Remembering My Mentor… Nissim Ezekiel

A marvelous way, by which my husband shows his support and affection for me is when he will leave a clipping behind from a newspaper, or a magazine; such clippings usually stand for my interests in art, music, poetry, or anything that leans forward to connect with what I may be writing in the present, or, for the future.  Over my first morning tea, I found today, something cut out pronouncing the following:


“Do not write letter / without order refreshment,
Do not comb / Hair is spoiling floor,
Do not make mischief in cabin / our waiter is reporting,
Come again / All are welcome whatever caste,
If not satisfied tell us / Otherwise tell others
God is great” – Nissim Ezekiel’s Irani Restaurant Instructions.


ABRACADABRA!  The clipping waved its magic wand on me!  It clinched to bring back the days when Nissim Ezekiel and I would go together to a restaurant, in between the breaks we took when I went to the maestro at the P.E.N. Centre to show my poems.  We mostly went around 4:00 p.m. and the most appropriate illustration of the eatery was a huge talented menu covering the meaning of unending varieties of biryanis, snacks, deserts, hot and cold beverages; laughingly, I would read out thirty choices to my mentor, but, nowhere could I distract him: srikhand (sweet curd) it was and srikhand it would remain, for Nissim showed in abundance, he did not have a big appetite and he was also no great shakes at trying out anything new.  However, with the eyes of a child he would look at his dish and scoop out the taste from a spoonful, nodding satisfactorily.  Unfailingly, the waiters served the orders with an express speed.  I never saw the place lacking a crowd and I learnt, this is how it remained during most hours.


I knew, I failed to correspond with the people who ate there.  Yet, the act of going and coming to the restaurant released currents to perceive those “differences”, in depth.  The visits became notable components to break the shell in which I was used to living.  Hundred thoughts grew to become long, short clusters of rhyme; something which lay incomplete in my mind broke from its restrictions.  Distinct marks began to show in my thoughts examining the pictorial flow of scenes in the city and once a few poems were composed, I would eagerly take them back to the Professor.


We never stayed in the café very long, but the sense of floating smells, the halfway sound of a different dialect, a sudden shower of rain bringing in umbrella-less people near our table… became causes of my verse to expand – seeking poles of another world. 

Geeta Chhabra


Biryani – a rich preparation of rice combined with vegetables or meat. 


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