Indian English literature (IEL), also referred to as Indian Writing in English (IWE), is the body of work by writers in India who write in the English language and whose native or co-native language could be one of the numerous languages of India. Its early history began with the works of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt followed by Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. R. K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao contributed to the growth and popularity of Indian English fiction in the 1930s. It is also associated, in some cases, with the works of members of the Indian diaspora who subsequently compose works in English. It is frequently referred to as Indo-Anglian literature. (Indo-Anglian is a specific term in the sole context of writing that should not be confused with Anglo-Indian). Although some Indo-Anglian works may be classified under the genre of postcolonial literature, the repertoire of Indian English literature encompasses a wide variety of themes and ideologies, from the late eighteenth-century to the present day, and thereby eludes easy categorization.
Nissim Ezekiel was an Indian Jewish poet, actor, playwright, editor and art critic. He was a foundational figure in postcolonial India’s literary history. specifically for Indian Poetry in English. 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. Ezekiel has been applauded for his subtle, restrained and well crafted diction, dealing with common and mundane (simple) 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.
Ezekiel is a foreigner whose ancestors had migrated to India. As a poet he has observed and experienced much more of Indian life. Thus the acceptance of Indian reality is an important characteristic of his poetry. His poetry portrays the social aspect of India with a humanistic strain. But the fact of the matter is that Ezekiel rebelled against the Indian way of life. He has ridiculed the Indian modes of behaviour and the Indian way of speaking the English language. Thus his poems show more of anti- Indianness than Indianness. In short, the poet’s relationship with India is love hate relationship.
The austerity of Ezekiel’s poetic art, the condensation of his style, the economical precision of his language, the impressiveness of imagery, the sharpness of his wit and irony, the contemporarity of his subject matter – all these things immediately render him a modern poet. Modernism as a literary movement which reached its height in Europe between 1900 and 1920s, with the writings of Nissim Ezekiel, it began spreading in India. One of the Nissim Ezekiel’s poems: “Night of the Scorpion” bears the evidence of Ezekiel’s modernity. Both thematically and structurally, this poems are modern poems. Before bringing out the elements of modernity, we need to know what we mean by modernity and what the characteristics of modernity are. Literay Scholar Peter Childs sums up: “There were paradoxical if not opposed trends towards revolutionary and reactionary positions, fear of the new and delight at the disappearance of the old, nihilism, and fanatical enthusiasm, creativity and despair.” These oppositions are inherent in Modernity. As T.S Eliot remarks complexity and variety are the characteristics of modernity, these are sufficiently displayed in the poems of Nissim Ezekiel.
Complexity is found is the poem, Night of the Scorpion, the title of the poem is in some ways deceptive. It leads us to believe we are in for a frightening and a dramatic tale with a scorpion taking centre stage. In fact, the poem is not about the scorpion at all, but about the reaction of different people to its sting. Again in the same poem, the first stanza does in the line “After twenty hours it lost its sting.” This line could be read into two different ways: the most common interpretation is that after 20 hours, despite “every curse and blessing” it literary stops hurting. Another interpretation is that the mother dies; after twenty hours of agony it lost its sting as she could not feel anything. However, these lines are deceptive and cause friction in mind and thus this exposes Ezekiel’s complexity, that is to say it is the exposure of modernity.
Free verse is one of the most common features of modernity. Modern poets follow free verse style to decorate their poems. In the poems of Nissim Ezekiel, we see the use of free verse. The poems Night of the Scorpion and The Patriot are written in free verse. This type of poetry has little or no rhyme scheme, regular pattern of rhymes, or line lengths. As the lines from Night of the Scorpion are:
“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.”
As the tendency of the modern poets is to isolate themselves from the rest of the society, we see in Nissim Ezekiel’s poetry that he wants to isolate himself or wants to live apart from others. In Night of the Scorpion when his mother was stung by a scorpion and the people around their house were gathering he perhaps wanted their departure by saying, “More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, more insects, and the endless rain./ My mother twisted through and through, groaning on a mat.”
Ezekiel’s poetry is a criticism of life. He is most famous for his wry commentaries on contemporary India often writing in an exaggerated Indian English, for example the overuse of the present continuous tense. As a critic of his age he shows the superstitions of his age in his poetry. In Night of the Scorpion, we see, when his mother was stung by a Scorpion, the neighbours poured into her hut in offer advice and help. They said that by the endless pain, the sins of her previous birth would be “burned away” and her next birth’s suffering would be decreased. These are the common superstitions and belief of common people. And we see, the neighbours tried to cure her and her husband tried “every curse and blessings,” but despite these things time proves to be the best healer: “after twenty hours it lost its sting”.
Modern poets are generally conscious about the problems prevailing in the society and they try to bring out the problems. And so, in his poems, he tries to show the problems of the society, of the country and of the world. It seems that he is much more concerned not only about the problems of his own country but also of the whole world. Also, he prefers contemporary Indian English to write his poetry which exposes his modernity. In his writing we find the following features of Indian English.
Indian people use progressive form to express their normal expression but according to some grammarians some words can not be used in the progressive form. But he has used these words expressing the progressive form:
“I am standing for peace and non violence” (The Patriot)
“I am simply not understanding…” (The Patriot)
No other writer in English either native or foreign has used double verbs in poetry. He writes:
“Why world is fighting fighting” (The Patriot)
In the concluding part we can say that Nissim’s poems are true modern poems considering both content and form. And Nissim Ezekiel is a true modern set expressing in his poetry the very idea of modernity.
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