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In a league of her own: Eunice de Souza 1940-2017

Noted poet Eunice de Souza passed away on July 29, 2017.  

Glaciers, you said - or parrots
i. m. Eunice de Souza (1940-2017)

When glaciers crack and come down in avalanches
When parrots burp and sing the Lord's Prayer
When classrooms echo with phantom chants last heard
When red banners dripped down the shocked chancel
When a squirrel scratches at the window
When a pomegranate explodes among the bell jars
When Kali dances the Anthropocene t?ndava
When Surprise, Nebraska, does a riff on St Cyril Road
When the smell of earth after the first rains fills the studio
When an artesian well offers a tree's-eye view
When a letter sent from Ajanta thirty winters ago
Opens and the girl with a pearl earring falls out
Expert in survival techniques

We'll think of you

~ Ranjit Hoskote

***

I Grew Up in an Age of Poets
('Best to meet in poems' - Eunice de Souza)

I grew up in an age of poets
who told me joy

was for cabbages
until I found

that beneath their smoking empires
of sulphur

there lay a shiver
of doubt,

that they wondered,
as I did,

about what it might mean
to be leafy,

to wilt,
to be damaged sometimes

by upstart caterpillars
but still stay green —

chaotically, wetly, powerfully
green.

Now I meet poets
who exchange visiting cards,

are best friends with the dentist,
all dankness deodorised,

their poems cool seashells,
their laughter splintered eggshells,

who never seem
to wonder

about cabbages
at all.

It's still best to meet in poems, Eunice.

~ Arundhathi Subramaniam

***

Like accidents, the unthinkable happens. Eunice de Souza has gone and left a void. She was an exceptional poet and an exceptional human being, thorough in her work, extremely well read, frank and blunt. An absolute no-nonsense lady. Her first book Fix will always be remembered not only for its devastating irony but also (obviously) for its poetic quality. I have met some of her students and they almost worshipped her. Her friends and admirers, and the poetry world will miss her sorely. Bombay will also lament this loss - Nissim, Dom, Kolatkar and now Eunice.

~ Keki Daruwala

***

Testament
for Eunice de Souza

From you I learnt
to winnow words
give them room to breathe
               silence in which to grow
               grass-wild.

A single flower
at a difficult summer's end
will bloom fiercely
and for a long time.

~ Sridala Swami

***

Teacher, Mentor, Friend
For Eunice

You were the grain of sand in an oyster
The friction between two rocks

You pricked my complacency,
Prodding me to question, think
Helping me to find my voice.

Thank you for becoming my friend
Sharing triumphs and desolations
And above all, your wry humour

Wherever you are,
May all the pearls you started,
Those sparks you initiated
Glow, like lamps, to light your way!

~ Marilyn Bayros Noronha

Ms. Noronha was Dr. de Souza's student in St. Xavier's College, one of her earliest graduate batches, the class of 1972

***

That Art

I don't write poetry anymore.
It's gone with the century past:
Laconicism, Bombay, square books,
Madhu's photos, Dom's typewriter, Eunice's parrot.

I glimpse it sometimes
Singular on the page.
What a graceful white loneliness holds it in,
What sublime disregard.

I miss reading between the lines,
I miss the place where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies.
That long-ago pact with quick laughter and ruinous pain,
That slow curl of cigarette smoke rising to die on the ceiling.

~ Anjum Hasan

***

What can you learn from an almond leaf?

How it must decompose to heal the fungal fish,
staining the aquarium with its acidic hue
to get rid of fin rot in slime.

Diseased fish in glass bowls,
we blow bubbles, suck air,
soundlessly opening our mouths

as the sweet-smelling leaf
gently sinks into our skins,

no longer flamboyant,
but still flame.

~ Menka Shivdasani

***

last day in a lived-in house
(for Eunice de Souza)

street dogs scarper, ticked off in Konkani
by twice-born parrots, who learnt profanity
as catechism, picking at the brains
of the mistress of the house

she calls back her strays like verses
but keeps the riffraff on a tight leash
like time, calling them to account
when words are scarce, as now

and yet, there is always space
for one more book on the poetry shelf
it's the saggy-baggy sagas
that manspread the most

remorse and regret are fools
not to be suffered gladly
a pickled wit is all, enough
for the last day in a lived-in house

~ Mustansir Dalvi

 

***

Elegy for Eunice

You made it okay to swear, and sing,
Berate the world, embrace it.
You made the crossing of a road an epiphany.
You made laughing out loud a short, sharp necessity.
You knew truth could be a cruel thing and so you added honey, and oatmeal.
You added sorrow.

I halted in the streets you wrote, watched the angular corners disappear,
Felt the blood salt on my lips as I remembered how they tasted,
Your words, when I first drank them off the page.
I was afraid.
There was a dance just below the surface that glittered and moved
In a way I hadn't been ready for.
I grew into that unsettling.

When I finally met you,
You were kind, and sage,
Serene and steady as you signed your books for me.
When you chose my poems, they were the ones that spoke to you
Of wound and ash,
Blindness, portents, rage.
Your praise
A benediction.

Now, you're gone.
The heft of your slim volumes
Ballast to my sinking heart.
Outside the winds are fierce.
Inside, the glow, warm, and fierce,
The way you were,
When and where
It really mattered.

~ Sampurna Chattarji
Aberystwyth, 2017

 

***

The Kala Ghoda Pichwai

Street lights blaze, urban stars
Against a dark blue sky.
We are part of a city pichwai.

A discussion is taking place.
The trees are bathed in gold.
The pichwai image takes hold.

I doze, and lose the point.
Eunice and I are in the pichwai
Discussing poetry and fantasy.

Gods and myths evaporate,
The pichwai shredded by an angry hiss:
Don't snore! Sorry, Eunice, I said.

~ Jane Bhandari

***

Dr Eunice de Souza's funeral will be today at 2 p.m. at St Anthony Church, Vakola followed by cremation

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