Remembering Eunice de Souza

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The strength of Eunice de Souza’s poems is in its economy and realism. She spread her literary imagination from one subject to another and produced substantial poetry, which travelled from the pages of books to various university syllabi. A report on the tribute paid to the poet, recently in Allahabad, exclusively for Different Truths.

Poetry lovers of Allahabad gathered on the rain-drenched evening of July 30, 2018, at El Chico to remember and recite the verses of Eunice de Souza, an Indian English poet of global repute, a literary critic and novelist, on her first death anniversary.

On behalf of Sanchaari, an organisation dedicated to promoting the cultural and literary glory of Allahabad, an introduction to the life and times of Eunice de Souza was given by Samina Naqvi.

The strength of de Souza’s poems is in its economy and realism. She spread her literary imagination from one subject to another and produced substantial poetry, which travelled from the pages of books to various university syllabi. From scathing snapshots of her Goan Catholic community in suburban Mumbai to the gentler love poems (with their acknowledgement of a soiled self), the poems offered a glimpse of de Souza’s slim but significant oeuvre across three decades. Her notable books of poetry are Fix (1979), Women in Dutch Painting (1988), Ways of Belonging (1990), Selected and New Poems (1994) and Learn from the Almond Leaf (2016). She has also penned two novels, edited anthologies and contributed extensively towards literature for children.

She earned her PhD from the University of Mumbai. She taught English at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and retired as Head, Department of English, in the year 2000. She died on 29th July, 2017.

Samina invited Prof. Smita Agrawal to share her journey with Eunice de Souza as her poetic guru.

Prof. Agarwal talked of the connection of Eunice de Souza as an Indian poet writing in English with Allahabad by mentioning Indian Press, established by Chintamani Ghosh, in the city, in 1884, which published the first version of Tagore’s Gitanjali in English, in 1912. Gitanjali went on to receive the Nobel Prize in 1913. Thus, the contribution of Allahabad to the river of Indian Poetry in English is important and Eunice de Souza is a tributary to this mighty river.

The second connection, which Prof. Agarwal shared was that Eunice de Souza edited Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology, in 1997, and out of the nine poets, she selected two, Mamta Kalia and Prof. Agarwal, both from Allahabad.

The third connection she mentioned was that after the publication of Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology, Prof. Agarwal began receiving positive recognition as a poet of repute. Later, when she got an opportunity to meet Eunice de Souza in her apartment at Vakola, Mumbai, she was told by de Souza that her poems were strong. In fact, de Souza encouraged Prof. Agarwal to continue versing in English.

She read out de Souza’s “Earth 1” and then shared emails she had received as remembrances from the noted poets Keki Daruwalla and Adil Jussawalla.  Prof. Agrawal concluded her talk by offering an analogy from a Rajasthani folk song to describe the essence of Eunice de Souza’s poems: Ek ankh hansey aur/ Ek ankh roye re … (Laughter in one eye, tears in the other).

Present in the august gathering was Prof. (Retd.) H.S. Saxena, who in the ‘80s had published an article on the poetry of Eunice de Souza. Shilpi Banerjee, a student of St. Xavier’s College, in 1989, recalled de Souza as her teacher teaching English Literature to graduate students. Shilpi regretted that she should have opted for English as a Major for graduation after having attended Eunice’s classes, such was the hypnotic aura of the poet.

In the poetry reading session, admirers of Eunice de Souza’s poetry read her taut, complex, high-voltage, scorching poems. Mamta Joshi rendered “Autobiographical” in a skilled and controlled manner. “Women in Dutch Painting” was delivered by Jyotsana Srivastava, who was able to animate the compassion in the poem, while “Landscape” was read by the research scholar, Charu Dwivedi, and “Road” by Lavkush Yadav, a student of English Literature in the University of Allahabad.

In an aesthetically designed poster by the highly creative graphic artist, Shlok Ranjan Srivastava, Eunice’s poem, “Western Ghats” was included as a befitting tribute to the late poet.

Mamta Joshi translated and read the evocative poem “Western Ghats” in Hindi as:

Uda Dena

Meri Raakh Ko

Pashchimi Ghaton Main

Woh Hamesha Hi Ghar Se Lagte Hain …

Cheeteh Bhi Shayad Kavita Ka Swad Chakh Lein

Kauwwe Aur Cheel Bhi Apni Aawaz Ke

Utaar Chadaav ko Sangeetmay Banana Seekh Lein

Mausam Chahe Pratikool Hi Kyon Na Ho,

Dhundh Aur Jharne

Ghaas Aur Phool

Kayam Rahein

Har Samay!

To conclude this evening embellished with the verses of Eunice de Souza, Samina Naqvi proposed a vote of thanks to the Department of English, University of Allahabad and the Sanchaari Cultural Group for organising the event.  Prof. Agrawal expressed her humble gratitude to the ardent group, who with their ‘honey and oatmeal’ presence, braved inclement weather to savour the flavours of sorrow, salt, blood, and compassion in the poems of Eunice de Souza.

Eunice de Souza has left the world but her slim volumes of verse, stark and fierce, continue to survive, luminous in the hearts of lovers of poetry.

(With inputs from Mamta Joshi, Educator and Writer).
©Lavkush Yadav

 Photos sourced from Prof. Smita Agarwal

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He is a student of English Literature from the University of Allahabad. He edited and did proofreading of two books: Swami Vivekananda’s Contribution to India published from Pilgrims Publishing Durgakund, Varanasi, 2017, and, Teachers’ Guidebook of Value Education published from Bhargav-Bhooshan Press, 2014. He is closely associated with the spiritual organisation, Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission.