this type wherein he talks of the rest of this body of flesh and bones and the soul’s delivery.

Share This:
03-Apr-2021
More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey
 
Views: 548      Comments: 0




Name *
Email ID
 (will not be published)
Comment *
Characters
Verification Code*
Can't read? Reload
Please fill the above code for verification.
 
Top | Literary Shelf



 
 
 
 
 
 
1999-2021 All Rights Reserved
 
No part of this Internet site may be reproduced without prior written permission of the copyright holder
.