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Marriages Are Made -- Eunice deSouza

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian

Here's yet another of my favorites ... with a (longish) commentary below. My
colleague Deepa Balakrishnan re-introduced me to Eunice deSouza's poetry
(after a gap of at least six years) with a poem on the cat theme (which I
sent y'all some weeks back).  Stumbled on another poem, which I'd like to
share with y'alll.
(Poem #603) Marriages Are Made
 My cousin Elena
 is to be married
 The formalities
 have been completed:
 her family history examined
 for T.B. and madness
 her father declared solvent
 her eyes examined for squints
 her teeth for cavities
 her stools for the possible
 non-Brahmin worm.
 She's not quite tall enough
 and not quite full enough
 (children will take care of that)
 Her complexion it was decided
 would compensate, being just about
 the right shade
 of rightness
 to do justice to
 Francisco X. Noronha Prabhu
 good son of Mother Church.
-- Eunice deSouza
Wonderfully biting sarcasm and a sharp eye for the 'marriage market' of
conservative (or rather stick in the mud, male chauvinistic) India - where
prospective brides are examined like cattle being brought into a market.

The poem is characteristic deSouza - a plain tale told without any
unnecessary conceits and embellishments, letting well chosen, hard hitting
words speak for themselves.  Yes - speak for themselves - for this poem
(like all deSouza's poems) is best enjoyed when read aloud.

If Keats' poetry is like a fine, old, mellow wine, Eunice deSouza's poetry
is like a good single malt - sharp, biting, harsh to the taste - but
equally enjoyable.

Ms.deSouza has been Head of the Department of English in St.Xaviers
College, Bombay for over 25 years - and is also a leading theater /
literary critic.

Most of her poems have a strong sense of individuality and feminism, and
Several of them (such as this one) are also 'catholic poems' - which take
us on a deeply cynical tour around her Goan / Roman Catholic community, as
also the conservatism of Pune, where she was brought up after she lost her
father at the age of three.

These two short poems she wrote speak far louder than any commentary ..

Don't Look for my life in these poems

        Poems can have order, sanity
        aesthetic distance from debris.
        All I've learnt from pain
        I always knew,
        but could not do.


My Students ...
        My students think it funny
        that Daruwallas and de Souzas
        should write poetry.
        Poetry is faery lands forlorn.
        Women writers Miss Austen.
        Only foreign men air their crotches

Daruwalla of course being Keki Daruwalla - a retired (and high ranking)
police officer I think, and another of India's best contemporary poets.

Finally, here's a stanza from her poem  'deSouza Prabhu' - which gives us
a little more insight into her (of course, keeping that 'Don't look for my
life in these poems' caveat above)

<[broken link]>

        I heard it said
        my parents wanted a boy
        I've done my best to qualify.
        I hid the bloodstains
        on my clothes
        and let my breasts sag.
        Words the weapon
        to crucify.

Suresh Ramasubramanian + +

38 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Pratim Putatunda said...

While I've read Eunice D'Souza and consider her fairly good -- I find her themes rather cliched. All about the stereotypical downtrodden women and that sort of thing. Personally, I dislike female victimisation themes -- especially in poetry. Prose is enough to express that angst. Besides, I suspect poets like Ms deSouza try to make use of such themes because they know they'll sell.

Indian women of her milieu have broken the shackles and really nothing need hold them back except themselves and their sense of victimisation. Personally, I prefer Indian writers, especially women writers, that reflect the real Indian woman - she's strong, full of gumption, guts and grit, and quite willing to take on the patriarchal male scene on her terms. While I'm not suggesting that everything is hunky-dory out here, it is however equally true that as compared to other equivalent patriarchal societies - including Japan where women are merely dolls despite their economic emancipation - and especially, say, in muslim countries -- the Indian woman is miles ahead. I mean women are not even allowed to drive a car in Kuwait which is supposed to be amongst the more emancipated, moderate muslim states. And they are still far from getting the right to vote.

While it's true the custom of "seeing" the prospective bride is still prevalent in India, but the days of checking her out like cattle is in the past. These days it's more about the girl and the boy and their families meeting each other where the boy is as much under scrutiny as the girl. This custom still prevails because Indian society -- like most non-western societies -- does not have the dating system as in the west. But tell me, don't the western boy and girl size each other up when they date? Besides, the westernised, educated Indian youth have been dating, falling in love, getting married and living happily ever after, or divorcing, for a long time now. Most of my friends including me have had "love marriages" as opposed to "arranged marriages" -- and I'm in my forties.

Anjali Varghese said...

Pratim, you are totally right. I couldn't have put it better. I'm an Indian girl, feeling some pressure from society to get married and all that. Still, its not that bad at all. And understandable too. If I were American or English or something, I'd still feel some kind of pressure to find a good man. But then again, India is soo huge..and women in cities and towns don't get any cattle treatment anymore, I don't know what the real situation is like in remote villages. My guess is that women there still get trodden upon..

Anonymous said...

Pratim and Anjali have not, it seems, read Eunice's poetry. Eunice's poems are full of gutsy women - the voice you hear is not some lament or weeping - it's a defiant voice. And our society certainly discriminates women and is still very violent towards them - more than half of Indian women are malnourished, women are still killed for dowry, sati, 'honour' - you name it. Yet, there is evidence of much protest, resistance and defiance - and you get that in Eunice's poetry. Her poems are a sort of ironic comment on patriarchal society.

Anonymous said...

I guess if you're well educated and have a job and all the rest of it, you can resist the oppression. Your husband would be wary of oppressing you and beating you for dowry or simply beating you for no reason at all, because you have the option of walking out on him and surviving alone. Think about women in rural households who're not educated, and married off as soon as a prospective groom comes along, and she is dependent on the groom for the rest of her life to feed her and give her a roof to sleep under. Her life then starts to revolve around him. If he harasses her, she can't just choose to walk out because she can't survive alone out there.

For such women, love marriages are a far fetched dream. Falling in love is something they have to avoid, because for the family to allow marriage is considered dishonorable.

I know a girl who's my age (I'm 18) and married, much against her will. And I can't imagine getting married myself at this age and sacrificing all that I have ever dreamed of achieving, to serve a husband who I don't even love.

I think 'seeing' and sizing up a prospective bride is still prevalent in India, and not so much the groom. You can find plenty of 15 year old girls married to 30 year old men.

Anonymous said...

Ms.Eunice de Souza.

anonymous said...

tlkn abt village women bein trodden seems to me u don go out of ur comfort zone into d REAL WORLD....WHO SAID CITY - WOMEN DO NT FACE OPPRESSION OR THREATS OR R NT VICTIMIZD ??? READ D NEWSPAPER N U LL SEE D PLIGHT OF WOMEN - INDIAN OR NOT INDIAN / city or village ...DOWRY DEATHS , RAPE , ASSAULTS , EVE TEASING , CHILD MARRIAGE , INFANTICIDE , FETICIDE , exploitation- list goes on ..victims of partiarchy >'am wat i wanna say is dat we sittin in d realm of plsr , r unware or rather ignorant of wat goes behind d closed doors( hidden, neva come out, internalized domesticity ) has d notion of marriage changed today ?? it does appears so ..:/ its still d sad state of affairs...d change u r tlkin abt is mere dat enuf ?????????????????

Anonymous said...

what is the theme of this poem

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