Nissim Ezekiel

Nissim Ezekiel
Born (1924-12-16)16 December 1924
Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India
Died 9 January 2004(2004-01-09) (aged 79)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Occupation Poet, playwright, art critic, editor
Nationality Indian
Period 1952–2004
Genre Modern Indian English Poetry
Notable work Night of the Scorpion; Latter Day Psalms
Notable awards Padmashri 1988 , Sahitya Akademi 1983

Nissim Ezekiel (16 December 1924 – 9 January 2004) [1] was an Indian Jewish poet, actor, playwright, editor and art critic.[2] He was a foundational figure[3] in postcolonial India's literary history, specifically for Indian Poetry in English.[4]

He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 for his collection, "Latter-Day Psalms", by the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters.[5] Ezekiel has been applauded for his subtle, restrained and well crafted diction, dealing with common and mundane (simple) themes in a manner that manifests both cognitive profundity, as well as an unsentimental, realistic sensibility, that has been influential on the course of succeeding Indian English poetry. Ezekiel enriched and established Indian English language poetry through his modernist innovations and techniques, which enlarged Indian English literature, moving it beyond purely spiritual and orientalist themes, to include a wider range of concerns and interests, including familial events, individual angst and skeptical societal introspection.[6]

Early life

Ezekiel was born on 16 December 1924 in Bombay (Mumbai) in Maharashtra. His father was a professor of botany at Wilson College, and his mother was principal of her own school. The Ezekiels belonged to Mumbai's Marathi-speaking Jewish community known as the Bene Israel.[7]

In 1947, Ezekiel earned a BA in Literature from Wilson College, Mumbai, Bombay University. In 1947-48, he taught English literature and published literary articles.[8] After dabbling in politics for a while, he sailed to England in November 1948. He studied philosophy at Birkbeck College, London. After three and a half years, Ezekiel worked his way home as a deck-scrubber aboard a ship carrying arms to Indochina.[9]


Ezekiel's first book,[10] A Time to change, appeared in 1952. He published another volume of poems, The deadly man in 1960.[11] After working as an advertising copywriter and general manager of a picture frame company (1954–59), he co-founded the literary monthly Jumpo, in 1961. He became art critic of The Times of India (1964–66) and edited Poetry India (1966–67). From 1961 to 1972, he headed the English department of Mithibai College, Bombay. The Exact Name, his fifth book of poetry, was published in 1965. During this period he held short-term tenure as visiting professor at University of Leeds (1964) and University of Pondicherry (1967). In 1969, at the Writers Workshop, Ezekiel[12] published his Three Plays which includes Nalini, Marriage Poem, The Sleep-walkers.[13] A year later, he presented an art series of ten programmes for Indian television. In 1976, he translated Jawaharlal Nehru's poetry from English to Marathi, in collaboration with Vrinda Nabar, and co-edited a fiction and poetry anthology.[14] His poem The Night of the Scorpion is used[15] as study material[16] in Indian and Colombian schools. Ezekiel also penned poems in ‘Indian English’ [17] like the one based on instruction boards in his favourite Irani café. His poems are used[18] in NCERT and ICSE English textbooks. His poem 'Background, Casually' is considered to be the most defining poem of his poetic and personal career.

Nissim Ezekiel is often considered the father of Modern Indian English poetry by many critics.[19][20][21][22]

He was honoured with the Padmashri award by the President of India in 1988 and the Sahitya Akademi cultural award in 1983.[23]


He edited The Indian P.E.N., official organ of P.E.N. All-India Centre, Bombay from The Theosophy Hall, New Marine Lines, and encouraged poets and writers.[24]


After a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Nissim Ezekiel died in Mumbai, on 9 January 2004 (aged 79).[25][26][27]

Books by Ezekiel



  • 1992: Selected Prose [31]
  • Naipaul's India and mine- an essay[32]



  • The Couple
  • Enterprise[33]
  • A Time to Change
  • Philosophy
  • Island
  • For Elkana
  • The Professor
  • Soap
  • Marriage
  • In the country cott
  • How the english lessons ended
  • The Paradise Flycatcher
  • Night of The Scorpion
  • Goodbye party for Miss Pushpa T.S.
  • Entertainment (was the best of one)
  • “Background, Casually”
  • Poet, Lover and Birdwatcher[34]

Appearances in the following poetry Anthologies

Further reading

  • R. Raj Rao, Nissim Ezekiel: The Authorized Biography (Viking, 2000)
  • Sanjit Mishra, The Poetic Art of Nissim Ezekiel ( Atlantic, 2001)

See also


  1. ^ "'Nissim Ezekiel' by R. Raj Rao". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  2. ^ Joffe, Lawrence (9 March 2004). "Nissim Ezekiel Gifted poet nurturing English-language verse in India". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  3. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel Biography and latest books by Nissim Ezekiel". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  4. ^ "A Life in Verse: Honouring Nissim Ezekiel on His Birth Anniversary". 15 December 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Sahitya Akademi Award - English (Official listings)". Sahitya Akademi. Archived from the original on 11 June 2010.
  6. ^ "Indian Writing in English- Nissim Ezekiel". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  7. ^ Joffe, Lawrence (9 March 2004). "Obituary: Nissim Ezekiel". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Indian Sense and Sensibility in Nissim Ezekiel's Poems" (PDF). Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  9. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's biography: Second edition to be launched on 92nd birth anniversary". 15 December 2016. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  10. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel Biography". 30 January 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Themes Of Postmodernism In Nissim Ezekiels Poems English Literature Essay". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  12. ^ "Remembering Nissim Ezekiel". The Hindu. 6 September 2008. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  13. ^ Blackwell, Fritz (1976). "Four Plays of Nissim Ezekiel". Journal of South Asian Literature. 11 (3/4): 265–272. ISSN 0091-5637. JSTOR 40873478.
  14. ^ "Summary of "Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher" by Nissim Ezekiel". 17 May 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  15. ^ "Analysis of Poem "Night of the Scorpion" by Nissim Ezekiel". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  16. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's Night of the Scorpion: Summary & Analysis". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  17. ^ "Indianness in the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  18. ^ "Night of Scorpion – Nissim Ezekiel". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  19. ^ Dulai, Surjit S. (2000). "NISSIM EZEKIEL and the Evolution of Modern Indian English Poetry : A Chronology". Journal of South Asian Literature. 35 (1/2): 178–191. JSTOR 40873767.
  20. ^ Verghese, C. Paul (1972). "The Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel". Indian Literature. 15 (1): 63–75. JSTOR 23329802.
  21. ^ Dwivedi, A. N. (1992). "Modernity in Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry". World Literature Today. 66 (3): 432–434. doi:10.2307/40148360. JSTOR 40148360.
  22. ^ Dulai, Surjit S. (2000). "NISSIM EZEKIEL : The Father of Contemporary Indian English Poetry". Journal of South Asian Literature. 35 (1/2): 123–177. JSTOR 40873766.
  23. ^ "Poets who took Indian poetry to the next level". 21 March 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  24. ^ "The Indian P.E.N". Google Books. 1978. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  25. ^ "Prof. K V DOMINIC".
  26. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel passes away". The Hindu. 11 January 2004. Archived from the original on 24 March 2005. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  27. ^ "A Life in Verse: Honouring Nissim Ezekiel on His Birth Anniversary". 15 December 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i [1] Kumar, Jai, "Obituary: Nissim Ezekiel", The Independent, 26 March 2004, accessed via Find Articles/LookSmart Ltd. Web site, accessed 16 October 2007
  29. ^ Verghese, C. Paul (1971). "Three Plays by Nissim Ezekiel". Indian Literature. 14 (2): 92–94. JSTOR 23329837.
  30. ^ "Don't Call it Suicide" (PDF). Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  31. ^ Selected prose : Nissim Ezekiel. OCLC 28328073.
  32. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's classic review of V. S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness". Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  33. ^ "Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel". 27 July 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  34. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher". 3 October 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  35. ^ "Rubana Huq, ed. The Golden Treasury of Writers Workshop Poetry. Review : ASIATIC, VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1, JUNE 2009". Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  36. ^ "Ten 20th Century Indian Poets". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  37. ^ "The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  38. ^ "Book review: 'Twelve Modern Indian Poets' by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra". Retrieved 23 August 2018.

External links