Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 4 : 2 February 2004

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.

In Association with


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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


Nissim Ezekiel

Nissim Ezekiel passed away on Jan 9, 2004. He was 79. For the last few years, Nissim Ezekiel was suffering from the Alzheimer's disease (See Thirumalai, Language in India, January 2002). A doyen of Indian English literature, Nissim Ezekiel will be always remembered, among so many other achievements and writings, for the clever use of Indian English as a means to explore the Indian mind and sensibility. Nissim's writing is an embodiment of the best of Indian civilization and tradition. An Indian Jew by birth, Nissim Ezekiel transcended all borders and spoke the voice of love and sanity. What insightful observations of our own life and thoughts! What a love for freedom of expression and oneness of humanity! In his hands, our English came to life in ways that we never would have dreamt!

Nissim Ezekiel's name carries with it the prophetic mode. There was a great Rabbi Nissim in the 1300's, who made significant contributions to Jewish theology through his commentaries. And Ezekiel, a prophet of the Old Testament, or in the Jewish nuance, the Hebrew Prophetic writing, called his people to obey God or face the impending disaster. In several ways, Nissim Ezekiel seems to have inherited the prophet Ezekiel's word and suffering.

The prophet Ezekiel "after the death of his wife (he) suffered aphasia for a few weeks -- a condition perhaps brought on by suppressed grief (24:15-24) ... In his old age, he suffered a stroke of paralysis which he marvelously transmuted into a redemptive experience. He was no recluse, with a mind wholly absorbed in far away places; he lived and preached in Judah and neighboring lands. He was intimately acquainted with all aspects of public and private life, wherever he was. As "son of man," he claimed to be only a man among men." (W. H. Brownlee, Ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 257. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1982).

As our humble tribute to this great poet of India, we reproduce below three of his poems.

The Patriot
I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting -
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.
Other day I'm reading newspaper
(Every day I'm reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming -
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.
You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.
What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers -
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.
You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company. -- Nissim Ezekiel

Night of the Scorpion
"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 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."
-- Nissim Ezekiel

The Professor
Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
Once I taught you geography. Now
I am retired, though my health is good. My wife died some years back.
By God's grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won't believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
Whole world is changing. In India also
We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
Old values are going, new values are coming.
Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house's backside.
-- Nissim Ezekiel


M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Bethany College of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA