Nissim Ezekiel (1924-2004) was an Indian poet, actor, playwright, editor, and art critic. He is known as the father of post-independence Indian poetry in English, and his poems are included in the high school curriculum of NCERT. He was also a broadcaster and social commentator. He is a Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi cultural award winner. Ezekiel played an important role in the development of Indian poetry in English. He died on 9 January 2004 in Mumbai.
Nissim Ezekiel was born on Tuesday, 16 December 1924 (age 79 years; at the time of death). in Mumbai. His zodiac sign was Sagittarius. Nissim started his schooling at the Convent of Jesus and Mary and continued at the Antonio De Souza High School. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Wilson College, Bombay University in 1947. After graduation, he taught for a year at Khalsa College, Mumbai and freelanced for various newspapers and magazines, and worked for M. N. Roy’s Radical Democratic Party. Later, he moved to England in November 1948, where he studied philosophy at Birkbeck College, London. while studying Philosophy, Nissim enrolled in evening courses in Chinese, Western Philosophy, and Art Appreciation at the City Literary Institute. He stayed there for three and a half years and later found his way back home by working as a deck scrubber on a ship carrying arms to India and China.
Nissim Ezekiel belonged to the Marathi-speaking Jewish community, known as the Bene Israel, in Mumbai.
Parents & Siblings
His father, Moses Ezekiel Talkar, was a Botany Professor at Wilson College, Mumbai and his mother, Diana Ezekiel Talkar, was a Principal in her own school. Nissim was the third among five children, three boys, and two girls, of his parents.
Wife & Children
Nissim got married in 1952 to Daizy Jacob Dandekarand, but the couple later got separated. They had 3 kids, a son, Elkana, and two daughters, Kalpana, and Kavita.
Nissim Ezekiel followed Judaism.
Nissim began his writing in the late 1940s. In 1952, he published his first book, “A Time to Change.” In 1960, he published another volume of poems, The Deadly Man. Between 1954 and 1959, he worked as an advertising copywriter and general manager for a picture frame company. In 1961, he co-founded the literary monthly Jumpo. In 1969, at the Writers Workshop, Ezekiel published his three plays, Nalini which include Nalini, Marriage Poem, and The Sleep-walkers. 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. His main themes of writing were pathos and melancholy. His poems are used in NCERT and ICSE English textbooks. His poem ‘Background, Casually’ is considered to be the most defining poem of his literary career.
He became an art critic for The Times of India for two years, from 1964 to 1966.
He worked as an editor for Poetry India from 1966 to 1967.
From 1961 to 1972, he was the head of the English Department at Mithibai College, Bombay. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Leeds in 1964 and the University of Pondicherry in 1967.
Awards and Honours
- In 1988, he was honoured with the Padma Shri award by the President of India.
- In 1983, he won the Sahitya Akademi cultural award.
On 9 January 2004, Nissim Ezekiel died at the age of 79 in Mumbai after fighting a long battle with Alzheimer’s. He died in a nursing home. The year he passed was considered the annus horribilis of Indian poetry in English.
- He mentored many young writers like Dom Moraes, Adil Jussawalla, and Gieve Patel.
- In an interview, Nissim’s son talked about how would Nissim share his literary work with his wife, and many times, Nissim would incorporate his wife’s views in his literary work. Nissim’s son said,
Dad often showed his work-in-progress to Mum. At times, he would read out to her while she was cooking our dinner which she paused, to patiently listen, sometimes encouraging him, though not fully approving. I’ve known Dad to actually re-write his poems based on how mum reacted.”
- An Indian writer and poet, R. Rao wrote an authorised biography on Nissim Ezekiel by the name Nissim Ezekiel: The Authorized Biography in 2000.
- Ezekiel visited Paris twice, in December 1949, and in August 1951, and he wanted to settle there; however, he later quit the idea.
- During his stay in England, Ezekiel worked at the India House, the headquarters of India’s diplomatic mission to the United Kingdom, for a year. University of Hyderabad
- His favourite writer was T.S Eliot.