Treasure Island

Bijay Kant Dubey


Nissim Ezekiel (1924-2004)


Nissim Ezekiel is one such poet who suffered the alienation feeling most,
Some sort of rootlessness and uneasiness in being here
And the nativity question baffled him
As for to be called Indian
And he was not,
Indian in sentiment, feeling and emotion,
Thought, culture and tradition racially,
As his mind dwelt it afar,
Indian philosophy, spirituality, morality and ethics
Never lured him, lured him
So with its Vedism, Upanishadism and Puranism,
Nor did the things of Indology and Oriental studies
As most of the modern Indian poets are today.

A modern poet, he was of the post-1947 period, the post-fifties
As he started writing from then,
A Bombayan, a city dweller of cosmopolitan Bombay
Of airports and shipyards,
Living in Bombay and dreaming from
And the India of villages with its soul in them
Never the enchantment of Nissim,
Who chose to dwell far from
And this took him to England
And he returned back to
After spending three and a half years there,
Studying Philosophy at Birbeck College, London.

A Time To Change, Sixty Poems, The Third, The Unfinished Man, The Exact Name,
Hymns in Darkness, The Unfinished Man, Latter-Day Psalms,
The works published from time to time
Tell of his literary attainment
Into the poetic field laced with wit, irony and humour
And caricature,
Writing about Indianness and its hollow ethics,
Society, culture and jokes,
Realistic portrayal and discussion,
His understanding of India
Just like an outsider’s viewpoint.

A Maharashtrian Jew, instead of his attachment with the city of his birth,
The growing island that saw he,
He marked the nation as an alien insider
And his view was outsiderish
And if not, he was like the modern
Hollow man, shallow man,
Exulting in urbanization, industrialization and commercialization,
Talking of city life and culture,
Professorship and literary journalism continued side by side
And this added to
In getting name and fame.

Though he was a poet mostly, he wrote one slender book of playlets
And just on the basis of that thinner stuff,
We call him a playwright
And this happens in Indian English writings
As there is a dearth of
And English is a foreign tongue
And it is difficult to master a foreign language
And to be write in an alien tongue
Though many of the good oldies did not get a chance,
Nor did they dare to show
As the age had not been in their favour.

Then the people used to say, one should write in one’s own mother tongue,
But the definition changed
Drastically in the changed scenario and context,
Editor C.M.Mandy gave a chance to many of the new writers
And their bad verses
With a view to imparting strength and verve
To promote Indian English verse
And Nissim too served as an assistant editor,
Later on edited Imprint
And the Indian P.E.N.

It took time in developing, Nissim went on trying to hone in
His sporadically written verses,
Meagre in output, not at all bulky,
Some poems meaningful, some meaningless
And as thus peddled he
The stuffs of his own,
Applying modern contexts of deliberation,
Approach and assimilation,
Fact and fiction, wit and intellect,
Psychology and philosophy added to
His idea of new poetry
And he tried to think in a novel way,
Indian or un-Indian or otherwise.

We generally ask with regard to him, how far Indian is he in his
Picturisation and presentation of India, Indian ethos and milieu,
What is Indian in his poetry
And it is the theme of Indianness,
Ironical and realistic,
Which finally bails him out
And it is true he failed to understand
The ethos of India,
But has portrayed it realistically
Like a Western man,
Seeing and presenting
And cracking the joke
And humour was his spirit.

Instead of his frailties and foibles, he was a great poet
As he contributed to an evolving literature,
Came of age,
Added to realistically and ironically,
Bagged the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 and the Padma Shri in 1988
A notable acknowledgement of his creative contribution,
A formerly head of the deptt of English of Mithibhai College from 1961 to 72
Before witching over to Bombay Univ. English Deptt. fnally
And taught for a short tenure at the Univ of Leeds and the Univ of Pondicherry
As visiting professor,
A broadcaster on literature and arts for sometime for All Indian Radio,
An art critic, an editor, a prose writer he was
Writing conversationally-inspired poetry
In a very technical and spirited way.

Submitted: Monday, August 19, 2013
Edited: Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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