Friday, November 25, 2005

Every day is an ordeal

  • Eunice de Souzarenowned poet (called ‘‘stringent’’ by a literary critic), professor of English (she retired last year from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, after teaching for three decades) and now a debutante novelist, with Dangerlok recently published by Penguin India. Born in Pune in 1940 to Goan Roman Catholic parents, De Souza is known for politically incorrect views and for her epigrammatic and crusty style of writing. That Unbearable Lightness Of Being Divya Srivastava The Indian Express Flair December 9, 2001
“What are we concerned about in our daily lives?” demands Eunice de Souza. “Certainly not Afghanistan. Sometimes I really wonder how one manages to get by each day.” Why did she decide to turn to the novel, I ask her, once we have settled down and pleasantries have been exchanged. She is prompt with her response: ‘‘The ideas which I have explored in Dangerlok had been building up within me for a few years. Initially I had planned to weave these ideas in either a series of poems or short stories, but once I began working on them — some time last year — I realised they were all over the place and lacked focus. Hence, for want of more room, I decided to try my hand at a novel.’’
She continues: ‘‘Initially the novel was meant to be written in a traditional story format. But when I started writing, I felt that the whole point of the novel would be lost if I toed the old chronological line. It was getting tedious. That’s when I decided to structure it the way I finally did. In any case, the story is not the main focus in the novel. I wanted to create certain images that have day-to-day relevance in the mind of the reader. The story is told essentially when the protagonist Rina writes letters to David, who is studying in the United States. The rest of the novel deals with life on a daily basis, and how each character responds to the changing circumstances and to life’s multifarious complexities.’’
The novel, a slim book of a little over a hundred pages, has received some rather critical reviews. De Souza attempts to appear nonchalant about it and claims to be satisfied with the way the novel has shaped up. But then she adds sharply, ‘‘I wonder about the calibre of the people who review books. Someone wrote that there is no story in the novel. For God’s sake, the novel doesn’t claim to be telling a lived-happily-ever-after tale. It deals with quotidian issues, existential issues. Yes, it is existential in its approach. You say that the traffic wore you down on your way here. I mean, what are we concerned with in our daily lives? Certainly not Afghanistan. People might be dying there but our lives here are not beds of roses. Sometimes I really wonder how one manages to get by each day.’’ ‘‘I hate labouring on a point. Once a line has been said, the reader is intelligent enough to grasp the context,’’ she explains.
Continuing about her apparent obsession with existentialism, she elaborates: ‘‘I miss teaching because that’s when I could talk about issues that vastly interest me. I’m not a social person. I really do believe that every day is an ordeal, which is succinctly summed up by Eugene Inonesco’s quote (which I have used in the book as well) on the capacity of life to stultify your growth by an overpowering weariness. The same function is performed by the title of the novel. Dangerlok — a term I confess I borrowed from my bai — conveys dangers involved in everyday life exceedingly well. By the end of it, getting to college from here itself was quite an ordeal. By the time you get to work, enough fatigue has set in to upset your day. Such are the issues that I feel strongly about, including that of my parrots and dogs, and have tried to explore in Dangerlok.’’
Though the novel is strewn with autobiographical episodes, be it Rina’s childhood in Pune, her life as a lecturer, or her relationship with David across the seven seas, the writing is delectably powerful. She says, ‘‘I have set the novel in Mumbai but, through the issues that it deals with, it manages to transcend the locational barriers to appeal to a wider audience.’’ Also, there is no escape from De Souza’s own staunch belief that ‘‘I’m not any less Indian simply because I write poetry and stories in English’’, expressed in the novel as Rina’s. On my way out of Diamond Park — the novel, incidentally, refers to a locality called Queen’s Diamond — I am glad to get away from the loud twittering of her parrots, who evidently are agitated about having been neglected for so long. I wonder about the existential issues waiting to assail me during what is left of the day.

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