The vast universe of poet-professor Eunice de Souza, and a student’s place in it

That people die is an established fact of life. I suspect, however, that Eunice de Souza, poet, literary critic, English professor, theatre person, novelist, and columnist didn’t go quietly into the good night on Saturday, 29 July. I suspect that she went up in flames; the way a forest crackles into bushfire, the way a sunset irradiates the ocean, the way a comet burns through the sky. If this sounds like an unadulterated tribute, let me be more candid; she haunted my imagination in life, muscled her way into my fiction, and I can only dread what she will do as a ghost. Gone, perhaps, but not forgotten as is the way of legends – not whilst her students and her readers survive.

Eunice de Souza was many things to many people. To her BA students who sat around open-mouthed in class at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, she was a lofty, cool drink of water. Her bold bindi stared you down, unerringly, a third eye that never blinked. Her eyes, on the other hand, were flint and they flitted over and past you. To get her attention you had to be extraordinary in some way: you had to say the sharp and timely thing, be the serial absentee, display unseemly credulity, or have a talent that she’d nose out with the sophistication of a connoisseur of grace.

Eunice de Souza. Youtube screenshot

I’ll never know how her saris looked on a rack or a hanger. Because on her they were the feathers of a bird, the surging black of a bird of prey, the prideful splash of a peacock, the vivid shock of a kingfisher’s blue. The metaphor suits her, because she was always and forever in flight. When in class (and I can only imagine what the deadness of routine and the obduracy of our dull minds did to her), she perched on a desk, her feet on the bench that we were meant to sit on, as befitted royalty.

She’d survey us, her expression half-amused, as she simultaneously mocked us and inspired us to be more than a bunch of ‘cabbages, daarling, cabbages,’ intoning in a languid accent, her…

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