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The Professor -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem submitted by Neha Kumar:
(Poem #579) The Professor
 Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
 Once I taught you geography. Now
 I am retired, though my health is good.
 My wife died some years back.
 By God's grace, all my children
 Are well settled in life.
 One is Sales Manager,
 One is Bank Manager,
 Both have cars.
 Other also doing well, though not so well.
 Every family must have black sheep.
 Sarala and Tarala are married,
 Their husbands are very nice boys.
 You won't believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
 How many issues you have? Three?
 That is good. These are days of family planning.
 I am not against. We have to change with times.
 Whole world is changing. In India also
 We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
 Old values are going, new values are coming.
 Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
 I am going out rarely, now and then
 Only, this is price of old age
 But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
 No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
 This is because of sound habits in youth.
 How is your health keeping?
 Nicely? I am happy for that.
 This year I am sixty-nine
 and hope to score a century.
 You were so thin, like stick,
 Now you are man of weight and consequence.
 That is good joke.
 If you are coming again this side by chance,
 Visit please my humble residence also.
 I am living just on opposite house's backside.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
As in the last Ezekiel poem [1], most of you will note the predominant usage
of  'Indian English', and the following extended quote says much about how
he came to write this way:

N.E.: "It all started as a comment by a friend who said that you write in
English no doubt and you write English well but you don't seem to even know
or realise that thousands of Indians speak what can only be called Indian
English, because you only meet people who are learning English Literature.
So I said yes, it's true I have never thought in terms of writing what you
call Indian English. I have just thought it was bad English or wrong English
and ignored it. He said no, no, no, you must listen to it. So from that time
in all my train journeys from Mithibai College back home, I began to take
some interest in the way English was being spoken on the train. Every time I
heard an obvious Indian English phrase like, "I'm not knowing only", I would
take it down. When I had about a thousand of these, I thought now is the
time to create a character, who will speak Indian English from beginning to
end. A situation has to be created, you have to think of all those things.
So several hours would pass before finally the poem would begin and perhaps
come to an end. Then it had to be revised and cut down and the emphasis
would be on the Indian English that the character speaks. So naturally one
wouldn't write a hundred Indian English poems either so if I would total
them up, they would come to about six or seven. I think or maybe ten

In this poem in particular he describes a conversation between a professor
and a student of his whom he is meeting after a long time. The setting is
such that the poet is seemingly effortlessly able to describe this very
typical conversation between student and teacher in the Indian English he is
so famous for.

To an aged man in his late sixties, retired, these are the things that
matter - sons that are doing well, the one that isn't! Daughters married and
well-settled. Grandchildren. There's the typical health talk of how he's
doing well and is spared from the most typical ailments of blood pressure,
diabetes etc. Then there is mention of the times that are a-changing, simply
a must when it comes to this age group of 'retired intellectuals'. The
generation gap is also kind of indicated by the difference in the number of
'issues' (I've never heard that term used anyplace else!).

It didn't have to be a professor as the subject of this poem, and perhaps
that had something to do with Ezekiel's having been an (English) professor
himself. (Though I can only guess about that!)

As far as the theme of the poem goes, there is clearly a coming together of
the old and the new. The style with which Ezekiel describes this, however,
leaves a far greater impact on the reader's mind than the content itself.
The choice of the rhyming names 'Sarala and Tarala', of the respectable,
well-paying managerial positions... As simple an addition as 'Both have
cars' goes a long way towards expressing the mentality of the professor,
quite a typically Indian mentality for his age and position in society. Also
note how the only questions he asks are how many children his student has
and how his health is keeping! And I just love the way he cracks the joke
about being thin vs. weight :), then adding "That is good joke." :) :)

About the language and the terms used, Ezekiel is been excessively generous
with his use of the present continuous, but that is his style of using
Indian English in his poetry. As is the complete omission of articles...
also mentioned in the commentary to 'The Patriot' [1].  But Thomas wrote in
such detail about his style, I guess I can omit that bit here.


[1] poem #516

55 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Mariam Idicula said...

I found this poem so amusing; it just would not let go. The humour in the phrases “Both have cars” “progress is progressing” and the final punch line. “opposite house’s backside” is not obvious to a majority for the simple reason that it is accepted speech.

I had recited this poem in school, for a lark. With due apologies to Nissim Ezekiel, I suffixed a ‘s’ to ‘black sheep’ and used a fake Indian English accent to make it more appealing (I feel embarrassed to even remotely think of it). What killed me were the daft remarks (mostly consolatory) which followed “You didn’t win a prize because it is not a…real poem” and frequent calls to the principal’s office asking me to recite (sans the accent) in front of visiting bigwigs.

Some interesting Indian usages (some explanations may make me seem master of the obvious):

“Happy Good Friday”, “Marry Christmas”..and “When is your happy birthday?”

“You are coming, no?” – ‘no’ - requesting confirmation

“Mother Promise” – a sincere undertaking

“Mother dead Father dead promise!” – a very emphatic denial of guilt

“You will remember your grandmother” (equivalent of ‘you’ll see stars’)

“Skin colour” – tan

“Rose colour dress” – Rose meaning ‘pink’ and colour dress meaning any dress other than the school uniform.

“Fightacock” – meaning ‘bully’

Co-brother – husbands of sisters (I don’t know the logic behind this though I’d love to know)

“I can’t cope up” , so common it is almost legal

“Let India know, we are not wearing bangles” - Musharraf’s statement in response to India’s threat of war – meaning, “We aren’t women”

“Cousin sister”

“What is your good name?” – this maybe legal

“wheatish complexion” (read ‘not very dark’)

“Innocent divorcee” – a very nice man/woman who married the wrong person :-)

Lastly, a word, which an average Indian cannot do without - “Basically”


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Anonymous said...

Mariam,Delightful read. It was lovely to read Nissim's poem again.He was hilarious company, as you can imagine.

Anonymous said...

I had said this poem in school in class 8 for inter school and inter house competition.Everybody loved the poem and the judges kept on laughing throughout!I said it with a a fake Indian english accent and I came second!

pinky said...

this sounds really awesome....this poem remindz me of my geography teacher......gonna use this for mah english project...i'm lovin it !!

viagra online said...

Excellent poem, thanks again.
I agree with the one of the first comment, about all the definitions haha
Thanks for share.

drowsynumbness said...

Hi Miriam, Thnanks for the share. I have thought about the way Indians refer to their cousins often and concluded that simply calling someone a cousin is inadequate because:
(a) the equivalent phrase in Hindi or any other native language provides more information (i.e., the cousin's gender), and such information is therefore expected by the listener.
(b) Indians are generally much closer to their cousins than people from other countries, and therefore adding "brother" or "sister" is significant, meaningful, and useful. For example, I have heard people calling a cousin "my uncle's son" when they are not particularly attached to him, and "chachera bhai", which literally translates to "cousin brother", when they are.

For these reasons, I continue to use the terms cousin brother and cousin sister. A language is amorphous and ever-changing, and it is meant to be fashioned by its users to suit their needs. Ezekiel recognized that; I'm not sure if you do.

drowsynumbness said...

I don't want to belabour the point, but a similar observation is also in order regarding your objection to transliterating figures of speech in other languages. "You will remember your grandmother" is obviously a translation of "nani yaad aa jaayegi", but that does not make it bad english. It is a valid figure of speech in every language - the difference is that in English its usage is non-standard. Overzealous teachers of the English language advise against their use, but the truth is that many acceptable phrases are also borrowed from other languages. Assimilation with new cultures is the lifeblood of a language, and we're doing both ourselves and the laguage a disservice by not using it as it suits us best.

Of course, some mistakes we Indians make are just mistakes, and amusing ones too. "Cope up" is a great example of that, and so is "when is your happy birthday?". Thanks for the laugh!

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