A life without Eunice

Updated: Aug 17, 2019, 05:19 IST | lindsay pereira

My favourite teacher passed away two years ago, and I am still trying to reconcile myself to the enormity of that loss

A life without Eunice
Eunice de Souza passed away on July 29, 2017, two days before what would have been her 77th birthday. FILE PIC

Lindsay PereiraOn the last Friday of July, the Reference Library at St Xavier's College, where I was fortunate enough to study for a Bachelor's degree a great many moons ago, dedicated a section to the memory of Eunice de Souza. She passed away on July 29, 2017, two days before what would have been her 77th birthday.

There were all kinds of tributes paid to her in the weeks that followed, from students, writers, colleagues, and people from all walks of life, all of whom mentioned the impact, marginal or peripheral, she had on their lives.

I mourned too, standing outside the crematorium in Dadar where her mortal remains were consigned to flames, surrounded by the young and old, friends and strangers, all looking on in respectful silence. What came to my mind that evening wasn't the hundreds of conversations she and I had continued over a quarter of a century, but the way in which her mere presence had irrevocably changed the course and quality of my life.

Over the next few months, I began to grow used to her absence, as I presumed others did in varying degrees. Her voice, once such a stable presence in the background of everything I did, started to fade away. I had the habit of calling her every other month or e-mailing her things I thought she would like.

She would always ask how I was doing, express interest despite her failing health, and sometimes e-mail me things she found amusing. After a while, I started to forget her phone number and grew used to not seeing her name pop up in my inbox.

It's funny how bittersweet loss can be. The commemorative event in July made me think of two radically different writers, separated by time; one referring to hope, the other to grief. In 1891, the American poet Emily Dickinson wrote a poem referring to hope as "the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all." 124 years later, in 2015, the English writer Max Porter replaced 'hope' with 'grief' to create a stunning novel that explored how we cope with the passing of someone we love. I realized I could identify with what both were saying because I — and a few thousand others — had been taught to, by Eunice, over the decades she spent teaching.

Even the ability to try and articulate the sense of loss I still feel keenly, clumsy and inadequate though it may be, comes from my teacher. I spent a few hours looking at what other students had to say about Eunice, about how she had given them the impetus to do more, and think about things more, and look at literature in a manner that had escaped them before she came along.

It must have been nice, I thought, to have lived the kind of life that caused so many ripples and touched so many others in ways that brought value and meaning. It must have been nice to look back at years spent teaching young people how to separate wheat from chaff, leaving them with valuable lessons they would refer to for the rest of their own lives. It made me ask myself if I was doing enough to help people in my own way, instead of taking the easy way out and concentrating on navel-gazing alone.

The biggest gift my teacher left me was the need to question everything. 'Don't just look at what is being said,' she reminded us often. 'Look at who is the saying it and why.' It is a principle I continue to adhere to, as a journalist and in my everyday life, trying to understand why a position is being taken and what it says about the person taking it.

As I grow older, I try and recognise the ghosts of other teachers that move through me. How I approach the world around me, the manner in which I engage with people or ideas, the kind of art that moves me — all of this is informed by what I was taught and encouraged to feel, by teachers like Eunice de Souza who chose
to educate.

Without them, I would be a lesser, poorer version of who I am. It is a humbling thought, and one that makes me more grateful for her presence in my life. She started out as my teacher, then took on the roles of mentor, guide, and friend. I miss her terribly.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira

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