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This report is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

Letter from India Tabish Khair

A few days ago a friend informed me that Nissim Ezekiel - the first modern poet in Indian English literature - 'is seriously ailing'. This raised the sad and rather unimaginable prospect of a time when Nissim Ezekiel would not be the hub of the Bombay literary circle, radiating his benign influence over the rest of the land as editor of the Indian PEN, exhorting international houses to publish this unknown Indian English poet and that overlooked translator, writing at-times-too-kindly appraisals of 'freshers' in the field of Indian English literature. It is time, I thought, to get said my piece on this man whom I have never met but who (along with Jayanta Mahapatra) was the first 'established Indian poet' to publish and encourage me more than ten years ago, when I was in my teens and mostly writing atrocious poems.

Even when I left India in 1993, Ezekiel was almost seventy and not keeping good health. He was also in the eye of a minor controversy for condemning Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and, if I remember correctly, supporting the Indian government's decision to ban the book. Like many other Indians, I did not support the ban - and hence, Ezekiel's stance. But, unlike some others, I saw Ezekiel's stance as the legitimate outcome of a consistently honest desire to portray and support the 'tireless social human being/destined always/to know defeat/like a twin brother'. To him 'the common touch' mattered: though, it was not a god ...


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