Posts filed under ‘Nissim Ezekiel’

Ganga

Nissim Ezekiel

Listen

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.

[falstaff]

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August 29, 2007 at 2:28 pm 3 comments

Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa TS

Nissim Ezekiel

Listen

Friends,
our dear sister
is departing for foreign
in two three days,
and
we are meeting today
to wish her bon voyage.

You are all knowing, friends,
what sweetness is in Miss Pushpa.
I don’t mean only external sweetness
but internal sweetness.
Miss Pushpa is smiling and smiling
even for no reason
but simply because she is feeling.

Miss Pushpa is coming
from very high family.
Her father was renowned advocate
in Bulsar or Surat,
I am not remembering now which place.

Surat? Ah, yes,
once only I stayed in Surat
with family members
of my uncle’s very old friend,
his wife was cooking nicely…
that was long time ago.

Coming back to Miss Pushpa
she is most popular lady
with men also and ladies also.
Whenever I asked her to do anything,
she was saying, ‘Just now only
I will do it.’ That is showing
good spirit. I am always
appreciating the good spirit.
Pushpa Miss is never saying no.
Whatever I or anybody is asking
she is always saying yes,
and today she is going
to improve her prospect
and we are wishing her bon voyage.

Now I ask other speakers to speak
and afterwards Miss Pushpa
will do summing up.

It’s about time we had some Ezekiel on this site, no? Long before Rushdie wrote Midnight’s Children, Nissim Ezekiel was rendering the way English is really spoken in India with pitch-perfect accuracy, perfectly capturing the quirks, the nuances, the familiar turns of phrase – the bizarre combination of schoolbook formalese and shoddy grammar – in clever little poems like this one. If you’ve lived in India you know exactly what this little speech sounds like (I’ve tried to capture some of its flavor in my reading, but I’m almost certainly not doing it justice) – with a little effort you can probably even imagine the way the speaker looks, and even, perhaps, the audience he’s speaking to. If good poetry is about finding a ‘voice’ then there are few more charming, more immediately recognizable to our ears than that of Ezekiel.

Of course, there’s more to Ezekiel’s poetry than just his grasp of Indian English. If anything, it’s a pity that a man who did so much to advance the cause of modern poetry in India should be remembered for what is, in the final analysis, little more than a clever party trick. It’s just that when it comes to writing like this Ezekiel stands alone, while his other work, while frequently lovely, is far from exceptional and (I must confess) often strikes me as a little dated.

And let’s not underestimate the difficulty of writing a piece like Miss Pushpa. It’s not easy, after all, to get people to laugh at themselves. You don’t just need an exceptionally gifted and observant ear to write like this, you also need a considerable amount of talent to manage just the right balance of satire, wit and good humor to make this funny while robbing it of its sting. It would take very little to make this poem outright offensive, but in Ezekiel’s subtle hands it is genial and charming, a poem delivered with a smile and a wink of the eye.

[falstaff]

August 22, 2007 at 11:37 am 32 comments


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