August 29, 2007 at 2:28 pm 3 comments

Nissim Ezekiel


We pride ourselves
on generosity

to servants. The woman
who washes up, suspected

of prostitution,
is not dismissed.

She always gets
a cup of tea

preserved for her
from the previous evening,

and a chapati, stale
but in good condition.

Once a year, an old
sari, and a blouse

for which we could
easily exchange a plate

or a cup and saucer.
Besides, she borrows

small coins for paan
or a sweet for her child.

She brings a smell with her
and leaves it behind her,

but we are used to it.
These people never learn.

While we’re on the subject of Indian poets, we might as well have another Ezekiel. This one a sharp, scathing critique of the way domestic help in India gets treated – the bigotry, the small-mindedness, the complete lack of dignity of labor. I love the bit about being able to easily exchange the sari for a plate or a cup and saucer, but what really gets to me is the the sharp stab of recognition that comes with that marvelous last line: how many times have I heard the phrase “these people” used in this context – as though poverty were a moral choice, as though the underprivileged were a different species altogether.



Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, Nissim Ezekiel.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Equivocal  |  August 31, 2007 at 5:13 am

    Quite something. This is really an Ezekiel poem that lasts.

  • 2. Pearl  |  September 17, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Yes it it tightly and powerfully written, a cuff to the guts.

  • 3. Silva Dambrosia  |  August 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks for the tips. You gain knowledge of a little something just about every day.


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