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Nissim Ezekiel’s poem Enterprise is the product of an individual who left home for greener pastures only to find that his point of origin was where he probably should have remained. Having left his native India to live in England – and this was during the period when Great Britain was relinquishing its colonial hold on the Indian subcontinent – Ezekiel would accept the most menial jobs to earn passage back to India. One can easily speculate that Enterprise has its origins in that experience. An intellectual raised by career academics, he was particularly well-read and caught up in the politics of the time, and no doubt believed London would be more suited to his academic and political interests than post-colonial Bombay (now called Mumbai), especially given the enormous scale of political and religious violence that broke out between India’s Hindus and Muslims after the British left. In short, England almost certainly held greater promise for a young, aspiring intellectual than India. In that vein, one can examine his poem Enterprise as a mantra against going blindly into the night.
Enterprise details a group’s journey across a vast desert, everyone optimistic and excited, towards a better destination. As Ezekiel wrote in his first stanza:
It started as a pilgrimage,
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light.
Very quickly, however, the poem assumes a bleaker tone, as the hardships associated with a trek across the hot, dry desert begins to take its toll on the group, with the initial optimism giving way to dissension and disunity:
But when the differences arose
On how to cross a desert patch,
We lost a friend whose stylish prose
Was quite the best of all our batch.
A shadow falls on us and grows.
As the remaining members of the group finally reach their destination, the initial sense of euphoria accompanying the beginning of a new phase in life is completely demolished, replaced with an unremitting sense of despair:
When, finally, we reached the place,
We hardly knew why we were there.
The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace.
The basic message Ezekiel conveys in Enterprise is one of acceptance with one’s place of origin. It may not be perfect, but it is home, and visions of greener pastures across the ocean or desert may very well not materialize.
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