Nissim Ezekiel was an Indian Jewish poet, playwright, editor and art-critic. He was a foundational figure in postcolonial India's literary history, specifically for Indian writing in English.
He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 for his Poetry collection, "Latter-Day Psalms", by the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters.
Ezekiel was born on 16 December 1924 in Bombay (Maharashtra). His father, Moses Ezekiel, was a professor of botany at Wilson College, and his mother was principal of her own school. The Ezekiels belonged to Mumbai's Jewish community, known as the 'Bene Israel' . In 1947, Ezekiel earned a BA in Literature from Wilson College, Mumbai, University of Mumbai. In 1947-48, he taught English literature and published literary articles. After dabbling in radical politics for a while, he sailed to England in November 1948. He studied philosophy at Birkbeck College, London. After three and a half years stay, Ezekiel worked his way home as a deck-scrubber aboard a ship carrying arms to Indochina.
He married Daisy Jacob in 1952. In the same year, Fortune Press published his first collection of poetry, The Bad Day. He joined The Illustrated Weekly of India as an assistant editor in 1953 and stayed there for two years. Soon after his return from London, he published his second book of verse Ten Poems. For the next 10 years, he also worked as a broadcaster on Art and literature for All India Radio.
Ezekiel's first book, The Bad Day, appeared in 1952. He published another volume of poems, The Deadly Man in 1960. 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 Names 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 1967, while in America, he experimented with LSD. In 1969, Writers Workshop, Kozhikode published his The Damn Plays. A year later, he presented an art series of ten programmes for Indian television. In 1976, he translated Jawarharlal Nehru poetry from Marathi, in collaboration with Vrinda Nabar, and co-edited a fiction and poetry anthology. His poem The Night Of The Scorpion is used as study material in Indian and Columbian schools. Ezekiel also penned poems in ‘Indian English’ like the one based on instruction boards in his favourite Irani café. His poems are used in NCERT English textbooks.
I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi
Unsuitable for song as well as sense
the island flowers into slums
and skyscrapers, reflecting
precisely the growth of my mind.