Tag Archives: Nissim Ezekiel

Bibliography – Indian English Literature


Here is a fragmentary bibliography for the study of Indian English Literature. I am posting these fragments with the hope of putting together a more comprehensive bibliography some day.

General Resources on Indian English Literature

1. King Bruce, Modern Indian English Poetry. New Delhi: OUP, 1989.

2. Khair, Tabish. Babu Fictions: Alienation in Contemporary Indian English Novels. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001.

3. Lal, Malashri. The Law of the Threshold. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1995.

4. Mukherjee, Meenakshi. The Twice Born Fiction. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann Publishers: 1971.

5. Naik, M.K. Twentieth Century Indian English Fiction. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2004.

6. Shirwadkar, K.R. The Indian Novel in English and Social Change. Bombay, Shalaka Prakashan: 1991.

7. R.K. Dhawan, (ed.), Indian Women Novelists, vol. I – IV, New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1991.

8. M.K. Naik, S.K. Desai, G.S. Amur (eds.), Critical Essays on Indian Writing in English. Delhi: Macmillan India, 1972.

9. Sudhakar Pande, R. Raj Rao (eds.), Image of India in the Indian Novel in English 1960 – 1985. Bombay: Orient Longman, 1993

10. Viney Kirpal (ed.) The New Indian Novel in English: A Study of the 1980s. Bombay: Allied Publishers Limited, 1990.

11. C.D. NArasimhaiah (ed.). Makers of Indian English Literature. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2000.

12. K.K. Singh.

Indian English Poetry After Independence. Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2006.

13. Jaydeep Sarangi (ed). Explorations in Indian English Poetry New Delhi: Authorspress, 2007.

14. M.K. Naik.  Indian English Poetry: from the Beginnings upto 2000. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2006.

15. Saryug Yadav and Amar Nath Prasad (eds.) Studies in Indian Drama in English. Bareilly: Prakash Book, 2003.

16. C.L. Khatri and Kumar Chandradeep (ed.) Indian Drama in English : An Anthology of Recent Criticism. Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2006.

17. Basavaraj Naikar (ed.).  Indian English Literature, Vol.I – VI, New Delhi, Atlantic Pub., 2007.

18. Nandini Sahu. The Post-Colonial Space : Writing the Self and the Nation. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2007.

19. Nand Kumar. Indian English Drama: A Study in Myths. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2003.

20. K. Venkata Reddy and R.K. Dhawan (eds). Flowering of Indian Drama : Growth and Development. New Delhi: Prestige, 2004.

21. Neeru Tandon (ed.). Perspectives and Challenges in Indian-English Drama. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2006.

Shashi Deshpande: That Long Silence

1. Joshi, Padmakar. Shashi Deshpande’s Fiction – A Study in Women Empowerment and Postcolonial Discourse. New Delhi: Prestige Books. 2003.

2. Saikat Majumdar, “Aesthetics of Subjectivity, Ethics of ‘Otherness’: The Fiction of  Shashi Deshpande”, Postcolonial Text, vol. 1, no. 2 (2005).

3. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, “The Feminist Plot and the Nationalist Allegory: Home and  World in Two Indian Women’s Novels in English” in Modern Fiction Studies. vol. 39, no. 1 (1993). p. 80.

4. Parvati Bhatnagar “‘Go home like a good girl’ : an interpretation of That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande” in R.A. Singh (ed.) Critical Studies on Commonwealth Literature. Jaipur, Book Enclave, 2003.

5. V.K. Pandey. “Sufferings and suppressed desires of women in Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence”  in Binod Mishra (ed.). Critical Responses to Feminism. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2006.

Girish Karnad Hayavadana

1. Tripathi, Vanashree, Three Plays Of Girish Karnad: A Study In Poetics And Culture. Delhi, Prestige, 2004.

2. Manoj K. Pandey. The Plays of Girish Karnad and Tradition. New Delhi: Adhyayan, 2007.

3. P. Dhanavel. The Indian Imagination of Girish Karnad. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2000.

4. Jaydipsinh Dodiya. The Plays of Girish Karnad : Critical Perspectives. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2004.

5. Mohit K Ray. “Tradition and Avant-garde in Girish Karnad’s “Hayavadana” in R.A. Singh (ed.) Critical Studies on Commonwealth Literature. Jaipur, Book Enclave, 2003.

6. Sudha Shastri and Amith Kumar P.V. “Locating Bakhtinian Carnival in Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana and Naga-Mandala” in Urmil Talwar and Bandana Chakrabarty (eds). Contemporary Indian Drama: Astride Two Traditions. New Delhi: Rawat, 2005.

7. Anshuman Khanna. “Karnad’s Hayavadana: myth redefined” in K.V. Surendran (ed.). Indian Literature in English: New Perspectives. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2002.

Mahesh Dattani Final Solutions

1. Charu Mathur. “Dramatic structures in Mahesh Dattani’s Tara and Final Solutions” in Urmil Talwar and Bandana Chakrabarty (eds). Contemporary Indian Drama: Astride Two Traditions. New Delhi: Rawat, 2005.

2. Venkat Ramani. “Meaning in Abyss: Dattani’s seven steps around the fire” in Urmil Talwar and Bandana Chakrabarty (eds). Contemporary Indian Drama: Astride Two Traditions. New Delhi: Rawat, 2005.

3. Sangeeta Das. “The sensational issues in the plays of Mahesh Dattani” in K. Venkata Reddy and R.K. Dhawan. Flowering of Indian Drama : Growth and Development. New Delhi: Prestige, 2004.

4. Neeru Tandon. “Mahesh Dattani and Badal Sircar” in Neeru Tandon (ed.). Perspectives and Challenges in Indian-English Drama. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2006.

5. Reena Mitra. “Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions and Other Plays: “A Living Dramatic Experience” in Reena Mitra. Critical Response to Literatures in English. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2005.

6. Amar Nath Prasad “The plays of Mahesh Dattani: a fine fusion of feeling and form” in Amar Nath Prasad. British and Indian English Literature : A Critical Study. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons, 2007.

Jayant Mahapatra

1. PRASAD, MADHUSUDAN ed. The Poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1986.

2. MOHAN, DEVINDER. Jayanta Mahapatra New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1987.

3. DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse Bareilly: Prakash  Book Depot, 1984.

4. King Bruce. Modern Indian English Poetry. Delhi: OUP, 1989.

Nissim Ezekiel

1. KARNANI, CHETAN. Nissim Ezekiel. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1973.

2. DWIVEDI, SURESH CHANDRA. ed. Perspectives on Nissim Ezekiel New Delhi: K.M. Agencies, 1989.

3. “Nissim Ezekeil Special Issue”, JOURNAL of Indian Writing in English 14.2, 1986.

4. RAHMAN, ANISUR. Form and Value in the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1981.

5. WISEMAN, CHRISTOPHER. “The Development of Technique in the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel” in KULSHRESHTHA, CHIRANTAN, ed. Contemporary Indian-English Verse: An Evaluation. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1980.

6. SREENIVASAN, S. “The Self and Its Enchanted Circle: A Perspective on the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel” Littcrit 16.1&2, 1990.

7. RAIZADA, HARISH. “Nissim Ezekiel’s Poetry of Love and Sex” in Madhusudan Prasad (ed) Living Indian English Poets. New Delhi: Sterling, 1989.

8. DAS, BIJAY KUMAR. “The Search after Reality: A Study of Ezekiel’s Poems” Journal of Indian Writing in English, 10.1&2, 1982.

Daruwalla, Keki N.

1. DWIVEDI, A.N. “K.N. Daruwalla’s Poetry: An Assessment” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

2. INAMDAR, F.A. “K.N. Daruwalla’s Poems: Individual Response” in RAM, ATMA. ed. Contemporary Indian-English Poetry Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1989.

3. KING, BRUCE. “Keki Daruwalla: Outsider, Skeptic and Poet” The Indian Literary Review, 4.2, 1986.

4. MUKHERJEE, PRASENJIT. “Relating the Subjective: An Approach to the Recent Poetry of Keki N. Daruwalla” Chandrabhaga 4, 1980.

5. NABAR, VRINDA. “Keki N. Daruwalla: Poetry and a National Culture” in Shahane, Vasant and Sivaramkrishna, eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

6. NAIK, M.K. “‘Drama Talk’: The Poetry of K. N. Daruwalla” in Naik Studies in Indian English Literature New Delhi: Sterling, 1987.

7. Prasad, Madhusudhan. “Keki N. Daruwalla: Poet as Critic of His Age” Literary Half-Yearly, January 1987.

8. VENKATACHARI, K. “The Idiom of Autochthon: A Note on the Poetry of Keki N. Daruwalla” in Madhusudan Prasad (ed.) Living Indian English Poets. New Delhi: Sterling, 1989.

Ramanujan A.K.

1. DWIVEDI, A.N. A.K. Ramanujan and His Poetry Delhi: Doaba House, 1983.

2. King Bruce, Three Modern Indian English Poets, Delhi: OUP, 1994.

3. BHASHYAM, KANAKA & CHELLAPPAN, K. “Encounter and Synthesis in the Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” Journal of Indian Writing in English July, 1984.

4. CHAR, M. SREERAMA. Prayer Motif in Indian Poetry in English. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1988.

5. PAL, K.S. Ezekiel and Ramanujan: A Comparative Study. Delhi: Astha Prakashan, 1981.

6. DEVY, G.N. “Alienation as Means of Self-exploration: A Study of A.K. Ramanujan’s Poetry”, Chandrabhaga 6, 1981.

7. MARZI, TAQI ALI. “A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘Particular Hell'” in SHAHANE, VASANT and SIVARAMKRISHNA, M. eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

8. NAIK, M.K. “A.K. Ramanujan and the Search for Roots” in PRASAD, MADHUSUDHAN ed. Living Indian English Poets. New Delhi: Sterling, 1989.

9. NAIK, M.K. “Landscapes and Inscapes”, Kavya Bharati . 1, 1988.

10. DAS, BIJAY KUMAR. ” Ramanujan’s ‘A River’: An Explication” Journal of Indian Writing in English 13.2, 1985.

11. PARTHASARATHY, R. “How It Strikes a Contemporary: The Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” SHAHANE, VASANT and SIVARAMKRISHNA, M. eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

12. REUBEN, ELIZABETH. “The Presence of the Past: The Sense of Time in the Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” Journal of Indian Writing in English. 17.1, 1989.

13. SRINATH, C.N. “The Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

Das, Kamala

1. KOHLI, DEVINDRA. Kamala Das. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1975.

2. Rahaman, Anisur. Expressive Form in the Poetry of Kamala Das. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1981.

3. RADHA, K. Kamala Das. Madras: Macmillan India, 1987.

4. De SOUZA, EUNICE. “Kamala Das” in Shahane, Vasant and Sivaramkrishna, eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980

5. DWIVEDI, A.N. Kamala Das and Her Poetry Delhi: Doaba House, 1983.

6. RAGHUNANDAN, LAKSHMI, Contemporary Indian Poetry in English: with Special Emphasis on Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Parthasarathy and Ramanujan, New Delhi: Reliance Publishing House, 1990.

7. KULSHRESHTHA, CHIRANTAN., ed Contemporary Indian-English Verse: An Evaluation. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1980.

8. AGRAWAL, ISHWAR NATH. “The Language and the Limits of the Self in the Poetry of Kamala Das” in SINHA, KRISHNA NANDAN Indian Writing in English 1979.

9. Daruwalla, K.N. “Confessional Poetry as Social Commentary: A View of English Poetry by Indian Women” in RAM, ATMA. ed. Contemporary Indian-English Poetry Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1989.

10. JUSSAWALLA, FEROZA. “Kamala Das: The Evolution of the Self” in Journal of Indian Writing In English 10.1&2, 1982.

11. BREWSTER, ANNE. “The Freedom to Decompose: The Poetry of Kamala Das” Journal of Indian Writing in English 7.1&2 1980.

12. RAMAKRISHNAN, E.V. “Kamala Das as a Confessional Poet” Journal of Indian Writing in English 5.1, 1977.

Gieve Patel

1. KAPOOR, PREM P. “Violence, Pain and Death in the Poetry of Gieve Patel” in RAM, ATMA. ed. Contemporary Indian-English Poetry. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1989.

2. NABAR, VRINDA. “Gieve Patel: Poet as Clinician of Feelings” The Indian Literary Review. 3.3, 1985.

3. SAHA, SUBHAS. “Gieve Patel’s On Killing a Tree: An Analysis” in DAS, BIJAY KUMAR, ed. Contemporary Indo-English Poetry. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1986.

4. SARMA, M.N. “The Ambiguous Fate of Being Human: The Poetry of Gieve Patel” in SHAHANE, Vasant and SIVARAMAKRISHNA, eds. Indian Poetry in English:  A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

5. VIBHAKAR. “Gieve Patel’s Poetry: An Exploration of the ‘Body'” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

Amanuddin, Syed

1. DWIVEDI, A.N. Syed Amanuddin: His Mind and Art. New Delhi: Sterling, 1988.

2. DWIVEDI, A.N. “Re-creating ‘The Living Scenes of Contemporary Life: The Poetry of Syed Amanuddin” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

3. DWIVEDI, A.N. “Poetry of Syed Amanuddin: A Study in Diction and Versification” Journal of Indian Writing in English. 13.2, 1985.

4. YASEEN, MOHAMMED. “Syed Ameeruddin’s Poetry: A Critical Appraisal” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

Honnalgere, Gopal

1. SRIDHAR, S.N. “A Note on Honnalgere’s Zen Tree and Wild Innocents” Journal of Indian

Writing in English 3.2, 1975.

Raja Rao. Kanthapura

1. NAIK, M.K. Perspectives on Indian Fiction in English New Delhi: Abhinav  Publications, 1985.

2. K.K. Sharma, (ed.) Perspectives on Raja Rao Ghaziabad: Vimal Prakashan, 1980.

3. Meenakshi Mukherjee (ed.) Considerations: Twelve Studies of Indo-Anglian Writing, New Delhi: Allied, 1977.

1. NAIK, M.K. Raja Rao Madras: Blackie & Sons, 1982.

2. NARASIMHAIAH, C.D. Raja Rao New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann, 1973.

3. NARAYAN, SHYAMALA A. Raja Rao: Man and His Works New Delhi: Sterling, 1988.

4. RAO, K. RAGHAVENDRA. The Fiction of Raja Rao Aurangabad: Parimal Prakashan, 1982.

5. SHAHANE, VASANT A. “Raja Rao: Kanthapura” in PRADHAN, N.S. ed. Major  Indian Novels: An Evaluation New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1986.

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas

1. Hamner, Robert D., ed. Critical Perspectives on V. S. Naipaul. Washington, D. C.: Three Continents Press, 1977.

2. Hughes, Peter . V. S. Naipaul. London: Routledge, 1988.

3. Kamra, Shashi. The Novels of V.S. Naipaul: A Study in Theme and Form. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1990.

4. King, Bruce. V. S. Naipaul. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2003.

5. Kumar, Amitava. The Humour & the Pity: Essays on V.S. Naipaul. New Delhi: Buffalo Books , 2002.

6. Macdonald, Bruce F. “The Birth of Mr. Biswas.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 11.3 (1977): 50-54.

7. Manjit Inder Singh. V. S. Naipaul. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 1998.

8. Mason, Nondita. The Fiction of V. S. Naipaul. Calcutta: The World Press, 1986.

9. Panwar, Purabi. V.S. Naipaul: An Anthology of Recent Criticism. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2003.

10. Rai, Sudha. V.S. Naipaul: A Study in Expatriate Sensibility. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1982.

11. Ramadevi, N. The Novels of V.S. Naipaul Quest for Order and Identity. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1996.

12. Walsh, William. V. S. Naipaul. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1973.

13. S.P. Swain “The crisis of identity: Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas” in Mohit K. Ray (ed.) V.S. Naipaul : Critical Essays. Vol II. New Delhi, Atlantic Pub., 2002.

An Essay on Nissim Ezekiel’s Background, Casually

from: google images

from: google images

Nissim Ezekiel’s poem ‘Background, Casually’ is one of his most known poems. If ‘Night of the Scorpion’ is a popular anthology piece, this poem is more keenly read by the more academic readers of his poetry. The poem’s significance to Ezekiel’s oeuvre lies partly in it being an autobiographical poem which is seen to indicate crisply his ‘official view of life’ as it were (whatever that means). Ezekiel’s general tendency in his poems to be more communicative than be imagistic is evident here. Similarly, the ironic tone that swings between whipping the self and the society around it is also on abundant display in this poem. Some of the other recurrent motifs of Ezekiel’s poetry that we see in this poem are:

* finding satisfaction in limited ambition

* a set of experiences stated as providing deep insights

* use of unrhymed metrical lines

* probing the question of identity in a firm social context

* controlled fragmentation unlike the modernist tendency of obscurity

The poem is divided into three sections which approximate the childhood, adult and old-age experiences of the poet-speaker. The three sections do not merely present a chronology of significant experiences but reflections over these experiences that draw out lessons on the status of the identity of the self. Allow me to comment, in a rather school boyish manner, stanza by stanza.

Background, Casually
by Nissim Ezekiel

from: google images

from: google images


A poet-rascal-clown was born,
The frightened child who would not eat
Or sleep, a boy of meager bone.
He never learned to fly a kite,
His borrowed top refused to spin.

Notice the references to facts twisted to accommodate the present assessment of that fact. The first line for example is the present valuation of the past. The line also introduces a preference made all through the poem: the self perception of the speaker as a poet. This self-perception is immediately attached to irony with the addition of rascal and clown. From irony, this present perception of the past slides to self-pity, a rather clever ploy that corners the readers sympathy as well as explains away the lack of heroism in the self. The reader is required to agree that this ‘boy of meager bone’ with not even the skill to fly a kite, is not destined to achieve anything too noble; so the assertions of self-satisfactions at the poetic achievements of this self in the third section of the poem come to be accepted easily.

I went to Roman Catholic school,
A mugging Jew among the wolves.
They told me I had killed the Christ,
That year I won the scripture prize.
A Muslim sportsman boxed my ears.

I grew in terror of the strong
But undernourished Hindu lads,
Their prepositions always wrong,
Repelled me by passivity.
One noisy day I used a knife.

The second stanza slips from third to first person. In the 2nd and 3rd stanzas the multicultural mix of the society in which the speaker has grown up is introduced through the self-pity ploy. These two stanzas insistently introduce a major strand of this poem’s thematic: identity. The challenge to coherent formation of identity is indicated here as related to the mixing of cultures that are not devoid of intolerance toward one another. Amid the unhappy school life, a poetic career has without much ado announced itself: ‘That year I won the scripture prize’. This line is suggestive of the inclination of the child.

At home on Friday nights the prayers
Were said. My morals had declined.
I heard of Yoga and of Zen.
Could 1, perhaps, be rabbisaint?
The more I searched, the less I found.

Twentytwo: time to go abroad.
First, the decision, then a friend
To pay the fare. Philosophy,
Poverty and Poetry, three
Companions shared my basement room.

The last line of the 4th stanza is typical of Ezekiel in the use of antithesis. Intimations of failure are always around the corner in his autobiographical poems. The above two stanzas squeeze a long duration into rapidly moving lines. Growing up amid diverse influences the speaker expands the base of the incoherence of his identity to include yoga, zen, jewish theology. The alliterative line ‘philosophy, poverty and poetry’ burdens the experiential statement with the load of a life-time inclination. Many of Ezekiel’s poems suggest this inclination: ‘Enterprise’ for example. Usually they indicate symptomatically the poetic credo of this poet: to treat personal experiences philosophically to produce poetic significance.


The London seasons passed me by.
I lay in bed two years alone,
And then a Woman came to tell
My willing ears I was the Son
Of Man. I knew that I had failed

In everything, a bitter thought.
So, in an English cargoship
Taking French guns and mortar shells
To IndoChina, scrubbed the decks,
And learned to laugh again at home.

The second section of the poem brings in adult experiences as suggested toward the end of previous stanza. Amid rather tedious lines the above quoted stanzas introduce the summary dismissal of the self that recurs in Ezekiel’s poems. The sense of failure is recurrent. But Ezekiel usually positions these statements strategically in the poems. Their function is not to state to the reader the sense of the speaker’s disillusion. These lines are positioned by Ezekiel in such a way as to herald the experiments that lead the self toward the present significance. This strategy is also to be found in ‘Enterprise’. The stanzas also indicate the speaker’s decision to turn away from the metro-centricness of the colonial mentality. The last line could have been interpreted as being puerile patriotism had it occurred in a poem less ironic than ‘Background, Casually’.

How to feel it home, was the point.
Some reading had been done, but what
Had I observed, except my own
Exasperation? All Hindus are
Like that, my father used to say,

When someone talked too loudly, or
Knocked at the door like the Devil.
They hawked and spat. They sprawled around.
I prepared for the worst. Married,
Changed jobs, and saw myself a fool.

The song of my experience sung,
I knew that all was yet to sing.
My ancestors, among the castes,
Were aliens crushing seed for bread
(The hooded bullock made his rounds).

A lasting question, something that has characterized Ezekiel’s approach generally, is introduced in the first line of the next stanza: ‘How to feel it home’ is a question raised by many of Ezekiel’s poems about identity. What I want to indicate is that the manner Ezekiel frames the identity question is apparent here. Ezekiel makes out a case for homely feeling as a measure of identity. With homely feeling comes a responsibility. For Ezekiel, this responsibility requires that one not only see ones home in appreciation but also with a certain critical distance. Ezekiel practically indicates the figure of the ‘homely critic’ as the frame of reference. This homely critic manages a stance that is not shy of scathing criticism, yet asserts the value of home. It is thus that Ezekiel develops a critique of Naipaul’s tourist perspective of India in his well known essay that appeared in Adil Jussawala edited ‘Penguin New Writing from India’: ‘Naipaul’s India and Mine’. It is an essay that would have won the prize for walking the tight rope. For in this essay, Ezekiel defends the indefensible. The essay was written at a time when the patriotic pitch was so shrill against Naipaul that anybody critcising him would have sounded like whistling along. Ezekiel maintains a remarkable cool in pointing out the perspectival problem in Naipaul’s narrative. We easily see Naipaul’s ‘An Area of Darkness’ full of prejudicial whining at personal slight and inconvenience rather than a balanced criticism.


One among them fought and taught,
A Major bearing British arms.
He told my father sad stories
Of the Boer War. I dreamed that
Fierce men had bound my feet and hands.

The later dreams were all of words.
I did not know that words betray
But let the poems come, and lost
That grip on things the worldly prize.
I would not suffer that again.

The third section swiftly moves on in life: the speaker is mature now. He is through his experiments. He is ripe with his experiences so that he can now give out his conclusions. That is, within the poem the narration of experiences is now over, and it is time to draw out philosophical implications. ‘The later dreams were all of words’ picks up the theme of poetic career. The poem is now poised to give us a peep into the poetic process.

I look about me now, and try
To formulate a plainer view:
The wise survive and serve–to play
The fool, to cash in on
The inner and the outer storms.

This is a remarkable stanza which very concisely states a complex attitude to poetry. The speaker puts simply that his approach to poetry is rather pragmatic. The inner and the outer storms are not to be seen as problems to be solved: it is not a measure of ones wisdom to solve them. The wisdom is in playing the fool yet cashing in on these inner and outer storms by making them the subject of ones creativity. It is a pithy way of saying that the poet has to respond through his/her creativity.

The Indian landscape sears my eyes.
I have become a part of it
To be observed by foreigners.
They say that I am singular,
Their letters overstate the case.

I have made my commitments now.
This is one: to stay where I am,
As others choose to give themselves
In some remote and backward place.
My backward place is where I am.

These two stanzas, jerkily moving away from the earlier stanza, sum up the speaker’s socio-political stance. The colonial divide between the metropolis as the centre and ‘India’ as a backward place is alluded to here. Staying in India is seen as a committed move. The ambivalent place of the ‘homely critic’ is stated in the first line of the above quoted stanzas: ‘Indian landscape sears my eyes’. The necessity to assert ones commitment to ones station arises because of the ‘the foreigners’ viewpoint. From their point of view, being in the ‘backward place’ warrants an explanation. The speaker seems to agree that his station is backward, though it is his own.

What I find interesting in the poem is the way it frames the question of identity. The poem quite clearly takes India as the place from which this view is generated. The view that raises the question of identity and the backwardness of the place, first of all, sets up a binary opposition. This binary opposition conveniently sets up two categories: something called India and something called foreign. With this opposition there is a termination of the question. Then the poem sets out to resolve the puzzle. It admits that the ‘identity’ of the speaker spills over a pure category. That is what the ‘foreign’ experiences suggest in the poem. Therefore, the speaker has to point out the ambivalence in the identity of the self – critical yet committed to home. This view at once enables a distance from the totalized category of ‘India’ and an identification with it. The problem of course is that, the binary invoked here deals with essentialisms. The perspective developed in the poem is very comforting in a way, and often is seen as politically correct too. But it confronts the question of identity in a reductive polarization between ‘India’ and ‘the foreign’.

Nissim Ezekiel’s Night of the Scorpion


Every poet, good or bad, writes a poem that strikes the right chords with a majority of readers. Say, Frost. He is so much loved for so many poems, yet many take the name of ‘Road not taken’ or ‘Sleeping by woods..’ when you mention his name. With the Nissim Ezekiel such an oft remembered poem is The Night of the Scorpion. In this poem the speaker, an adult now in awe of his mother’s love for her children, remembers the time in his childhood when a scorpion had stung his mother. It was a rainy night, cold, and a scorpion had slipped into the house, perhaps for warmth. The skill of Ezekiel in this poem is in making it so evocative. It has his characteristic irony, and even a hint of satire. But what catches our attention is the vividity of the description.

For example, see how the poet refers to the remembered detail of the visiting neighbours who come expressing sympathy and solidarity: “The peasants came like swarms of flies”. This image gathers together at once a statement and a description of the behaviour of the neighbours: villagers coming to visit in big numbers and the continuous noise (not very useful speech but an endless stream of repetitive chatter) they make. Rarely do we come across vividity of such density.

Similar is the lines: “With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows/ on the sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found”.  The image here is at once apt, vivid and accurate. The villagers with candles or lanterns are searching for the scorpion. It is obvious that they bend forward in this search. This action would require them to hold the lamps ahead of them and at a low height. The light from these lanterns catches the bending shapes of the villagers and throws shadows on the walls which naturally are amplified in the process.  To the bewildered child who is seeing all these commotion, these shadows appear like giant scorpions because of their bloated size and because scorpion is on everyone’s mind and talk.

The use of inversion in the following lines with the repeated ‘they said’ ending is effective in recreating the effect of repetition and reporting. The closing lines make the poem a bit romantic although I reckon, many like the poem for the sentiment contained in those lines.

In the Indian classrooms when this poem is taught, what seem to receive emphasis is the status of superstition. I feel that the poem is not really about superstition. Somehow, the paraphernalia that surround this poem in most of the academic anthologies encourage the students to consider this poem as a criticism of the superstition among Indians. That interpretation beats me. How about you?

from: google images

from: google images

Here is the text:

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.
Parting with his poison — flash of diabolic tail in the dark room — he risked the rain again.
The peasants came like swarms of flies and buzzed the Name of God a hundred times to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found.
They clicked their tongues. With every movement the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.
May he sit still, they said.
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of evil balanced in this unreal world against the sum of good become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh of desire, and your spirit of ambition, they said, and they sat around on the floor with my mother in the centre.
The peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, more insects and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist, trying every curse and blessing, powder, mixture, herb, and hybrid. He even poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toes and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with incantation.
After twenty hours it lost its sting.
My mother only said:
“Thank God the scorpion picked on me and spared my children.”