The Tribune - Spectrum

, February 3, 2002

A sardonic self-story of a true blue Mumbaikar
Review by Bhavana Pankaj

by Eunice de Souza. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 114.
Rs 150.

SHE is a "lapsed Catholic who prays in moments of panic, a vague lefty who likes the occasional good meal in a restaurant and does not feel too much guilty about it, a lecturer who likes her students and her work but likes the occasional day at home alone."

Meet Rina Ferreira — your regular, modern-day lecturer of English literature at a Mumbai college. Christian, single, heretic, secular with a penchant for Hindu gods only "show ke liye". Also middle-aged, middling between loneliness and lovers one too many.

Rina F lives in a squalid corner of Mumbai — a redeveloped, tacky chawl called Queen’s Diamond, is happy about it and bungs down a mug of "jungli" tea when she is not. All in all, life is bearable with some "sourly sensible" friends like Vera and a bai (servant)who discourses to her on everything, including drunken husbands and marital sex in the pigeonholes of a Mahanagar". And, of course, dangerlok.

"Dangerous people, tiresome people, people she doesn’t like. Dangerlok." Eunice De Souza gives her debut novel a telltale title that nearly sounds like a thriller for young adults. Dangerlok takes in its sweep every event, person and happening that De Souza’s Rina comes across in her daily life.


There is a dangerlok around her every day. The post office clerk who thinks the stamps are part of his personal heirloom, the lecturer who comes to college only to have a dosa and a nap, the autorickshaw guys who double park and clog her lane, the rascals who throw stones at passing trains just for the kicks, Delhi-reeking bureaucratic bozos and their homilies on morality, the boys who spit betel-juice on a picture of Christ… dangerlok threatens Rina F’s sanity every moment. Happily, she isn’t sitting around, carping endlessly about what a bitch life is. She participates in this whole drama, this natak, as a Mumbaikar would call it, trying to do her mite to change things.

She worries herself silly over her pet parrots. Is devastated when a stray pup she takes to the animal clinic dies in a couple of days. Her heart bleeds alike for Kosovo and the urchin at a railway platform. She does not want to be "involved in life" but cannot put a half-dead dog to sleep because he’s wagged its tail at her. She is sad no one talks about the Revolution and is surprised to find miracles round the corner.

Of course, she is brimming with personal angst. And of course she needs a release. So there is David, a one-time flame. He becomes her "other" world to where she escapes whenever undeodarised armpits, nutty railway clerks and silly ass time get to her. She writes to him long and short letters about pesky parrots and post-colonialism with equal zest and honesty. And there is Vera who keeps her away from "vaginal monologues" and melodrama!

From her ex- and the ex’s current girlfriend, Hindutva and wannabe Arundhati Roys to Mr Chopra’s comical, very middle class aspirations to respectability and made-in-phoren velvet sofa sets, De Souza gives her protagonist enough to paint on the canvas of 9-to-5 neurosis.

De Souza’s keen eye misses little. Even those little, innocuous things one tends to miss like Newton’s apple. "… Two and three-year-old idlers squatting by the roadside, heads bent with interest and satisfaction to watch their little shitties make patterns in the dust." Petty corruption. Pretentious poets. Rains. Water problem. Scaffolding… one begins to wonder if De Souza and Rina F are not the same people. Herself a lecturer of English literature at St Xaviers College, Bombay, De Souza seems to have written an autobiography in the hairshirt of fiction.

The genre is convenient, also somewhat clichéd. But De Souza, who has four books of poems and books for children under her belt, does it in style. The language is brilliant in passages, the style refreshing and both of these more than make up for a Mumbai-centric, urban story. It is a slim book – funny, sad, profane in its 115 pages. There is ennui here. But there is the odd scope for hope. And at the end of the day, which you may spend in your bed or at an airport lounge, this is well and truly Dangerlok lurking in the many corners of life.