Poverty Poems—2 by Nissim Ezekiel
Bijay Kant Dubey
Poverty Poems—2 forms a part of the series of poems written for depicting the heat and dust, poverty and misery, illiteracy and backwardness, underdevelopment and regressing into the background. Let us see how he takes up the things, a passer-by himself, a platform-passing fellow, gathering the images of India and going not like the visitors and guests from Europe and other continents, but from an India, an alien insider other than a Hindu boy viewing India, taking into his Confience. The title is quite clear, Poverty Poems, means poverty plus poems, poverty discussed and taken up. What will he tell, the things are clear, all about our poverty, misery, woe and plight. A passing memory it strikes us as because we made grand rock-built temples of artistic excellence and splendor, but we could not for ourselves, just for our sacrosanct faith and housing gods and goddesses, not for us, not even the masons and artistes for themselves. In India we attach so much so to piety, purity, chastity, virtue, myth and mythicism, faith and belief, oracle and soothsaying, but not to work is worship, service to man is service to God and this is but Western and here we have erred, erred not, blundered and this is what the Western people point out. The water of the Ganges is pure beyond doubt, but why to take to blindly all the times without explaining it properly? Can it cure fever and other diseases if we are stricken really? The priests and pundits carried over our classicism, but exploited too as for fatalism, faith and doubt, inaction, astrology, palmistry and so on regressing India. The poem has born out of such a mentality picking up what we have abandoned and discarded as poor and destitute. It contradicts Indian piety and purity, chastity and religiosity. Karma means not karma for gods and goddesses, but for the poor and the downtrodden too. If we turn away from seeing the ugly and nasty as for satyam shivam sundaram, it cannot be so. Everything good and auspicious cannot be beautiful. Written along the Western line, the poem is a contradiction of Indian mind and mentality. On seeing the lepers, poor children and women lying as destitute on the platform or the station or near the temple gate, we ask ourselves if we are really pure from our within. Where is God? Where faith? How pure is it? Is the temple not in one’s heart? Should we do something for thing? What we ought to have for them? Who to remind it of here in India, about our duties and obligations to do and execute?
In search of faith where have we come to, in search of piety and purity? Where have we in search of abuj mana and niscchal hridaya, simple, non-understanding inner mind and guileless heart? Where have we come to in search of nirmala hridaya, clean heart? But can we wash all our sins clean? Searching God, where did we not go, to Mansarovar, Kailash and the Himalayan ranges, but did we? Maybe it we applauded the scenic beauty holding us in admiration.
What did we not do in the name of religion and ethics? We exploited the poor and the downtrodden as menials, untouchables. We subjected the child widows to misery and woe. The Sati system wreaked havoc. The child marriages claimed many a precious life. The dark daughters suffered and bore the brunt of bruise. We grew fatalists and the inactive.
Hair stands on when we read the poem, Poverty Poems—2, all our thoughts and ideas freeze it the moment we the readers see the lepers as a passing scene, we hearing the song and going out of the platform with the leper music vibrating into our ears and the impact so profound and jolting that we standing dumb-stricken as for what to do, what not, where to go, which way to follow to. Let us think of those who serve them, let us feel of their priceless service.
While passing through the railway station, the poet lifted his eyes to find the lepers lying underneath a poster-ridden wall what Jayanta shows it as nameless faces scrambling at a place in Dawn at Puri. Silent as a beggar, he did not beg for, but instead of that, the author offered a coin and he took it without a glance cast over him nor did he even made the slightest gesture in acknowledgement. Perhaps he was deaf and dumb.
Deaf and dumb he too was, viewing the leper imagery and hearing the leper music. There was another on the platform singing with zest the song of God and it would be perhaps the song of Rama just like a happy saint which he was perhaps. The poet walked along leper-music holding his mind.
We generally come across such a scene at the market-place or into the streets of ours or at the temple-gates, but we try to avert and avoid our gaze from seeing them. But here Nissim is quick to pick it up to present on a wider level which the Westerners have already drawn attention towards.
Let us think, in search of sundaram, where have we come to? What is sundaram? Sundaram is not sundaram always, to turn the ugly into the beautiful. Only the search for the nocturnal mystery divine cannot be all. To adhere to unseen karma and bhoga too is not good. Unhealthy and blind thinking and adherence to them cannot take us far. Astrology and palmistry sometimes make us inactive and the astrologers and palmists turn into the thugs of some sort.
Poverty Poems—2 gives ideas, adds to our imagery, thought and reflection. Leper scenes are heart-rending and we feel dumb-stricken as and when we view, see them. The music too ruffles it all when passes through the ear drums or we come to view them singing. The picture is horrible; the imagery terrible. Nissim transforms the poem into a tragedy of life. How the images of God, the creations beyond the hand of man which a few have come to ruminate and reminisce?
In this context, the service of the Australian Christian missionary Graham Stuart Staines who used to serve leper patients was burnt to death with his sons Philip and Timothy at Odisha’s Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in 1999 come to the sight. Such a thing must be avoided and should not be let it happen again.