“Enterprise” written by Nissim Ezekiel was published in his 1960 collection The Unfinished Man. The poem follows a group of people on a “pilgrimage” whose long trek begins with a strong sense of purpose but ends in devastation and disillusionment. The pilgrims, who come across as idealistic yet somewhat naive and ill-prepared, get so beaten down by their journey that, once they reach their destination, they don’t even remember why they’re there. The poem has been read as an allegory for a number of things (including the journey of life itself, India’s emergence from the grip of colonial rule, and the flaws of organized religion). Above all, it speaks to the way that idealism can falter in the face of reality, the divisive nature of pride, and the value of focusing on the journey rather than the destination. It is one of those wonderful poems published in Ezekiel’s collection of poems named “The Unfinished Man’. It revolves around a metaphorical journey to a pilgrimage started by some enthusiastic people, including poet.
“Enterprise” is a satiric poem with a moral. It deals with pilgrimages which serve no useful purpose. The poet suggests that religious pilgrimages are a waste and snobbish. In ‘Enterprise’ which contains the two central metaphors of his poetry – pilgrimage and home – Ezekiel reveals his attitude of commitment. Besides, according to him, to please God one need not go on pilgrimages as He is within.
The poem is in the form of a narrative. The narrator, the poet explains how he and some others started on a pilgrimage. The aim of the pilgrimage was to ennoble the minds and to make the burdens light. The pilgrimage had no hitch, to start with. While, at the second stage, they did not know whether they got a call at all. Obviously, they had started casually, and impulsively. It was very hot and they were unable to beat the heat. Thus they were physically unfit for the pilgrimage. The pilgrims visited various places of interest on the way and took down notes on the very humdrum aspects of life and on curiosities. Thus, ironically, the pilgrimage had started with a distraction. Obviously, the pilgrims had misunderstood their mission. Soon, differences arose among the members of the team over silly matters. The best intellectual among them left the team egotistically. This made the team gloomy.
After the best intellectual left the team, the division in the team grew day by day. Obviously a religious man must be humble. Egotism cannot exalt the mind. On another day, the group was attacked twice and they lost their way. One section of the pilgrims lost faith in the leadership and tried to form a separate group. The leader was helpless and he said that he was ‘smelling a sea of problems’. The narrator could only pray. The group of pilgrims had now become listless. They could see nothing. They were a scattered crowd with no hope. They had also exhausted all their essential provisions like soap. Some had lost their hope and others were merely bent by the problems.
Atlast, the pilgrims reached the place of pilgrimage. They did not know why they went there. They had lost face in the trip. They discovered that their deeds were ordinary and common placed. The narrator discovered that we can get God’s grace at home. Serving one’s own family by practising virtues at home is the way to please God. After all, charity begins at home.
The poem is full of irony. People who wanted to exalt their minds became mean. The pilgrims wanted the pilgrimage to lighten their burden. But the pilgrimage itself became a burden. Ironically the leader was helpless. The anti-climax was reached when the pilgrims did not know why they arrived ‘there’. Obviously, without faith and unity of purpose, God can never be reached. Ezekiel’s choice of title for this poem is the surest way of making readers feel the pinch of irony. In the gap between the beginning and the end of the poem lies irony: the beginning harping on the purpose, quite sanctimonious and dignified; the end reflecting the utter purposelessness of the journey. The seriousness and the sense of purity and sincerity with which the journey began are lost in the end, as the poet’s intention is to expose the spiritual vacancy of the city-dwellers. These so-called pilgrims in “Enterprise” do not understand the spiritual significance of the thunder. At the end of an enterprise, one is rewarded with a rare sense of delight, one feels elevated; but here in this poem the enterprise ends in purposelessness, and all the participants wear a “darkened face.” Irony reaches climax when the meaninglessness of the enterprise is revealed: “When finally we reached the place/ we hardly knew why we were there”.
The entire poem is about the activities that took place in the journey and the journey is reflective of the journey of life. So, the word, ‘Enterprise’, being a more comprehensive term than ‘journey’ or ‘pilgrimage’ is an appropriate title for the poem. Hence, the title is justified. Thus it can be said that the journey at once becomes a metaphor for life. In the rat race of competition, principles and ethics are quite often side-stepped. We live life to achieve some prescribed goal. However, as we carry on, we tend to become so obsessed with the target, that the means does not matter at all: the End is only the ends. Besides,the poet echoes that in the race to be successful, people have lost the inner meaning of life, and live life only on the topographical or superficial level, The theme that is echoed in Farhan Akthar’s movie “Rock On”. People have forsaken the simple joys of life; they tend to ignore life’s basic experiences/teachings. The spiritual enigma of life is not a matter of concern for them. ‘Home’ or self-discovery resides within each individual. It is primarily subjective, and not objective.
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