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.
By God’s grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won’t believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
Whole world is changing. In India also
We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
Old values are going, new values are coming.
Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping? Nicely?
I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house’s backside.
I have just come upon this poem by the well known Indian poet Nissim Ezekiel .I am struck by the simple beauty of the poem with its hilarious Indianisms , if we can call basically Indian cultural expressions that. This is not about English grammar but the flavor Indian cultural attitudes lend to the English language.
1) “Now I am retired, though my health is good ”
That is an expression which may leave an Englishman perplexed. But to an Indian or someone familiar with the Indian ethos, it is a perfectly normal expression.
Know that he has not retired but is retired. Which means he is healthy enough to continue to work for another decade or so. But a silly service rule retires everyone at sixty on the basic assumption that one cannot discharge normal duties after sixty, a rule from an archaic rule book made when the life expectancy was extremely low.
2) One is sales manager/One is bank manager. Both have cars.
Know that both are Managers and have cars. Some years ago , a Manager’s position , Sales Manager or Bank Manager was a prestigious one and in the times when most had only scooters , it was a big deal to have cars. Parents flaunt their children’s high status in the society . Whether or not one asked about the children they would announce their status- a cultural trait so typical about a middle class parent.
3) How many issues you have? Three?
It is typical Indian English to call children issues. When some one has three children they will say he has three issues – something official about it.
4) How is your health keeping? Nicely? I am happy for that.
Grammar purists may not approve of such usages but it conveys a lot more than a formal “how do you do ” or some such expression. There is warmth in this more informal inquiry about other’s health and expression of happiness about all being well and good with the other person.
5) This year I am sixty nine and hope to score a century.
Look at the cricket term : score a century. In cricket- crazy India cricket terminology is routinely used as part of everyday conversation.
6) You were so thin like stick..Now you are man of weight and consequence
Old man has his tongue in his cheek. Thin like a stick is a typical Indian expression. Man of weight refers to new prosperity acquired and the consequent body weight.
7) I am living on opposite house’s backside
An Englishman will be zapped by the complicated coordinates of the house. Someone familiar with the layouts of the Indian streets will understand the location quickly . And there is no better way of conveying the location. The English language is enriched by the improvisations made by an Indian English speaker .
Some interesting usages in Indian English are reflected in this poem , which shows how keen an observer of human nature the poet is.
I am Professor Sheth
(Note he introduces himself as Professor Sheth. Once a Professor, always a Professor)
Once I taught you geography
(Note the usage “once”)
Sarla and Tarala are married /Their husbands are very nice boys;
(All these family details he is telling someone he meets after a gap of several years , whom he knew only as student years ago. In India it is not unusual to tell about oneself and about family even when you meet someone whom you know only briefly)
You won’t believe but I have eleven grandchildren ..
(“You won’t believe” is a typical Indian way of trying to arouse the other’s curiosity ).
Their husbands are nice boys..
(An affectionate way of referring to sons-in-law)
Our progress is progressing.
(Our progress , like per capita growth of GDP etc. is moving slowly and has not reached the desirable level : an indirect way of saying we are developing but not developed yet)
The narrative has some more platitudes:
Every family must have black sheep
We have to change with times, etc
The Indian elder uses platitudes in his talk with the youngsters liberally.
One wonders how a plain narrative like this can be called poetry. It has no imagery or nor does it invoke sensory impressions . Yet it is a poem for the speech rhythm it uses with a delicious irony that runs throughout the poem. The old man has met an ex-student after a long time , may be after several decades and yet launches into a monologue as if with someone he has had a long standing relationship. As with most Indian elders this one is a compulsive talker who does not leave a chance to chat with people if it presents itself on the road. The social intercourse that takes place here is one-sided and the younger man remains a mute listener.
The irony arises from the fact that neither the speaker nor the listener has English as his mother tongue. Yet both use English to talk to each other , interspersed with cultural expressions used in their mother tongues. e.g I am living on opposite house’s backside.