About the poet:
Nissim Ezekiel is known as the father of post-independence Indian-English verse. He is the one who started modernity in Indian-English poetry. His simple, conversational style has influenced many later Indian English poets.
Poet, dramatist, editor, as well as art-critic, Nissim Ezekiel was born on 14th December 1924 in Mumbai. His father, Moses Ezekiel, was a professor of Botany at Wilson College, and his mother was the principal of her own school. The Ezekiels belonged to Mumbai’s Jewish community, commonly known as the ‘Bene Israel.’ In 1947, Ezekiel took his MA in English Literature from Mumbai University. Thereafter he studied philosophy at Birbeck College, London.
Ezekiel’s other poetry collections are The Third (1959), The Unfinished Man (1960), The Exact Name (1965), Snakeskin and Other Poems (1974), Hymns in Darkness (1976), Latter-Day Psalms (1982), and Collected Poems 1952-88 (1989).
The honors that Ezekiel received are: the Sahitya Akademi award in 1983 and the Padma Shri in 1988. After a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Nissim Ezekiel died in Mumbai on 9th January 2004.
About The Professor:
“The Professor” is written in the form of an imaginary encounter between a retired professor and his former student. It is also a satire on Indian English.
The Setting of The Professor:
This poem is set in a road near the house of the professor mentioned in the title. He suddenly meets a former student of his on the road and this leads him to become nostalgic about the past, to comment on the present, and to tell his student to come and visit him at some point in the future.
Summary of The Professor:
The poem consists of 35 lines in total. These lines are not divided into stanzas. Here they are divided into meaningful segments in order to make the poem easier to follow and understand.
Lines 1 – 3:
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.
In these lines, the professor asks his former student whether he remembers who this man he has met is. Then the professor introduces himself in a bid to jog his student’s memory and says that he is Professor Sheth. He also reminds his student that he had been a teacher of geography and had taught him that subject as well. At present, he says that he is retired. Generally, when a person retires, he is above the age of 60 and his health has started failing. However, Professor Sheth is an exception to this rule. He says that his health is quite good, unlike his wife’s, who has passed away a few years ago.
Lines 4 – 8:
By God’s grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
In these lines, professor Sheth goes on to talk about his children. He says that all of them have found some amount of financial security in life. One of his sons works under the designation of Sales Manager, and another under the designation of Bank Manager. In addition to this, both of those sons also have cars.
Lines 9 – 10:
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
In these lines, Professor Sheth talks about his third son. He says that the third son has not done badly in life, but has not been as successful as his brothers. The third son is, in fact, the black sheep of the family or the person who has not lived up to the reputation of the family.
Lines 11 – 13:
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won’t believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
In these lines, Professor Sheth talks about his daughters and what their lives have turned out like. He says that both of his daughters, who are named Sarala and Tarala, have got married, and he is quite fond of both their husbands. In total, all of his children together have provided him with eleven grandchildren, which he believes to be quite extraordinary and which he can’t quite believe himself.
Lines 14 – 16:
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.
In these lines, Professor Sheth asks some polite questions to his former student about his life. The professor asks how many children he has, and gets to know that he has only three children (as opposed to the five children that Professor Sheth himself has fathered). In response, the professor says that family planning is now causing fewer children to be born into families. However, it is not that the professor is opposed to the notion of family planning. It is just a relatively new concept, and he feels that he must accept it if he is to move with the rapidly changing times.
Lines 17 – 20:
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.
In these lines, the professor speaks in general about how fast time is moving. As a result of this, the whole world, including India, is undergoing massive changes. India is, in fact, not having trouble keeping up with this pace of change. Its development is happening at quite a remarkable speed. The values that had been important to his generation are being replaced y other new values in the current generation. All these changes are happening not in a continuous and eventual course, but through discontinuous spurts.
Lines 21 – 25:
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.
In these lines, Professor Sheth’s focus comes back to his own life. He says that he doesn’t go out as frequently as he used to, for he doesn’t always have the energy to do so anymore. This is a natural consequence of growing old. However, as he has stressed earlier as well, his health has not yet failed. He has certain pains in his body, but no serious diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure or ailments of the heart. He speculates that he is not suffering from such diseases now because he had been very disciplined in his youth and had not indulged in any bad habits.
Lines 26 – 29:
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
In these lines, Professor Sheth asks his former student how his health has been. When he hears that the student has also been keeping well, he is glad. He then says that he himself is 69 years old at present, and hopes to live to be 100 years old.
Lines 30 – 32:
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
In these lines, the professor remembers how his former student had been very thin in his student life, and almost resembled a stick in his appearance. However, now he has both gained weight and has also become an important person in his line of work. In this context, the professor makes a joke using the double meaning o the word “weight” and is quite proud of this attempt at humor as well.
Lines 33 – 35:
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house’s backside.
In these lines, Professor Sheth tells his former student that if he is in the vicinity again, he must visit the professor’s house, which he feels is rather modest in appearance and nothing too grand. Then to indicate exactly where his house is located, the professor says that it can be found behind the house that opposite which they are standing at present.