Short Biography Nissim Ezekiel

Nissim Ezekiel who is considered the foremost among the modern Indian poets writing in English is, like Ramanujan and Parthasarathy, an academic poet in more than one sense: He was a Professor of English in Bombay University and more importantly, he is as much an intellectual and a philosopher as a poet. His birth and background were such that while his roots were in a non-Indian, Jewish Parsi religion and culture, he grew to be an Indian both in his beliefs and world-view and devel­oped into a personality that was too complex for easy analysis.

Ezekiel was born in Bombay in 1924. After his early schooling he joined Wilson College, Bombay and later went to Birkbeck College London. Though he went to England to study philosophy under C.E.M. Joad he showed no less an interest in the theatre and the visual arts as also in poetry and his career as a clerk in the High Commissioner’s office in London had not in any way made him slacken his interest either in his intellectual pursuits or in his creative efforts.

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The poet in him grew and developed as much out of his intellectual mental make-up as out of an emotional make-up and one finds in his poetry a close and meaningful interaction between the philosopher and the poet. The dominant passion of his life has, however, been poetry and poetry to him seems to have been a vocation to which he has taken seriously with a deep sense of commitment.

Ezekiel has held many important positions besides that of a professor at Bombay. He was the Editor of Quest, Imprint and the poetry page of The Illustrated Weekly of India and he has been a visiting professor at several universities both in India and in the U.S. and Australia. He was a so Director of a theatre Unit in Bombay.

Ezekiel’s first volume of poems appeared under the title A Time to Change (1952) and the other volumes which followed were Sixty Poems (1953), The Third (1959), The Unfinished Man (1960), The Exact Man (1965) and Hymns in Darkness (1976). While the poems in these volumes focus on a variety of themes such as love, sex, death, loneliness and prayer, they bear testi­mony to the fact that Ezekiel showed a consistent preoccupa­tion with the banality as well as the complexity of present day civilization as he perceived it in the Indian scene.

They also affirm his belief in the religion of the self and the efficacy of prayer and show a constant attempt to come to terms with himself. As Parthasarathy has put it in his introductory note on the poet in his Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, “Ezekiel’s poetry is both the instrument and the outcome of his attempt as a man to come to terms with himself. One finds in his poems the imprint of a keen, analytical mind trying to explore and communicate on a personal level, feelings of loss and deprivation”.


It is this constant attempt on his part to make a “journey into the heart of existence, into the roots of one’s self, “this endless quest for identity, intertwined with the search for ã poetics” which gives Ezekiel a sense of creative continuity in his own life and establishes a close relationship between the man and the artist. (Vide the General Introduction to this anthology for a more detailed note on Ezekiel’s poetry).


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