Literary Shelf

Enterprise: Poem by Nissim Ezekiel

It started as a pilgrimage
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light, The second stage
Explored but did not test the call.
The sun beat down to match our rage. 5

We stood it very well, I thought ,
Observed and put down copious notes
On things the peasants sold and bought
The way of serpents and of goats.
Three cities where a sage had taught  10

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 . 15

Another phase was reached when we
Were twice attacked, and lost our way.
A section claimed its liberty
To leave the group. I tried to pray .
Our leader said he smelt  the sea 20

We noticed nothing as we went,
A straggling crowd of little hope,
Ignoring what the thunder meant ,
Deprived of common needs like soap.
Some were broken, some merely bent. 25

When, finally, we reached the place ,
We hardly know 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.

United we stand, divided we fall, is the precept with which the whole edifice of the enterprise is built upon and the moment the fissures and frictions start raking it, the establishment begins to totter and fall one by one and the same is carried forward here in this poem titled, Enterprise.  When the enterprise saw the light of the day, the like-minded people collaborating with one another lent a hand to establish it and did the works with so much cordiality and co-ordination to put the venture on a footing of its own sparing so much of their precious time and labour. But there came a stage when suspense started clawing at, doubts cracked the walls of its foundation, whispers went viral, viruses of distrust affected them badly and the plasters of mutual trust came up for utter scrutiny, critical purview and disintegration, as the dry flakes started scattering as crusts.

This is when an industry is started, an enterprise made with its own prospering time to give, standing in expectation to the industry developed and financially established, labour given, efforts made and the things supervised provided there is some good will nurturing it. But there also comes a time when mutual distrust makes forays into it; whispers do the rounds and the establishment comes to a halt to be in shambles or productions stopped. This is but human nature, human frailty. Man is not above his nature and shortcomings and these are inherent in him.

Nissim Ezekiel in a very holy and allegorical way starts the discussion to make us understand the value of good thoughts and ideas, noble minds and hearts while doing one thing or taking to one’s own understanding, but there lie in the weaknesses of man planning for his fall. It is easy to disintegrate, but it is very difficult to enjoin. To see it in the Tolstoyan terms, if good virtues continue to nourish, as his stories tell us, it will last and if the bad things start taking over, the whole industry will topple and fall down. Kabir also asks of keeping the critic in his house making him seated in a cottage built for him especially, but he should be good and constructive, not the bad critic. Nissim has also perhaps tried to learn through the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins. But has not given any scope to the doubting Thomases. Had it been Indian Trishankus, Three-forked  Skeptical Ones with ‘Tin ticket mahawickat’ (Three tickets a mismatch) great danger theory, it would have wreaked havoc with these rustic background astronomical and palmistry believing inactive, fatalistic, idle-seeking superstitious and suspicious people.

We are also made to believe, as if we were undertaking a pilgrimage, as the story of the poem is illustrated in an allegorical way, telling us about the nurturing of good moral thoughts and ideas, be it any sphere of life. The integrity of character, the solidarity of understanding and the desire of standing together with are all important in life rather than dismissing it at one go all that is good in us which is but easy to break, but difficult to recreate. There is something of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in it, something of Kolatkar’s Jejuri.

The enterprise starts with a promise and hope wishing to cater to the needs and demands and establishing as a new venture or set-up, members lend a hand to it as for whatever they can for its well-being. Just like the pilgrims they set out on the journey of the enterprise taking it as a noble challenge. The minds already in exaltation of doing or furthering it cross over the things lightly which it may come onto its way, lightening the burden of each other and keeping the novice industry in mind.

The second stage explores the possibilities rather than bothering about the test of the call. The sun beats down to match the rage and they make the sweat for to be borne for it. Standing together with, they try to bear it down vicissitudes with so much so fortitude. They maintain the ledger books and notes keeping the account of all that spent or delivered or produced calculating it in the best possible manner the balances, profits and expenses whatever the peasants buy or take to, entering in the minutest way as the goats and serpents go the way, visiting three cities where the good sage lessoned he and deriving from his precepts.

Apart from the enterprise running, doing the rounds, doubts and suspense start creeping into and seem to be on the prowl like the beasts of prey. Differences start, rifts widen among the members when there arises a problem with regard to crossing it over, that is how to cross the desert patch and in tackling it, the friends as members for the industry, miss a fellow so famed for his stylish prose and clear handling who is perhaps in the words of the writer the best of their batch. As shadow beings to fall over them and grows it deeper to strike, they start leaving the company one by one.

This is not the end of the story, what it happens during the pilgrimage is more interesting than the make-believe things as the people like it not to tell the real things. Another phase is reached as a milestone when some of the members are attacked and they lose their ways. A section claims liberty and declares them independent and leaves the group. The poet tries to pray so that the things may be patched up. The leader of the group smells the sea to cross over to. But the other members see it nothing but a staggering crowd of little hope, ignoring what did it the thunder say it, he deprives of even small necessities. Some take it very bad and feel broken inwardly while keeping them bent and lowly to hear all that what one likes to as his a time to say and the business too is a collective venture.

When the pilgrimage reaches the final stage, they find it that it is good for nothing. They hardly come to feel it why they are actually there. The trip darkens the face of everybody as their deeds had been neither great nor rare. The home is there where there is grace, where there is peace and happiness and if it is not then that is not a home even after being a home. That house does not remain a house, that establishment not an establishment if quarrels rake it badly and the members keep blaming and conspiring against one another. There must be some reasons for bonding and trust which must fasten it altogether, but we as human beings fail to keep it up.

Enterprise is really a very good poem from Nissim Ezekiel. This life is like a pilgrimage or everything that do we will be done if our intentions are noble and good and if not, the work will not be executed so is the case with here. Every work that we start must look like a pilgrimage, every enterprise that we collaborate with  will run as long as our intentions are clear held by mutual trust, faith and bonding and the moment mistrust creeps in or somebody does it the backbiting to be taken into, the industry will start tottering and coming to a close unexpectedly. As long as we are good and noble, the things will flourish and prosper and the moment grow we suspicious of each other, the bonding will come to a naught.

Really, Nissim Ezekiel outwits us here with his wit and humour not, but with allegory and metaphor, his sense of knowledge and wisdom, virtue and judgement. Where does it lie in virtue really? What is it goodness? How to be charitable and philanthropic? There is something in it which it is in George Herbert and John Bunyan. How to be right and dutiful? How to take good counsel into confidence? How to be a man?

Let us see what it remains in the end, the residues of meaning:

The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace.

The journey which is started with good hope does not remain it unto the end as because it is but human nature and so the change of our taste. His mind and mood, heart and nobility too change it under the situations and circumstances. Few can really stand before. He is really a pilgrim who takes it just as a pilgrimage every work of life, personal or impersonal.

It is not the Indian sage whose counsel Nissim would have minded to take into consideration; it is definitely the Western counsel, wisdom that he counts upon here in this poem so beautifully explained and so allegorically narrated.

Enterprise as a poem from Nissim Ezekiel, so metaphorical and so much allegorical, outdoes it other poems in terms of wisdom that it lessons, jurisprudence it teaches, vision it lends to. The poem gives us a good moral advice with the virtues held aloft. Why did the enterprise gather a momentum as they braved it all in making it stand? And why did it fall? It failed for lack of trust, confidence and goodness of heart.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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Views: 14460      Comments: 3

Comment It is very helpful

Leyong Lepcha
14-Nov-2021 08:24 AM

Comment It is very helpful

Leyong Lepcha
14-Nov-2021 08:24 AM

Comment it is always good and helpful.

amardeep minj
01-Jul-2021 00:55 AM

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