I did not study literature at St Xavier's College, but such was poet and professor Eunice de Souza's aura, that I had smuggled myself into a few of her lectures, and was dazzled. I had always been an ardent admirer, from afar. Legend has it that she called her students "blobs of protoplasm", and, at the funeral, good friend and mid-day columnist Meher Marfatia told me she also called them "you slow puddings." She once asked a distracted student, "Are you here or are you having a mystical experience?" Now, how can you not adore someone like that?
I attended Eunice's funeral on Wednesday at St Anthony's Church, Vakola. It was bright sunshine and pouring rain outside, which I learnt from Akira Kurosawa's film Dreams, is the time that foxes get married. I think Eunice would have been delighted with the idea of foxes getting married, in elegant silk kimonos, at St. Anthony's, as she bid us farewell. There was a good turnout of family, friends, students and admirers from over the decades. Three priests in purple said prayers and made speeches about Eunice. One spoke about how she fearlessly stood for what she believed in, yet was soft-hearted with crows, dogs, cats and parrots. The priests spoke of "commending our sister Eunice to heaven" and pleaded to God to "welcome her among the angels and saints." Through a sixth sense, I saw several students in the rows before me, raise their eyebrows — through the backs of their heads. I could picture Eunice rolling her eyes. Hanging around with angels and saints without a ciggie in sight would hardly seem like Eunice's idea of heaven. She'd often taken digs at the Church in her poems, including Catholic Mother.
One of the priests sang 'You raise me up' so beautifully that I was moved to tears. Then we paid our respects at Eunice's coffin. She looked peaceful, her mouth downturned in her signature, cynical smile. Not sure she entirely approved of those white gloves on her hands. Obviously, it's a very respectful Christian funeral accoutrement. But a non-Christian like me usually sees white gloves only on cocktail waiters, and it's what Anthony Gonsalves wears, as he steps out of an outsized egg, singing about "the juxtaposition of the haemoglobin in the atmosphere."
The real drama started post-funeral, outside the church. Turned out, I was a naive idiot, clueless about the deadly undercurrents at the funeral. One of her ex-students was furious that the priest who praised Eunice so lavishly at the funeral was precisely the one who had hounded her so much when she was a lecturer. Another exploded and said that if Eunice could hear such hypocritical speeches, she would wake up from the dead and give one jhaap. He said of the elegant chain-smoker, "Now she's gone to that great ashtray in the sky."
I've always said we all need a "fast forward party" every 10 years, where you can hear all the effusive things people say about you — before you go. And, what I really want to know is: What became of that adorable parrot, who used to roost on Eunice's head?
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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