Marilyn Noronha (born 1952) is the author of a book of poems entitled Different Faces, published in 2003. A longstanding member of Mumbai’s Poetry Circle, she has published her work in various anthologies, including those published by Penguin India and Sahitya Akademi, as well as in national and international journals. She has also written plays and musicals for children, as well as short stories. She teaches music and creative writing in a school in Mumbai. She writes in English.
It is easy to be misled by the nursery-rhyme cadence that often informs Noronha’s poems, yet there is nothing jejune about this verse, and the darker moments are rendered all the more disquieting by the deliberately adopted singsong tenor. The resources of children’s verse are cannily used, and often abruptly splintered to give you a glimpse into a hinterland of inner darkness. ‘Jambul Tree’ is, on one level, a poem of a quiet unsung tree in a churchyard that never bore fruit, but which offered sanctuary to birds and little boys. But as the poem swivels around in the last line, the reader recognises that it is about much more than it initially seemed.
The nursery-rhyme strategy is at its most overt in a poem that starts out as a wry appraisal of the self in the mirror: “Mirror, mirror on the shelf / tells ghoulish tales about myself . . . / Points out wrinkles near my eyes, / shows I’ve grown to twice my size . . .” Colleagues and acquaintances, self-righteously candid, are also mirrors that point out “that my front tooth’s chipped, I’ve a double chin, / my glossy mane’s now listless and thin”. You read with progressive unease about the boss who believes “removing a gall bladder’s routine . . . and the same with the uterus”. And eventually the facile tripping rhythms uncover a voice of greater depth than anticipated.
My favourite Noronha poem is ‘My Fat Aunt’, which conjures a childhood world of nourishing warmth without ever turning sentimental. A hug from this fat aunt is not just an affirmation of love and belonging. It is about rescuing a childhood perception of life as joy, as discovery, as play, as festivity: “Cutlery sings and crockery dances . . . When we laugh together, / she and I, / everything feels perfect.”
Different Faces, Allied Publishers, Mumbai, 2003, ISBN 81-7764-528-5
In Anthology (Editors Makhija, Anju and Ramakrishnan, E V), We Speak in Changing Languages: Indian Women Poets 1990–2007, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi
Open Space India: Some more of Marilyn Noronha’s poems.
The Hindu: Arundhathi Subramaniam reviews Different Faces, Marilyn Noronha’s book of poems.