Realism is one of the most recurrent themes in the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel. This theme adds to the flavour of postmodernism as well as postcolonialism in his poetry. His poetry is steeped in the reality that surrounded him and isn’t born out of a social vacuum. His poem, Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S., shows a realistic issue that plagues the Indian ethos and has become a prominent problem in the Indian culture - the power dynamic that is involved in the usage of English as a language.
Superstition is a very important theme that is covered in the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel. His poetry explores certain facets of the Indian life that are so often questioned and considered obsolete, but still prevalent. In Night of The Scorpion, Nissim Ezekiel delineates a situation that is representative of the rural Indian ethos and brings out the prevalence of such a situation.
One theme that often surfaces in the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel is love. While the other themes are politically charged, this is one of the most universal themes that Nissim Ezekiel touches upon. He has portrayed love with extreme candour and openness in his poetry.
Such candour can be seen in many of his poems, one such poem being In Emptiness:
And make no rendezvous with love
I would rather suffer when I must
In this poem, he showed a level of intimacy that isn't quite often seen in Indian poetry.
Characteristic Indian Attitudes in Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry
Sandeep K. Thorat, M.A., M.Phil.
Nissim Ezekiel's Call: Time to Change
Nissim Ezekiel occupies a unique position among Indo-Anglian poets of post-Independence era. His first book of poems is titled Time to Change (1952) and this is quite suggestive of Nissim Ezekiel's approach.
Lal wrote, "After the death of Sri Aurobindo, Nissim Ezekiel is the first major voice that represents, more or less, the change of an era" (P. Lal, 1969) in the History of Indian English Poetry.
Nissim opposed the idealism and romanticism of the earlier group of Indian writers in English, and tried to look at any typical Indian situation with an Indian attitude, with a novel and dynamic Indian insight. He cleverly manipulated Indian English to bring out the Indian worldview.
Focus of This Paper
This paper concentrates on Ezekiel's use of 'Indian English,' or 'Babu Angrezi' or 'Pidgin English' in his poetry to depict the characteristics of Indian attitude. He used irony as a weapon to depict the characteristic features of Indian attitude. He endeavored to demonstrate it mostly in his three poems - 'A Very Indian Poem in Indian English', 'Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.', and 'The Professor'.
Nissim's style is very refreshing, adding humor to irony. Before Nissim Ezekiel, there was no Indian poet writing in English, who took the risk of treating such topics using typical Indian English in poetry. High sounding learned words and phrases, metaphors from the British ways of thinking and writing, expressions of Victorian English, long and complex syntax, and perfect idiomatic usage, etc. usually mark formal Indian writing in English. From this high road, Nissim made some interesting detours which gave a special Indian aura to several of his poems.
An Early Attempt to Use Bazaar English in Indo-Anglian Poetry
Joseph Furtado tried to use Pidgin English in poetry. In this connection, R. Parthasarthy writes:
No one has, to the same extent, taken comparable risks in verse. And the first poet to try -- and this was in the 1920s -- was Joseph Furtado (1872-1947). He wrote some poems in pidgin or bazaar English, like 'The Fortune-teller' and 'Lakshmi'. But, Furtado himself did not use Pidgin English extensively, except in a few humorous poems. He was interested in it as a source of humour. He seemed to have been unaware of the possibility of its developing into a creole. A pidgin, in any case, arises under the pressure of practical circumstances in a bilingual situation. (R. Parthasarathy, 1976.)
On the other hand, Nissim Ezekiel's use of "Indian English" gives life to the characters, episodes, and attitudes of individuals and communities, and goes well beyond creating humorous situations. Ezekiel excels not only in describing Indian situations, but also in using irony as a weapon of depicting characteristic Indian attitude by employing 'Babu Angrezi' or 'Pidgin English'.
Some Features Employed in Nissim Ezekiel's Poems
Creating a very Indian flavour, Ezekiel's devotion to Indian writing in English is unique. His three poems "A Very Indian Poem in Indian English", "A Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T. S." and "The Professor" describe the characteristic Indian attitude in so-called 'Swadeshi Angrezi". These poems depict the syntactical oddities of English used by Indian speakers. R. Parthasarathy comments:
These poems imitate the idiolect features of English used by Gujarati speakers. Some of these features are also present in other Indian languages: the use of the present progressive tense for the simple present tense, un-English collocation of lexical items, and literal translation of phrases and idioms (R. Parthasarathy, 1976.)
A Very Indian Poem
Ezekiel exploits the commonly found Indian use of present progressive tense instead of the simple present tense to create an India aura. In his poem "A Very Indian Poem in Indian English", he uses the progressive tense, reduplication processes modeled after Indian languages, and typical expressions that we employ in our Indian English:
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.
The Effect of Transfer from One Level to Another
While the content easily relates to the concern of Gandhian/Indian attitudes in politically conscious, world-minded and peace-loving Indian intellectuals, the very same genuine concern brings in humor and parody when put in English words and constructions of Indian English. This underlying and subtle humor brings out the author-statement on the subject, bordering on satire and irony. The poet does not make any explicit statement, but the technique and device that he employs reveal his position, even as the description truly reflects Indian attitudes.
It appears that transfer from one level (standard English) to another level (regional or ethnic English) brings with it a slew of connotations. When the reader is acquainted with the regional or ethnic English, there is no limit to the potential meanings and consequent enjoyment of the poem. In the absence of such knowledge, the poem offers only a laborious and tedious experience.
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Sandeep K. Thorat, M.A., M.Phil. (English)
S.S.S.K. R. Innani Mahavidyalaya
Dist. Washim (M.S.) 444 105