Nissim Ezekiel (Birth-14th December 1924 — Death-9th January 2004) was an Indian Jewish poet, playwright, editor, art critic. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for his poetry collection ‘Latter Day Psalms’. Nissim Ezekiel through his poem THE PROFESSOR explores the urban thinking pattern of the Indians and is a satire on the typical mentality, where success is measured on the basis of a person’s materialistic wealth, the age-old inequality of gender prevails, and son’s success is measured by his managerial jobs and daughter’s marriage in a well to-do family. The poet has ridiculed the pretence of the Indians, who claim that they are changing with time, but this change is merely pretence. There is no visible change in their thoughts.
Modern English poetry in India is one of the many new literatures which began to emerge at the end of the Second World War which included urbanization, industrialization, independence, social change etc. Gradually with passing time the English language poetry became more indianized in nature. Such Indianisation had been proceeding for several generations and is prominent in the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das and A. K Ramanujam.
Nissim Ezekiel is one of the greatest poets of Indo-Anglian literature which grew during the last century. Some of the writers who could with felicity use English as a medium of expression in their creative writings, created a kind of awareness about the Indian social problems. By Indianness, we mean a subject that suits the Indian sensibility and most part of the Indo-Anglian literature is concerned with one or the other aspect of Indian sensibility. His works bring a typical incense of Indian tradition, culture and day-to-day life. “Indianness” is a term which in itself is quite controversial. It is the sum total of the cultural patterns of India and the deep seated ideas and ideals whether political, personal, economic or spiritual. These ideas not only affect the Indian mind but the same are prevalent in the various social relationships like man-woman, man-god etc. Ezekiel’s poetry seems to be a comment on the Indian social scenario where he tries to present what, how and why of the various aspects of Indian society. He not only tries to highlight the social facts and problems which Indians face because of their poverty, superstitions, etc. but also expresses his deep admiration for the Indian spiritual values.
ABOUT THE POET:
Nissim Ezekiel is known as the father of post-independence Indian English verse. He was born on 14th December 1924 in Mumbai. His father was a professor of Botany at Wilson College and his mother was the principal of her own school. He is the one, who started modernity in Indian English poetry. He is welknown for his simple and conversational style. The poet has brilliantly portrayed a typical Indian character in the poem THE PROFESSOR. He is the one, who started modernity in Indian English poetry. He received the honors are the Sahitya Akademi award in 1983 and the Padma Shri in 1988.
THE SETTING OF THE POEM:
This poem is set in a road near the house of the professor mentioned in the title. He suddenly meets a former student of his on the road and this leads him to become nostalgic about the past, to comment on the present, and to tell his student to come and visit him at some point in the future.
ABOUT THE POEM “THE PROFESSOR”:
“The Professor “is written in the form of an imaginary encounter between a retired professor and his former student. After a long time they met. The professor boasts about his sound health, his sons who are well established and daughters who are married. He is happy to have eleven grand children. He talks about changing modern India. He at last tells his student to come to his house. He lives at the backside of the opposite house. The Professor is noted for its expression of the Indian attitude. Indians are proud of their proficiency in English but they are never bothered about the fact that their Indian English is far from the native English. Here the speaker is the professor , a learned person with typical stereotype thinking. Like most of other Indians we find the professor to use present continuous tense more to express himself. ‘The Professor’ is a work of satire to Indian society and Indian English.
THE POEM: 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.
In this poem Professor Sheth represents the stereotypes of Indians and is particularly remarkable for its depiction of Indianness. The poet very cleverly shows how the Indians like to talk about themselves, even when they are not asked to, and others may be feeling irritated. The professor asks his former student whether he remembers who this man is. He reminds him that he had been a teacher of geography. At present his health is good but his wife has passed away a few years ago.
By god’s grace all my children are well settled in life. One is sales Manager, One is Bank Manager, Both have cars.
The Professor, like many Indian mindsets, is only bothered about position, status and wealth. “One” is repeated in amusing manner alongwith designations and “both” is used and linked to cars to show the professors obsession with status and wealth. The professor continues to talk about himself more and more throughout the poem. Nissim Ezekiel also shows that the professor is proud of his two sons. They are holding very prestigious posts like Bank Manager and Sales Manager in the Indian context. So he proudly declares that to everyone he meets.
Other also doing well, though not so well, every family must have black sheep.
He also talks about one of the three sons who is not doing well according to his inflated and misplaced ideals of status and wealth. Then the professor talks about his third son but considers him ‘black sheep’ that every family needs. Further the poet very rightly indicates that the Indians are blind to see their children’s faults and always tend to justify their mistakes.
Sarala and Tarala are married. Their husbands are very nice boys. You won’t believe but I have eleven grand children.
Another important tendency of Indians presented by the poet is to pick rhyming names for the children. Sarala and Tarala are two great examples of the Indian names. While referring to his daughters he only states that they are married and refer to their husbands as ‘nice boys’ Moreover Indian parents are always anxious with their daughter’s marriage. They also take pride in a successful marriage of their daughter. Another thing is that the parents-in-law always speak well about their son-in-law.
The professor is proud that he has many children and grand children. We can clearly see that the poet Nissim Ezekiel is mocking at the Indians for taking pride in having many issues. In country like India, where population is probably the worst problem, people like ‘professor’ do bear such primitive mentality. It also highlights that we love to take pride for wrong reasons.
Whole world is changing in India also . we are keeping up. Our progress is progressing. Old values are going, new values are coming.
‘Our progress is progressing’ is another phrase used in the poem which mocks the false sense of progress of such superficial and mediocre so called educated individuals. Even though he is a professor with access to many learning opportunities, he does not make any effort to improve his English or his knowledge of his subject matter. Next, the poet indicates our tendency to show proficiency in English. We Indians feel proud to speak in English and to use idiomatic expressions, even if we are not actually good at it. Not only that, we love to speak about change.
Through the poem , the poet shows that the Indians love to talk about their good health. They feel proud that they are not suffering from the common problems like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart attack. The professor allows the student to speak only twice. But that was only to make a mockery of him. This shows how desperate we Indians are to speak about ourselves without listening to others.
How is your health keeping? Nicely? I am happy for that. This year I am sixty-nine and hope to score a century.
The poet also shows our habit of speaking about the past. Even people are having the tendency to talk about age, showing that he or she is still young enough. In the last few lines the professor’s English is far from that of the native speakers. The poet also points out towards the habit of showing humbleness in the wrong way, as the professor does it by mentioning his residence as ‘ humble’.
Though the poet deals with a serious subject, its seriousness is not recognized by the reader because his thoughts are directly translated into English from a common Indian speech in this poem. This poem projects the Indian flavour by stressing on the various mistakes that the Indians commit while they use the English language. Thus Ezekiel is a poet of many themes and one who finds wide range of subjects and variety in his poetry. His new poetry demanded a new use of language and called for the use of everyday speech rhythm in his poetry.