Lindsay Pereira: 'The poet who saved my life'
I met Eunice de Souza when I was 17 and she, 52
In her lifetime, Eunice de Souza published four volumes of poetry, two novels and edited several anthologies of poems and essays. She retired in 2000 as head of the department of English, St Xavier’s College. She passed away in her sleep on the morning of July 29 at her Mumbai residence. This photograph was taken on her birthday in 2015. Pic/Lindsay Pereira
I met Eunice de Souza when I was 17 and she, 52. She was head of the department of English Literature at St Xavier's College; I, a callow youth hoping to be part of a very small list of people allowed to pick that subject as a major for their Bachelor's degrees. She interviewed me to see if I was qualified to enter her hallowed circle, and told me it was perfectly okay for me to wear a cap in her class if I chose to, which I thought was remarkable considering most other professors threw a fit at the sight of one. It was my first inkling of the fact that she was like no other.
Soon after, I was granted permission to choose literature, in a class of 26 students, she sent me a reading list and asked me to finish it before the semester began. I called with two weeks to spare, to inform her that I was done. "What do I do now?" I asked. "Go and sit at a beach or something," she responded.
Our roles evolved over the course of the next 25 years. From teacher and mentor, she became my guide for a PhD thesis, a collaborator on a book we edited for Oxford University Press and, eventually, a friend who would email amusing anecdotes whenever she chanced upon them online. Through it all, her enthusiasm for what she did stayed undiminished.
I last met her a couple of weeks ago, where we shared horrifying stories about the state of Mumbai's roads and I chided her on her lazy approach towards writing her memoirs, before she sat me down and read me a few poems that she thought I might like.
I want to think of Eunice the way I last saw her, as a strong, independent, intelligent person who devoted herself not just to the study of literature, but to the teaching of it. I think about how she singlehandedly changed the trajectory of my life, along with the lives of thousands of students lucky enough to be taught by her over decades. Many will discuss her achievements as a writer, and the light she cast into the darkness by focusing on writing about women, but I choose to remember her as my teacher and friend alone. I think of her fondly, and always will, as the poet who saved my life.
Lindsay Pereira, a former student, co-edited an anthology, titled Women's Voices with de Souza
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