Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Catholic Mother by Eunice De Souza

The poem Catholic Mother by Eunice De Souza is a succinct but very pointed satirical take on two institutions: family and the Church. Presented in the form of a socially acknowledged account, the poem shows a figure, Francis X D'Souza, a fictitious figure whose prestige and fame in his immediate society are based on his seemingly enviable record as a father. He has, after all, father seven children in seven years, and while such a count is recognized by that society as a sign of prowess is is evident that the process of crediting D'Souza is a very partial view of things. The state of the mother (D'Souza's wife) is confined to obscurity, her silence is taken for granted and there is a celebration in both the society and the parish for such a blatant exploitation of the woman who silently bears it all. The oft-cited social discourse, sanctioned and validated by the Church, that the coming of children is actually the result of God's grace, is amply made use of to further the logic of patriarchal dominance. It is equally evident that the attribute of God as a "provider" is twisted to legitimize the continuous birth of children for seven years without any consideration for the mother whose plight and the situation remained unattended. As a mother, she is doubly the victim of both the religion to which her husband and she subscribes, and to the norms of domesticity wherein, she is expected to remain silent. What appears glorious and the cause for social recognition is, ironically, a form of criticism of governmental family planning policies, for the licence to overwhelm the officially mandated mark is derived from the Church. The idea of a "family" and its happiness, coupled WILLE the association with size ("Big") is thus undercut to expose the hypocrisy of Francis' situation as a man of religion. However his performance may be to a world of religion, Francis has not displayed any compassion towards his wife. He may occupy the position of a man whose stature is evaluated in terms of the children he has fathered over the years, but it clearly shows that apart from the association of his name with them, he has not had to bear the pangs of childbirth year after year like his wife. Eunice de Souza combines both irony and satire to highlight the pressures under which women in different social situations are compelled to followed settled norms that make life so difficult for them. The subject of fatherhood also has for its target the nation itself ("India will suffer") and other faiths ("Hindu buggers"). It needs to be asked whether the licence that the poem associates Catholicism with is what all members of that faith subscribe to, for, by drawing a general blanket to inscribe the faiths of Catholicism, Hinduism and national policy, Eunice de Souza is suggesting how certain people generalize and obfuscate the real situation to promote their own worldviews. In the society being referred to in the poem, the mother is silent, but her motherhood is taken for granted. The national policy advocating limited children in a family is seen as a sign of "wickedness," and such a connection takes the issues from the sphere of social equality to the domain of morality. The take on Hinduism-it being the dominant religion in the country-further distinguishes Catholicism from others, and celebrates it not for its excellence as a faith, but for the example, it sets for the world by acknowledging how having more children is worthy of applause. Eunice de Souza's criticism of both patriarchy and religion, in so far as they restrict the individual's space, emerges unambiguously in the poem.


"Catholic Mother" takes for its context the institution of Catholicism but the poem also asks questions of human response and responsibility in a situation that simultaneously draws in the issues of domesticity and gender. How, and under what circumstances, can a family make sense of the world that places demand on its functioning in a society where the terms are already determined? This family motif functions as one of the keys in the poem through which the thematic concerns are brought into sharp focus. The insistent satirical tone of the poem draws attention to the issue of faith affects idéology, human responsibility and social discourses in our daily lives. De Souza combines the question of faith with that of patriarchy, and even though the connection between the two is not extended to accommodate different aspects of domesticity and religion, there is an engagement with the ways in which modern life takes certain processes of living for granted without quite interrogating them. At the core of the poem lies the issue of motherhood, and it is this that brings "faith" and "family" onto the same plane. In asking questions of the paradigms that operate and control social discourse and expectation in modern society, de Souza also brings in issues relating to family planning and governance. Suc associations are subtly hinted at, but the direction clear: motherhood, the condition that is at the cell of the poem thus, through the protagonist, Place the onus back on the blanket term "values," for it is something that requires urgent attention. In other words, the values that are taken for granted in society are those that facilitate the dominance of patriarchal structure in different aspects of life. The mode of celebration is effectively undercut by the ironic and satiric dimensions of the poem which expose multiple hypocrisies prevalent in our society.