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Critical Appreciation of the poem Background, Casually

Critical Appreciation of Background, Casually

Critical Appreciation of Background, Casually


The poem entitled Background, Casually is one of the several geographical poems that Ezekiel has written. This poem appeared in the Hymns in Darkness, sixth volume of poems. This volume was published in 1976. In this poem, the poet recounts some of the experiences of his life from his boyhood onwards. It is a testimonial to he poet’s innate Indianness and his commitment to India. In it, the poet reflects upon his success and failures. His love for the earth finds an expression in the poem. He affirms his Indianness and the fact that his roots are deeply embedded in the Indian diaspora.


When the poet grew up, he went to school. He was not a Christian but a Jew. So, the Christian boys were unkind to him. They thought that he had killed Christ. The Christian boys had not Christian charity, the Muslim boys too were inconsiderate to him. The poet ironically describes the feeling of religion of communal discrimination in India. The Hindus too were equally unkind. They were great bullies but they terrorised Ezekiel. He looked down upon them, for their preposition was always wrong and they were dull and passive. One day, he had to use his knife to defend himself in a noisy quarrel. One Friday nights, there were prayers at home and he was told about his wickedness. He heard the preaching of Hindu yogis and of Jewish priests but nothing could improve him and instill religious zeal into him. In London, he lived all alone for two years. He lived a hard and cheerless life there. He was sad and miserable. He was aware of his failure in everything. Indeed it was a bitter realisation. On his return to India he was a total failure. He had studied a hit of philosophy, which was of nose in real life. His study of philosophy added to his own exasperation. How to adjust his circumstances was a serious problem. He was in utter confusion. Next the poet expresses his complete identification with India. He dreamt only of words which, he felt, could not betray. He continued to compose poems till he lost grip on worldly reality and missed the wordily prize. Opportunities in life made him a poet. He was fully dedicated to poetry as profession. People may call him a fool but he does not care for them. He makes the best use of his inner tensions and frustrations, and also of the failures and difficulties. The poet is committed to his chosen profession poetry. He is also committed to India and to Mumbai, the city of his choice. He is proud of Indian environment.

Autobiographical Elements

There is a plenty of itemized biography in the poem, and the background-the past-has been elaborated at some length. The poet depicts his childhood. He says that when he was a child, he was easily frightened. He could not learn the art of flying a kit or making a top spin. He was so poor that the could not afford to buy any toys of his own. He depicts his school days. He was sent to study at a Roman Catholic school where he learnt his lessons by heart but where he was callously treated by his school fellows. The Christians accused him of belonging to the race which had been responsible for the Crucification of Jesus Christ. He recalls the moment when he won a prize due to learning the Old and the New Testament. He was overwhelmed with joy but his joy was momentive when one of the Muslim boys gave him beating. Once when he was being teased and tormented by his school fellows, he used a knife against one of them in sheer desperation. He remembers the lonely moments spent in London for two years. During his stay in London, he also acquainted with a woman who made him conscious of his manhood. He remembers how he had to undertake mental jobs at Cargo-ship to pay the fare to the passage to India. He recalls a Major of British army. He remembers how his carefree and spontaneous manner of writing poetry led to his losing his grip on things and he then decided not to continue with that facile manner of writing but to adopt a more worldly style.

His Great Devotion for India

Poet’s devotion to the country and the city of his choice is just as great as his commitment to his profession. The climate is too hot for him it sears his eyes, but he manages to survive the heat and the squalor, much to surprise of his foreigner friends, who visit him, or who write to him. But he feels that these friends make much of the difficulties, and he feels that whatever the difficulties may be they are an integral part of the country and has accepted them with grace. He is proud of his country and its environment. He has made a decision to make India his home. He has depicted the city of Bombay very realistically and with lot emotions, in his work.

Style and Language

This poem is confessional and autobiographical work. It is a long poem which consists of three sections, each section consisting of five stanza of five lines each. The first section begins in a tone of light banter in the third person. The following lines are partly amusing but largely moving and poignant-


Poverty and poetry, three

Companions shared my basement room,

His entire poem is suffused with Indianess. His commitment to India and Bombay which is his chosen home is total. The poet graphically describes of the experiences of his life.

Alienation and Search for Identity

Born in a Bene-Israel family which migrated to India generations ago, Ezekiel is alienated from the cultural heritage of India. The poem provides an example of cultural and social alienation-

“My ancestors among the castes

Were aliens crushing seed for bread.”

As a schoolboy he felt alienated among his class-mates. He went to a Roman Catholic School

“A mugging Jew among the wolves.

They told me I had killed the Christ”.

He was an alien among both Muslims and Hindus. The poet once said, “My background makes me a natural outsider-circumstances and decisions relate me to India.” At the same time the poet’s alienation from his own minority religious ethos also appears to have begun quite early, as his confession in the following lines would indicate-

“At home on Friday nights the prayers

Were said My morals had declined.

I heard of Yoga and of Zen.

Could I perhaps, be rabbis-saint?

The more I searched, the less I found

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