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Jewish Wedding in Bombay -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem sent in by Arvind Natarajan
(Poem #1570) Jewish Wedding in Bombay
 Her mother shed a tear or two but wasn't really
 crying. It was the thing to do, so she did it
 enjoying every moment. The bride laughed when I
 sympathized, and said don't be silly.

 Her brothrs had a shoe of mine and made me pay
 to get it back. The game delighted all the neighbours'
 children, who never stopped staring at me, the reluctant
 bridegroom of the day.

 There was no dowry because they knew I was 'modern'
 and claimed to be modern too. Her father asked me how
 much jewellery I expected him to give away with his daughter.
 When I said I did't know, he laughed it off.

 There was no brass band outside the synagogue
 but I remember a chanting procession or two, some rituals,
 lots of skull-caps, felt hats, decorated shawls
 and grape juice from a common glass for bride and
 bridegroom.

 I remember the breaking of the glass and the congregation
 clapping which signified that we were well and truly married
 according to the Mosaic Law.

 Well that's about all. I don't think there was much
 that struck me as solemn or beautiful. Mostly, we were
 amused, and so were the others. Who knows how much belief
 we had?

 Even the most orthodox it was said ate beef because it
 was cheaper, and some even risked their souls by
 relishing pork.
 The Sabbath was for betting and swearing and drinking.

 Nothing extravagant, mind you, all in a low key
 and very decently kept in check. My father used to say,
 these orthodox chaps certainly know how to draw the line
 in their own crude way. He himself had drifted into the liberal
 creed but without much conviction, taking us all with him.
 My mother was very proud of being 'progressive'.

 Anyway as I was saying, there was that clapping and later
 we went to the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes,
 world-famous specialists in wedding portraits. Still later,
 we lay on a floor-matress in the kitchen of my wife's
 family apartment and though it was part midnight she
 kept saying let's do it darling let's do it darling
 so we did it.

 More than ten years passed before she told me that
 she remembered being very disappointed. Is that all
 there is to it? She had wondered. Back from London
 eighteen months earlier, I was horribly out of practice.

 During our first serious marriage quarrel she said Why did
 you take my virginity from me? I would gladly have
 returned it, but not one of the books I had read
 instructed me how.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
The poem starts with the setting of an Indian jewish wedding, then drifts into
the community's ways of living (how Indianised it has become) and finally ends
with looking back in life. Asked once how he could have written this poem,
Ezekiel retorted with, "Who is the 'we' in the poem?"

I liked Ezekiel's poking humor, "some even risked their souls by relishing
pork", "the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes, world-famous specialists

in wedding portraits" in particular.

Ezekiel is a legend and is considered the father of modern Indian poetry. Found
the above one in the Sahitya Akademi's journal which published an article and
some of his poems in rememberance of his death.

Arvind

60 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Gwilym Williams said...

Thanks for introducing me to Nissim Ezekiel and his dry humour. I enjoyed The Patriot too and will have a look at his other work.
All power to his wide-seeing eye. Gwil Williams
ps- re Jewish Wedding in Bombay: line 5: check spelling of brothers

Bryan Alexander said...

In the case of Corso: "When she introduces me to her parents back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie *." These lines and many others show the narrator's attention to differences in social class between him and the women to whom he is attracted. In Ezekiel's poem, someone jokes to the narrator about dowry; the narrator doesn't joke back but seems serious, and seriously confused, although it's not the terms in the question that confuse. He does know what a dowry is. During a quarrel, his wife accuses him of having taken her virginity against her will, although sexual intercourse is (universally?) acknowledged as an act automatically consented to upon marriage (leaving aside the meaning of her remembered words, "let's do it"). She too seems to be confused about what is exchanged in marriage. In the narrator's final admission of confusion, he refers to the futility of finding answers in his books, and given the context of confusion, one cannot read those lines as simply ridiculing his wife's accusation. Those books--were they books on sexual practice or books on the laws of marriage? I myself am confused. I would not say that either civil or religious law clarifies, or should clarify, the nature of the exchange. I just want to suggest that confusion on the issue may be quite prevalent, despite our modernity and our supposed superiority to the "old ways." Perhaps there really is no exchange¯however poignantly a wedding attempts to symbolize one. Perhaps a marriage simply effects some unpredictable gains and losses. In the modern condition here in the U.S., it is often said that a wedding glorifies the bride, and it is her "special day," and sometimes the most important day of her life. The groom has less of an investment, financially and emotionally, in the ceremony and its accompanying events. What do you women minstrels say about all of this? And you gay minstrels?

Anonymous said...

Re: "Marriage" (Gregory Corso)

Unfortunately, the older voice of the narrator in the audio version totally belies what this poem is about: a creative young man who, like all of us in our youth at one time or another, has speculated about getting married. In the abstract, we say, "yes," because what if we're "60 years old and all alone and..." But the reality? How would I woo her? (And this narrator's ideas show just how out of the norm he is)? But I should get married. But OMG, I'd have to meet her parents. And the wedding! And the honeymoon! Horrors almost unimaginable. But I should get married. And what would life be like then? Possibly good? Probably not! But, but, but...
And, incidentally, "Falstaff," the ending does not "suck." What the narrator is implying via the reference to Cleopatra is that he'd get married if s/he were alive & available—a humorous way of saying that he's not going to get married anytime soon. -B. Evans

santa claws said...

I just want to suggest that confusion on the issue may be quite prevalent, despite our modernity and our supposed superiority to the "old ways." Perhaps there really is no exchange¯however poignantly a wedding attempts to symbolize one. Perhaps a marriage simply effects some unpredictable gains and losses. In the modern condition here in the U.S., it is often said that a wedding glorifies the bride, and it is her "special day," and sometimes the most important day of her life.Wedding Planning Bay Area

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