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The Patriot -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #516) The Patriot
 I am standing for peace and non-violence.
 Why world is fighting fighting
 Why all people of world
 Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
 I am simply not understanding.
 Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
 I should say even 200% correct,
 But modern generation is neglecting-
 Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

 Other day I'm reading newspaper
 (Every day I'm reading Times of India
 To improve my English Language)
 How one goonda fellow
 Threw stone at Indirabehn.
 Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
 Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
 Lend me the ears.
 Everything is coming -
 Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
 Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

 You want one glass lassi?
 Very good for digestion.
 With little salt, lovely drink,
 Better than wine;
 Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
 I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
 But I say
 Wine is for the drunkards only.

 What you think of prospects of world peace?
 Pakistan behaving like this,
 China behaving like that,
 It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
 Really, most harassing me.
 All men are brothers, no?
 In India also
 Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
 All brothers -
 Though some are having funny habits.
 Still, you tolerate me,
 I tolerate you,
 One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

 You are going?
 But you will visit again
 Any time, any day,
 I am not believing in ceremony
 Always I am enjoying your company.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
Nissim Ezekiel, a Jew who lives in Bombay, is possibly India's greatest living
poet [1].

He's most famous for his wry commentaries on contemporary India - often written
in an exaggerated 'Indian English' - note, for instance, the overuse of the
present continuous tense in today's monologue. (Or is it that much of an
exaggeration? I meet people who talk like that all the time...).

Today's poem is in many ways typical of Ezekiel: a wry view of patriotism mixed
with some fairly sarcastic political commentary. It appears to have been written
around the time of the infamous Emergency in 1977 (which was invoked by the then
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - to suppress her political rivals, according to

That particular Indira regime was marked by lots of corruption, a '20 point
program' for regeneration, the forced sterilization of people (to implement a
'one family, one child' rule mooted by her power hungry and vicious son Sanjay

... all as seen through the eyes of an old pedant gossiping over a cup of lassi
(sweetened yoghurt) with his neighbor.  Also, note the dig at the 'unity in
diversity' which is official Indian policy.  India is a huge mix of several
races - most of which speak different languages, wear different clothes ...

All in all, though, a refreshing change from blood and thunder jingoism.


[thomas adds]

[1] Suresh goes on to ask, "Is the man still alive? He turned eighty a few years
ago"; to which I reply, yes, he's alive, but he suffers from an advanced case of
Alzheimer's disease and is in institutional care.

[Note on Indian English]

Like most hybrid dialects, Indian English [2] has its own curious set of
syntactical structures and odd coinages [3]. Usually, these result from
over-generalizations of rules that hold in the vernacular; for example, many
Indian languages use doubled verbs to indicate an ongoing action, hence phrases
like "world is fighting fighting" in today's poem.

[2] The usual compound form is 'Hinglish', a portmanteau of 'Hindi' and
'English'. Truth to say, though, there are almost as many forms of Indian
English as there are Indian languages, which is why I've chosen not to be more
specific in my nomenclature.
[3] Odd, that is, to native speakers of English. To Indians, they sound
perfectly natural: witness my astonishment on finding out (just a few months
ago) that 'black money' [4] was not a phrase in currency [5] elsewhere in the
[4] That is, money made on the black market. Who'd have thunk it?
[5] Pun fully intended. Need you ask?

Other often-seen idiosyncracies include the following:

"I am simply not understanding" - as Suresh pointed out above, the misuse of the
continuous tense is rife in India. And in this poem.
"modern generation is neglecting" - another common mistake, the omission of the
object of a transitive verb.
"Too much going for fashion" - 'too much' is by way of being a universal
modifier in Indian English; I use it very often myself <grin>.
"Other day I'm reading newspaper" - Hindi doesn't have articles; hence either
their complete omission as in this sentence, or their replacement by numbers, as
in "You want one glass lassi?".
"To improve my English Language" - This one's a classic: the use of the phrase
'English Language', where just 'English' will do, is widespread.
"One goonda fellow" - Nouns are often used as adjectives, as also in "student
unrest fellow".
"Lend me the ears" - when articles _are_ used, they're as likely as not to be
used incorrectly; as also in "Not that I am ever tasting the wine".
"All men are brothers, no?" - The interrogative 'no?' at the end of the sentence
is common to many non-native speakers of English.

Please note that I'm not trying to pick holes in the language of today's poem,
nor am I poking fun at Indian English; rather, I'm trying to point out how
brilliantly Ezekiel has managed to capture the essence of the latter in the

Incidentally, linguaphiles and/or Indophiles might be interested in
Hobson-Jobson, the definitive reference on words of Anglo-Indian origin,
available online at

Also, the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has a supplement on
Indian English; sadly, it isn't available for public access online (as far as I
know; I would be happy to be corrected on this point).


Both Martin and I first read Ezekiel's poem in an anthology titled 'Panorama: A
Selection of Poems', which we had to study in high school. The choice of poems
is astonishingly good - there's a lovely mix of the famous and the obscure.
Highly, highly recommended.


93 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Martin DeMello said...

> [2] The usual compound form is 'Hinglish', a portmanteau of 'Hindi' and
> 'English'. Truth to say, though, there are almost as many forms of Indian
> English as there are Indian languages, which is why I've chosen not to be
> more specific in my nomenclature.

One mistake - Hinglish != Indian English. The former is a blend of Hindi and
English, freely intermingling syntactic and lexical elements from both. The
latter is a dialect (or several) of English, influenced by various Indian
languages and certainly with the tendency to lapse into Hinglish, but
distinct from it.

The poem is an example of exaggerated IE, and apart from the odd loanword
has nothing to do with Hinglish.


Arindam Mukherjee said...

The interrogative -no? at the end of a sentence including the
interrogative -yeah? is pretty common among people in london -native
english speakers
Arindam Mukherjee

Ashok Gupta said...

My first reaction ,sorry to say was negative.It is almost as if the poet was
making fun of the Indians ( more so Gujaratis) who speak English

Not all get equal opportunities in this world.Some of us who have struggled
through the regional/local language of instruction system do not speak
English as well as the ones like Nissim who must have studied in English
Medium schools.

The peom has no message or poetic content and in my opinion is mediocre
Ashok Gupta
PS.If anyome knows where to publish English Poems in India( print or net)
,please let me know.I will be obliged.

Albert Barton said...

Hate to do this, but, yes I do agree with Ashok Gupta that this meandering spoof on India's Political Problems and Indian English does seem to be rather useless, apart from providing the odd laugh from westeners who would, not recognising the subtle satire, be convinced that the Jew was trying his best English... all the same, I beleve if you haven't got the hang of a language, you shouldn't try it al all, Mr Gupta. I have been severely admonished for my amateur tries at Marathi by cops, and my hindi always causes huge amounts of laughter, even when, i'm slowly begining to find out, it's perfectly understandable. People are happier laughing at me rather than trying to help me out with that particular language, it seems.

shringa_murali said...

Mr issim ezekiel died ion the 9th of march,2004, contrary to your info that
he is in institutional care.he died at the age of 79.

Anand Sengupta said...

Can you please let me know where to buy the book 'Panorama - A
collection of poems'. I have been looking for quite a while now, and
haven't been able to locate it.


Vidya said...

This poem was published in the anthology "Contemporary Indian Poetry in
English" edited by Saleem Peeradina in 1972 under the title 'Very Indian
poem in Indian English'. The very title indicates that the poet has made
a conscious effort to take a dig at the typical Indian attitude of
feeling proud about one's 'knowledge' of English yet being critical of
the English culture. The greatest hypocrisy of the average Indian lies
in subscribing to Gandhian ideals but not following them in one's life.
Ironically, unlike the speaker in the poem, Gandhi was a man of action
but this person is "All words and no action"!

Nissim Ezekiel stands apart from other contemporaries due to his
persistent use of irony in all poems. One of those rare Ezekiel poem
that lacked irony and was rather positive was 'Poet, Lover,
Birdwatcher', where he draws a brilliant analogy between these three
roles. The above poem is an instance of Nissim's detachment from India.
All who are familiar with the genre called Indian Writing in English
would know, how many writers felt alienated in India due to an identity
crisis. Ezekiel's attitude is not that of an anglophile feeling scorn
for the seemingly 'inferior' Indians, but the frustration of an Indian
wanting to break out of the hypocritical attitudes in society. The use
of wry humour in this poem reflects the poet's sarcasm as he observes
the people about him carefully.

Instead of being critical about Ezekiel's ways one must enjoy the poem
for having so brilliantly captured the idiosyncrasies of an average
Indian. I am sure all Indians endowed with the capacity to laugh at
their own follies would enjoy this poem as a harmless joke only and not
take offence! However one must not forget that Ezekiel did start feeling
at home in India, and his sarcasm had reduced to a great extent as he
grew old. I am quoting from his poem, Background Casually,

"The Indian landscape sears my eyes.
I have become a part of it."

But whether he was really content to be a part of it would continue to
be questioned.

Vidya Venkat.

Anonymous said...

bull shit!!!!!!!!!!!!1 is this a poem or a fuking story...............crap......................not worth seeing...

Farrukh Siddiqui said...

I guess the poem is a commentary on the social and political landscape, while the language was clever fun. It's brilliant work. relevant even today.

NIVI said...

Hi, I was really astonished to find such a poem in English. Thanks to EFLU for letting me know such a poem.

ravindra mishra said...

This poem was part of the anthology, Panorama - A collection of poems. This book was required as text for English instruction in ICSE (Indian Council for Secondary Education) courses in the late 80s and upto the mid 90s.

It included poems by Indian, British and American poets from the early 19th century to the the 1960s.

While this poem was included to show the range and meter of limited vocabulary of the average Indian then, it also included poems by Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Sarojini Naidu.

So, to those, who find this offensive, insulting and a caricature of Indians, the opposite is true. It show-cased a range of Indian proficiencies with English.

What it did not condone was Hinglish. The absolute mogrelisation of two very beautiful languages, Hindi and English.

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Anonymous said...

someone tell me the summary of the poem atleast..

Anonymous said...

I am being liking this poem very much as I am thinking that this Ezekiel fellow must be having a very good sense of funny humour. Having said that, it is unquestionably a literary work of art and one must learn to view it from the perspective of the poet. Where indeed is our sense of humour?

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Anonymous said...

Panorama: A Selection of Poems...
This is what we had in High school as well.
And it is still one of my most tattered and most prized possessions. In fact your literary critique of the poem is almost exactly as I remember from high school. This is one of my all time favourites. Do you remember 'The Professor'?

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Mr issim ezekiel died ion the 9th of march,2004, contrary to your info that
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