Nissim Ezekiel (16 December 1924 – 9 January 2004) [1] was an Indian 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]

Nissim Ezekiel
Born(1924-12-16)16 December 1924
Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India
(now Mumbai, Maharashtra, India)
Died9 January 2004(2004-01-09) (aged 79)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
OccupationPoet, playwright, art critic, editor
Citizenship British India (1924-1947)
 India (1947-2004)
GenreModern Indian English Poetry
Notable workNight of the Scorpion; Latter Day Psalms
Notable awardsSahitya Akademi Award (1983)
Padma Shri (1988)

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 (everyday) 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 the 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.[citation needed] 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.[8]



Ezekiel's first book,[9] A Time to change, appeared in 1952. A Time To Change, changed the trajectory of Indian poetry as it was a new form of poetry, Indian English Poetry. The book serves as a declaration of transformation, encompassing the poet's personal life and surroundings. It brings about a significant shift with deep implications for society, intellectual thought, and moral values. Most importantly, it introduces a transformation in the way poetry is written. Written in 1952, it emphasizes the cultural context of the post colonial period. Ezekiel uses his poetry as a way to make remarks on the period emphasizing his approach to modernity and encompassing his personal life. A Time to Change may be a small volume with just around thirty-five pages, but it holds great significance in terms of its quality and historical importance. The title of the book indicates change embracing all aspects of Ezekiel's writing or poetry and his aesthetics. A Time To Change marks the onset of a unique form of poetry and the start of a noteworthy career. The opening lines of the poem are "We who leave the house in April, Lord,/How shall we return?/Debtors to the whore of Love"[10] suggesting that Ezekiel is expressing deep regret for leaving home during a season associated with renewal. In addition, A Time To Change represents Ezekiel's talent for presenting an incident in dew stanzas and his ability to use gentle irony with sadistic humor.[11] This departure is symbolic, representing a shift away from a life of natural happiness and spontaneity. A Time to Change depicts a book that fights larger concerns such as power, communication and the limitations of languages in the world. In addition, Ezekiel touches upon sexuality, human nature, and religion. Ezekiel is known in his early work that the titles of the poems describe the content of the poem and are closely related to the meaning.[12]

Ezekiel has distinctive views of his language when it comes to his poetry. In Ezekiel's earlier works much of the collection was defined by large language with a focus on rhyme, meter, and poetic form. In Ezekiel's poetry the quality of the heart is evident through his undertones, irony, and self mockery.[13] Within his poetry the lines are a similar length and if the poem has stanza, the stanza will have a similar number of lines. This demonstrates Ezekiel's attention to detail with his writing by using symmetry, further emphasizing Ezekiel's early dependence for structure in poetry. Ezekiel follows what Rene Wellek and Austin Warren use in their Theory of Literature or the "extrinsic" approach which examines literature in the broader context as it understands the relationship to society. It also looks at how literature has an impact by other influences in the world. The "extrinsic" approach follows closely to how Ezekiel writes because he writes about society, personal experiences, and human connections. Ezekiel also uses the "itrinsic" approach which focuses on the elements of the literature in itself such as using metaphors, similes, images, and the techniques that are found in the text. Ezekiel emphasizes the importance of creating literature that connects on a global scale. He references Berdyaev's ideological approaches with creativity and how the poet should not imitate other cultures but should be genuine in their writing. The poet should prioritize their integrity and own experiences in poetry. Ezekiel believes the cultural roles are secondary which leads him to believe that poetry has a universal likening. For instance, Ezekiel emphasizes the significance of humanity in the universe in his poem "Morning Prayer".[14]

He published another volume of poems, The deadly man in 1960.[15] 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[16] published his Three Plays which includes Nalini, Marriage Poem, The Sleep-walkers.[17] 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.[18] His poem The Night of the Scorpion is used[19] as study material[20] in Indian and Colombian schools. Ezekiel also penned poems in 'Indian English' [21] like the one based on instruction boards in his favourite Irani café. His poems are used[22] 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.[23][24][25][26]

He was honoured with the Padmashri award by the President of India in 1988 and the Sahitya Akademi cultural award in 1983.[27]



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.[28]

He was the founding editor of Quest in 1954.



After a prolonged battle with Alzheimer's disease, Nissim Ezekiel died in Mumbai, on 9 January 2004 (aged 79).[29][30][31]

Recent Discussion of Ezekiel's Work

  • Balaga Venkata Ramana's Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry- A thematic study (Scholars' Press, India, 2015; ISBN 978-3639767902)
  • Subrat Kumar Samal's Postcoloniality and Indian English Poetry: A Study of the Poems of Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Jayanta Mahapatra and A.K.Ramanujan (Partridge, India, 2015; ISBN 978-1482848670)
  • Shakuntala Bharvani's Makers of Indian Literature: Nissim Ezekiel (Sahitya Akademi, India, 2017; ASIN: B09ZBB2M6S)
  • Apara Sharma's Nissim Ezekiel and Jyant Mahapatra : A Comparative Reading in Phenomenology (New Era, India, 2017; 978-8129001559)
  • Sandeep K. Thorat's Indian Ethos and Culture in Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry: A Critical Study (Atlantic Publishers, India, 2018; ISBN 978-8126927531)
  • A. Raghu's The Poetry Of Nissim Ezekiel (Atlantic Publishers, India, 2019; ISBN 978-8126900862)
  • Satish Kumar and Anupama Tayal's Indian English Poetry - A critical study of the poets Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan, Kamala Das, Jayanta Mahapatra, K.N. Daruwalla, Arun Balkrishnan Kolatkar and R. Parthasarthy (Sahitya Saroward, India, 2020; ASIN: B08DHTQ9TL)
  • Rinkoo Wadhera's Existentialism, Upanishadic Perception and Via-Negativa in Indian English Poetry: The Oeuvre of Nissim Ezekiel (Authorspress, India, 2020; ASIN: B0893TP3KW)
  • K.K. Singh's Different Thematic Perceptions in Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel (Aadi Publications, India, 2021; ISBN 978-8195250165)
  • Shirish Chindhade's Five Indian English Poets: Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, R. Parthasarathy (Atlantic Publishers, India, 2022; ISBN 978-8171565856)

Books by Ezekiel









  • The Couple
  • Enterprise[36]
  • 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[37]

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". 15 May 2000. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  2. ^ Joffe, Lawrence (9 March 2004). "Obituary: Nissim Ezekiel". The Guardian.
  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. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's biography: Second edition to be launched on 92nd birth anniversary". 15 December 2016. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  9. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel Biography". 30 January 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  10. ^ Ezekiel, Nissim (1989). "A Time to Change". Collected Poems, 1952–1988. Oxford University Press. pp. 3–6. ISBN 978-0-19-562366-6. ProQuest 2147744366.
  11. ^ Verghese, Paul (1972). "The Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel". Indian Literature. 15 (1): 63–75. JSTOR 23329802.
  12. ^ Dulai, Surjit (2000). "NISSIM EZEKIEL : The Father of Contemporary Indian English Poetry". Journal of South Asian Literature. 35 (1/2): 123–177. JSTOR 40873766.
  13. ^ Agarwal, Smita (2014). Marginalized: Indian Poetry in English. Rodopi. ISBN 978-94-012-1033-1.[page needed]
  14. ^ Satpute, Sfuti P.V. (1989). A Stylistic Analysis of Some Poems of Nissim Ezekiel (Thesis).
  15. ^ "Themes Of Postmodernism In Nissim Ezekiels Poems English Literature Essay". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  16. ^ "Remembering Nissim Ezekiel". The Hindu. 6 September 2008. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  17. ^ Blackwell, Fritz (1976). "Four Plays of Nissim Ezekiel". Journal of South Asian Literature. 11 (3/4): 265–272. JSTOR 40873478.
  18. ^ "Summary of "Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher" by Nissim Ezekiel". 17 May 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  19. ^ "Analysis of "Night of the Scorpion" by Nissim Ezekiel". Poemotopia. 17 July 2022. Retrieved 17 July 2022.
  20. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's Night of the Scorpion: Summary & Analysis". 30 September 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  21. ^ "Indianness in the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  22. ^ "Night of Scorpion – Nissim Ezekiel". Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Verghese, C. Paul (1972). "The Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel". Indian Literature. 15 (1): 63–75. JSTOR 23329802.
  25. ^ Dwivedi, A. N. (1992). "Modernity in Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry". World Literature Today. 66 (3): 432–434. doi:10.2307/40148360. JSTOR 40148360.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Poets who took Indian poetry to the next level". 21 March 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  28. ^ "The Indian P.E.N". Google Books. 1978. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  29. ^ "Prof. K V DOMINIC".
  30. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel passes away". The Hindu. 11 January 2004. Archived from the original on 24 March 2005. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  31. ^ "A Life in Verse: Honouring Nissim Ezekiel on His Birth Anniversary". 15 December 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kumar, Jai (26 March 2004). "Obituary: Nissim Ezekiel". The Independent. Archived from the original on 22 March 2008.
  33. ^ Verghese, C. Paul (1971). "Three Plays by Nissim Ezekiel". Indian Literature. 14 (2): 92–94. JSTOR 23329837.
  34. ^ Sheikh, Zoya (2012). "Don't Call it Suicide: An Application of the Absurd Theatre Form to Indian Theatre". Tradition and Modernity in the Plays of Nissim Ezekiel. pp. 190–241. hdl:10603/55611. OCLC 1012389402.
  35. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's classic review of V. S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness". 12 August 2018. Archived from the original on 27 August 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  36. ^ "Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel". 27 July 2017. Archived from the original on 18 August 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  37. ^ "Nissim Ezekiel's Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher". 3 October 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  38. ^ Mandal, Somdatta; University, Visva-Bharati (15 June 2009). "Rubana Huq, ed. The Golden Treasury of Writers Workshop Poetry". Asiatic. 3 (1): 126–129.
  39. ^ "Ten 20th Century Indian Poets". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  40. ^ "The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  41. ^ "Book review: 'Twelve Modern Indian Poets' by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra". 3 January 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2018.