The Deliverer

Tishani Doshi

The title is ambiguous: a deliverer might be someone bringing packages, or might be a midwife; both make deliveries. In this poem, it’s both. The poem’s subject is newborn babies, but also babies, as the two titled sections of the poem indicate, delivered across thousands of miles from India to America, like little parcels.

The first two stages of the poem are titled, the titles giving the separate settings, the first being a convent in Kerala, in southern India. In that setting, the nun gives the reasons for children’s rejection by their parents: ‘crippled or dark or girls.’ The lack of punctuation strings these three prejudices together, making them equally weighted. It shows the cultural force of colourism and sexism – dark skin, or being female, count as disabilities.

The following two tercets communicate the horror of this prejudice further, equating such children with ‘garbage’ to be ‘Abandoned’. The anecdote of the dog digging up a buried baby ‘Thinking the head barely poking above the ground/ Was… something to chew’ is particularly graphic and disturbing. Babies have been reduced from children, to rubbish, to scraps for stray dogs.

As the isolated last line of the section states, it is this dog’s scrap that ‘my mother will bring’, identifying the speaker’s mother as the ‘Deliverer’, rescuing abandoned children and taking them away for overseas adoption, a kind of international midwife.

The second part of the poem shows the moment of the delivery of that baby parcel at an airport in the USA, to eagerly expectant new parents. It is an emotional moment for both the parents and the deliverer:

‘We couldn’t stop crying, my mother said’.

Of course the only people not crying here are the birth parents, who instead have ‘tried to bury’ the baby.

The poem at that point could end happily, but Doshi uses the last five stanzas to deliver a sobering coda, returning to the realities for women in Kerala. ‘The idea of the body, usually the female body, has always been central to my work,’ Doshi has said. It is significant that no men feature in the poem at all, focusing as it does on a girl baby who is ‘passed from woman/ To woman.’ The final stanzas take the reader back to the cultural rejection of the female and what ‘happens in some desolate hut’ when a girl is born. Here Doshi’s focus on ‘the female body’ is uncompromising, the process of childbirth speeded up by the sibilance as ‘mothers… squeeze out life,/ Watch body slither out from body’. There is irony in the word ‘life’, as there is no life for a girl. The quest for boys is simplified to a quick check for ‘penis or no penis’. With none, in language reminiscent of the ‘garbage’ of the second stanza, the baby is ‘Toss[ed]’ on ‘the heap’. As with the first section, this part too ends with a single line stanza, this time a sobering one. The women:

‘Trudge home to lie down for their men again.’

The verb ‘Trudge’ suggests a slow reluctance to return and ‘lie down’ implies utter passivity in the sexual act. Men are mentioned for the first time in the poem and the only other indication of maleness has been the word ‘penis’, which is appropriate. Men in this poem are completely insignificant, but the poem also makes it clear how men rule and control women’s lives. The Keralan rural women have no volition, no choice and no future – even if they are allowed to live in the first place.