Nissim Ezekiel

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How might the poem "The Patriot" by Nissim Ezekiel by analyzed?

A post-colonial reading of Ezekiel's "The Patriot" might view the speaker as an example of the type of "patriot" post-colonial India should strive to emulate. This is a speaker of Indian English who sets great store by Indian influences, such as Gandhi, and Indian tastes, such as "lassi," but equally believes that "all men are brothers" and has an expansive and international outlook.

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It is easy for a speaker of British or American English to read Ezekiel's "The Patriot" and assume that the language of the speaker in the poem is incorrect or inaccurate. However, in fact, the poem is written in Indian English; the speaker notes that he is daily "reading Times...

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It is easy for a speaker of British or American English to read Ezekiel's "The Patriot" and assume that the language of the speaker in the poem is incorrect or inaccurate. However, in fact, the poem is written in Indian English; the speaker notes that he is daily "reading Times of India" to improve his English language, but a reader of that newspaper will recognize that its language differs from the English that we might be familiar with in our newspapers.

Indian English, like American English or Australian English, is a language form all of its own, and this is, in large part, what this poem is about. A post-colonial analysis of the poem enables us to view this speaker, this "patriot," as an example of an Indian living in an India that has taken on "foreign" influences, but has turned them into something else. He is a man behaving patriotically in a society which will never be what it was before it was occupied by the British Empire, but which is now becoming something else entirely.

The speaker in this poem certainly values his Indian heritage, believing that Gandhi offers the clearest route to non-violence, and that "Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct." He drinks lassi, a traditional Indian drink, and disapproves of the fact that young people are listening to "foreign" influences. There is an element of gentle irony and satire here: this speaker is speaking a foreign language and quoting foreign poets ("Friends, Romans, Countrymen") even as he criticizes the youth for listening to foreign influences. However, the point is that these elements of English culture are no longer foreign to India. Instead, they have become part of India and have been transformed into something else through their association with traditionally Indian cultural elements.

The patriotism of this speaker is the kind which allows him to strive for peace and accept that all people are "brothers," even as he seeks to create a new identity for himself as a post-colonial Indian. He is presented, ultimately, as a patriot to be admired.

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Nissem Ezekiel’s poem “The Patriot” can be – and has been – read in at least two conflicting ways: as a satire and mockery of the speaker of the poem, and as an affectionate portrayal of the poem’s speaker. According to the first view, the poem implicitly ridicules the speaker’s use of the English language, making that use seem awkward and uninformed.  According to the second view, the poem presents the speaker in such a way that we cannot help but admire him (or her) by the end of the work.  Of these two views, the second seems more convincing.  If the poem had been written to satirize and ridicule the speaker, surely Ezekiel could have made that intention clearer. Besides, little that the speaker actually says seems worthy of severe mockery. The speaker seems to be a person with a generous outlook on life and on other people.

The title of the poem is worth considering, and, by the end of that work, the title seems rich with significance. The second line of the poem seems to imply that the speaker dislikes the kind of patriotism that leads to fighting.  In the ensuing lines, however, the speaker seems to express strong Indian patriotism and rejection of non-Indian influences:

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, 
But modern generation is neglecting- 
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing. (4-9)

In the next stanza, however, we learn that the speaker reads an Indian newspaper written in English in order to improve his or her English, and so any sense of fierce Indian patriotism is undercut. The speaker’s quotation of Shakespeare in line 16 might seem part of the poem’s mockery of the speaker, or it might more plausibly be seen as an endearing touch, showing the speaker’s desire to appreciate and use the language of another culture.

Later the speaker offers his or her interlocutor an Indian drink (lassi) and proclaims that it is better than the “wine” associated with other cultures.  This proclamation might again lead us to think that the speaker is giving vent to Indian patriotism. Yet soon the speaker not only expresses misgivings about the patriotism of such other countries as Pakistan and China (30-31) but also suggests the non-patriotic idea that “All men are brothers” (34). The speaker also laments ethnic tensions among Indians themselves (35-37), suggesting a recognition that there is no limit to the narrowness of the kinds of patriotism one can observe and to the kinds of tension and conflict such patriotism can cause.

By the end of the poem, the speaker  expresses the kind of cultural open-mindedness that is not common among extreme patriots:

Still, you tolerate me, 
I tolerate you  . . . .  (39-40)

Although the speaker looks forward to a new day rooted in Indian cultural beliefs (“One day Ram Rajya is surely coming”), even later still the speaker implies an openness to contact with persons of all cultures (“I am not believing in ceremony” [45]). All in all, the speaker of the poem seems an admirable figure who takes pride in the best aspects of his/her own culture while still being able to appreciate the best aspects of other cultures, and other peoples, as well.



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