Celebrating History and Legend
Semeen Ali
FIRE ALTAR: POEMS ON THE PERSIANS AND THE GREEKS by Keki N. Daruwalla Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2014, 200 pp., 350
October 2014, volume 38, No 10

The past and memory—(a bit of the same thing,

one a mirror to the other, aren’t they?)

So much of both are lost, you’ve to invent

as each day regresses, day after day.

Written between 1991 and 1993, Daruwalla’s collection celebrates the histories and legends of the grand Persian Empire, a phase of history barely glanced at in contemporary literature. The book explores the stories of the kings—Darius, Cyrus and Alexander.

Before history is revisited, Daruwalla begins with ‘The Barbarians’—and it is a riposte to Constantine P. Cavafy’s famous poem—‘Barbarians’. Daruwalla’s poem is outstanding in bringing out the feeling of being termed ‘exotic’; how the word ‘barbarians’ is a ‘hand me down’ as well as an acknowledgement of the theory that the ‘West’ needed a ‘dark hemisphere against your hemisphere of light.’ The last line sums up the misconceptions one has created regarding the Other and which has been discussed in great detail in the postcolonial studies—‘There never were any barbarians’.

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