‘The Deliverer’ by Tishani Doshi is a twenty-nine line poem that is divided into three line stanzas, or tercets. There are two moments though in which one line is separated from the rest of the text. This occurs at the ends of sections one and three. These lines are among the most important in the poem and draw additional attention to Doshi’s terrifying narrative images.
In regards to meter, there is no set metrical pattern. The lines vary in length and syllable number, sometimes stretching out to ten, and other times stopping at five or six syllables.
The tone of this piece varies greatly from section to section. The first ten lines are dark, but also hopeful in that there is a convent looking after these forgotten children. In the second section, the hope is expanded. The girl child meets her adopted parents and is welcomed into a world of love. The speaker’s own feelings towards this baby are clear.
In the final ten lines the dark, miserable nature of the overarching situation returns. The speaker outlines the lives lived by women in the poorest parts of India, and makes clear that for them the horror of sex, pregnancy and birth do not end.
Before beginning this piece it is important to take note of the subtitle of the text. It explains that the events in the first part of the poem take place in a convent in “Kerala.” Kerala is a state in the southwestern cost of India. It is ranked second on the list of most impoverished states in the country.
Doshi is from India, and chose to speak on this area of the country in order to draw attention to the treatment of girl children.
There was, and is, an anti-female bias in the country which has drastically impacted the lives of women. They are unable to earn to the same degree as men, nor are they able to inherit property. They are generally seen as subservient and therefore, as the poem describes in graphic detail, disposable. This is especially prevalent in regions with extreme poverty, such as Kerala.You can read the full poem here.
Summary of The Deliverer
‘The Deliverer’ by Tishani Doshi speaks on the prevalence of female infanticide in rural India and the lives of the women who help to commit it.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she and her mother are in a convent, looking for a child. This child, who was found buried and left for dead, is brought to America. Here she meets her adoptive parents, grows up and then begins to look into her own story. The final lines describe the terrifying lives of women in rural India and the horrible choices they are forced to make.
Analysis of The Deliverer
In the first lines of this piece the speaker begins by describing a conversation between her mother and a “sister.” The sister is a nun in the convent and is telling the mother about her orphanage. These kids are all damaged in someway that society does not approve of. Most are “dark” or “crippled.” These particular kids were not light skinned enough for Indian society to accept them. Or at the very least, for their families to consider and love them.
The last criteria that leads to their abandonment is if they are girls. This is considered another kind of disability and is a disappointment and burden to the parents of the child.
These poor kids, are found by the sisters in the streets, often times “naked.” They have been dropped off on “their doorstep,” kicked out, or “stuffed in bags.”These are brutal images and are especially impactful when placed at the beginning of the poem. A reader can’t help but be drawn into the narrative.
In the next four lines the speaker describes one story about a child who was,
[…] dug up by a dog.
The baby’s head was barely “poking above the ground” and the dog, seeking out “bone or wood” pulled it out. The comparison between a young child and something as discardable as wood or bone, is chilling. It is meant to shock and horrify the reader. The terrible story of this child’s origins is capped off at this point with the single line,
This is the one my mother will bring.
Here a reader comes to understand that the speaker and her mother are visiting an orphanage, and are seeking out a child to bring to America. This child, as will be revealed in the next section, is going to an American family.
The second part of the poem begins with another heading. This one states that the speaker, her mother, and this child, are now in the “Milwaukee Airport” in America. The speaker begins the first line of verse by referring to “The parents.” They are waiting “at the gates” and the speaker seems somewhat conflicted about them. She states that,
They are American so they know about ceremony
And tradition, and doing things right.
These lines show how the speaker is pulled in two different directions. The first line referencing American “ceremony” can be read mockingly as if the parents are putting on a show, and only acting in a way that seems correct. Depending on one’s reading of the text, the next lines could be taken sarcastically. The speaker states that the Americans know “about doing things right.”
In the next lines the speaker expresses her love for the child through her attention to detail. She knows about the girl’s quirks, such as her “fetish for plucking hair off hands.” The Americans don’t know this little fact about her, or so many others, such as her origin story.
When the speaker and her mother meet the parents, the separation between them doesn’t matter. Neither pair could stop crying. The American parents are overjoyed at meeting their child for the first time, and the speaker’s mother mourns the loss of the child in her arms.
The next lines begin after another break. Some time has passed and the baby, who is now a woman, is seeking out information about her life. She did not have to live in the world of her mother, and has only been exposed to it through “video tapes” and research. Through these sources of information she “returns to twilight corners.” These are areas of her life which are dark, and very far in the past.
The speaker describes in the following lines a general outline of the life of a woman in rural India. She uses this description as an example for how the child in the poem could’ve come into the world. Likely, the baby girl was born
[…] in some desolate hut
Outside village boundaries
It is in places like these that women go to “squeeze out life.” There is no one to provide them medical care and life becomes transactional.
The speaker concludes the poem with a brutal depiction of what happens when a girl child is born. The body slides out of its mother and immediately an exam is made to see if there is a penis or not. If there isn’t, the child goes,
[…] to the heap of others.
As mentioned above, girls were, and still are perceived to be lesser than boys. There was no reason to take on the burden of another child if it could not take up the family mantel, as a boy could.
The final line concludes the poem in a dark and miserable tone. The woman, who has just been forced to give birth, and throw away her child, is made to “lie down” for her man again.
It is important to note the use of the plural “men” in this line. This scenario applies to innumerable women in India and around the world. They are completely under the control of their husbands and have no say in if and when they have a child.