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Jun 11, 2014

Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta Mahapatra
Ph.D.(D.H.Lawrence), M.A. (English, History & Political Science)
Poems published in Debonair    
Critical excerpts on new Indian English poets from my works in H.S.Bhatia's NET/SLET Guide
(From Ramesh Publishing House)
(Collected from the comment on our post on “Early Poetry: Mahapatra

Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet is first of all a myth-maker; an imagist of a high order taking the visionary glides.Sitting by the door, he dreams to dwell far. Depicted against the backdrop of the mythico-historical background, he continues to evade us with his escapades and flights of imagination, bringing poetry closer to physics, sociology, museumlogy, art and architecture. Apart from being closer to what it brings him nearer to, feminism, bare realism and other ground realities twitch him for an expression and he really views them with an aggrieved heart.

Jayanta Mahapatra when he started writing verses in English just wrote down the imagistic lines which took the shapes of smaller poems no doubt, but the meaning was not in them nor could it be found and it is also a fact that this also remains a specialty of his his poems that these cannot be annotated even now and it may be his so-called obscurity.Whatever be that he has not written for meaning's sake, but for photography sake. A teacher of physics one has read and taught physics in classrooms, how can we expect it that he will turn to literature barely? To see it otherwise, to him, physics is poetry and poetry physics, an exchange of both.

Jayanta as a poet is first of all an Odia writing in English rather than anything else in his allegiance and loyalties and even if an Indian that too later on; an Odia poet writing about the Odia things and the demography and cartography of Odisha. A poet of Odisha, its hills, rivers, sea coasts, beaches, forest reserves, bird sanctuaries, rocks, stones and temples, his mind cannot dwell anywhere rather than Orissa and Orissan landscapes. Cuttack, Puri, Bhubaneswar, this is the periphery of his poetry and he moves around these. The rock-built temples of Orissa, the Lingaraj temple, the Khandagiri caves, the Dhaulagiri stupa, the Jagannath temple and the Konark sun-temple take the canvas away from him and he seems to photograph them in his full myth-making.

Today we call him a modernist, a post-modernist or a post-colonialist, but the there is no truth in these statements as because when he started to write, nothing was in his mind, just to be a writer was the prospect. There was none to write and stake a claim and it was also true there was none to judge and those who attempted were too sure of they were going to end up as smaller poets and poetesses.

Light and darkness basically form the basis of his imagery and he draws from and discusses in and with which the origin of the universe is connected with, where does light break forth, where does it retreat to?

There is not one single aspect of his poetry. There are so many things and aspects of his poetry and he is so many at one go. A poet, visionary, thinker, dreamer, he is existential, nihilistic, realistic, symbolical, mythical, imagistic, feministic at the same time when we take up. His poetry is a poetry of absurdism. He writes the poetry of the absurd. A poet of rains, rites and waiting, he is very confusing as he confuses the readers with his very idea of the shadow space and random descent.

Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet is a dreamer, a visionary, a philosopher and a thinker apart from being mythico-historical, existential, nihilistic and absurd. The physics departmental stuffs are the things of his deliberation. If physics be his subject, how to expect for something different from, how to negate the influence of astrophysics together with that, which one can come to feel it indirectly? When he talks of the space and an uncertain tomorrow ever-coming, ever-changing or the same dawn-break breaking forth and bundling out, retreating with the glow of the twilight and vanishing in the dusk, he seems to be drawing close to that basics of study. Jayanta Mahaptara’s poetry is inclusive of many a thing, as for example, dream, vision, image, myth, mystery, symbol, history, art, tradition, belief, motif, trend and tradition; society, art, culture, religion, philosophy and spirituality. A poet of the Oriyas, he cannot help without thinking about them. The defeat and bloodshed of the innocent Oriyas into the hands of King Ashoka he has not forgotten them and the fall of the Kalinga. He dreams of, when will Kalinga rise again? This is the historical and regional background against the backdrop of which he reminisces and visualizes. To see it in this context, he is like Thomas Hardy and D.H.Lawrence depicting Wessex and Nottinghamshire and this the locale of his poetry, call it regional, national or international. D.H.Lawrence too has written a book named Etruscan Places as has Khushwant Singh on the history of the Punjab. Similar is the case with Jayanta Mahapatra, the Odia poet in an English garb. Wherever goes he, the dreams’ and the images of Odisha leave him not behind. An Oriya Christian, he has lots to talk about the great famine during which his grandfather converted to Christianity. He can tell about the ten-armed clay idol of Bhagavati with the light in the eyes and the sad immersion of it; the lingam-yoni motif and the yoga-yoginis. People may question with regard to Nissim Ezekiel and his identity, but can never him as he is first of all an Odia then an Indian, but fame came to him internationally first then nationally. Before getting awards here, he had made a way into the West as for his first introduction with the audience.

He is difficult as for that he plays with word, meaning and image. Basically, his verses are frolicking into the hands of imagery and photography. Everything is but based on supposition and conjecture as these leave no room unturned for anything else to delineate upon. Had it been so, what would it have happened? Had it been not, what would it have? The places where there are houses upon would have been one day with the hills over that particular space.

Nothing is what it seems to be and what it seems to be is nothing in respect of Jayanta Mahapatra and his poetry. Just the pencilled images, silhouetted, sketched and drawn are the things of his portrayal. To pick up Shakespearean and Hardyian terms to state it, men as walking shadows and puppets into the hands of destiny are some of the points; purviews of his depiction. His poems are just for to see, glimpse through, the pages to turn over and flit by, not to make out for a meaning as they mean it not. In a single poem he crams so many fleeting images, gliding and slipping past. Why are we,/ who can say it? What is this existence, who can but answer it? Though the poet does not raise these questions, but it appears to be after a study of his poetry that he seems to be making us think about that. He is terse and obscure as for the flimsy existence of light and darkness, the words picked up from an uncommon stock, imagery doing the rounds to owe to. His imagery and language make him obscure and this is the ground for which the critics call him modern, post-modern and post-colonial. As it is difficult to define light and darkness, to tell about the composition of them, the main ingredients and constituents of them so is the case with this poet delving into, a poet of the morning serene and sedate, full of tranquil silence, still arising from, awaking with the lotuses blooming and the sun flashing upon with the glimmering of its own impress him otherwise to be called a poet of silence and this is the Wordsworthian quality which enriches him. But he is differently aware of. Sometimes he contrast and compares the dawn-time, drawing from the scavenger women going to throw off excreta.

As a poet, he is mythical, imagistic, symbolical, mystical, artistic and bodily too when he talks of the twitches of the intriguing body and man-woman relationship envisaged on the walls of the Konark sun-temple and the carvings on it, the erotic sculptures in sex, love, romance and relationship, rounding about the Indian philosophy of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Something of the man and his mind seen in the makers and workers too is evident on these. The good wife’s siesta by his side dreaming the noonday dreams, oblivious of the chants of the burning ghats far away, the summer noon hot, perspiring and wet with, he clutches them along the varied imagery and description in the same poem. He is a visionary who goes dreaming against the backdrop of the rock-built temples. All the time he keeps thinking about the glorious past of it, the times of the making of the rock-built temples and the architects and makers at work, we mean the construction site. The overtones and undertones of the Vedic hermitage full of Vedism, Upanishadism and Puranism continue to hold their sway over Mahapatra and we overhear them in the incantatory voice, the chorus coming down from the temples and this contributes to the mythic base of his poetry. The beauty of ancient India we can feel it in its splendor and magnificence.

The poet is a naturalist and a conservator when he talks of the Olive Ridley turtles, the Chilika bird-sanctuary and the moving of crocodiles into the waters at midday during the summertime and this draws him close to eco-criticism and eco-appreciation of poetry. Can poetry be written at the cost of existence, when our survival will be itself in danger? The sun burnt earth and the dark hamlet with the nameless woman waiting for the coming of her husband with an oil lamp into her hands has many a tale to tell about the Indian countryside. The pains of life and living namelessly are untold. Life is very slow, dull and dreary in the countryside. The peepul tree, the banyan tree and the mango orchards save the villagers from heat and dust during the long summers and the unknown mother and daughter seeing into the hair and waiting for the drop of a mango adds to the story. Which astrologer can predict the poor lot of the poor girl-child of India? The pains of his heart none has come to understand it. What has this freedom given to us? Has poverty been eliminated, eradicated? Still the tales of hunger have been doing the rounds. Poverty keeps quarrelling in the shanty; Poverty as Poor Daughter keeps sucking the breast of Mother Malnutrition. What more do we want to hear? Dowry deaths, female feticide, gender bias, atrocities against women, domestic violence, rape, murder and torture maraud the humble self of the poet and he seems to be helpless to dispense with them.

What is poetry to Mahapatra, if somebody asks it, how to answer? Poetry is photo-negatives; Orissan landscapes, a peep into Oriya life, culture, thought, philosophy and society. Poetry is a dip in nothingness, existentialism, agnosticism, faith and doubt. Why is this waiting? What do we wait for and what does it turn up finally? Is life a waiting and man keeps waiting for it life-long? To see it otherwise, Jayanta’s poetry is a study in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. Who is this Godot? Even Samuel Beckett cannot say it. What to say of Jayanta Mahapatra who keeps turning poetry into physics, even going to the extent of deriving and drawing from light and darkness and the origin of the universe?
A catalogue of his books may furnish with more details:

Close the Sky, Ten by Ten, Dialogue Publication, Calcutta,1971, Svayamvara and Other Poems, Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1971, A Father’s Hours, United Writers, Calcutta, 1976, A Rain of Rites, University of Georgia Press, Athens (USA), 1976, Waiting, Samkaleen Prakashan, New Delhi, 1979, The False Start, Clearing House, Bombay, 1980 , Relationship, Greenfield Review Press, Greenfield, New York 1980, Life Signs, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1983, Dispossessed Nests, Nirala Publications, Jaipur,1986, Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987, Burden of Waves and Fruit, Three Continents Press, Washington, 1988, Temple, Dangaroo Press, Sydney, 1989, A Whiteness of Bone, Viking Penguin, New Delhi, 1992,The Best of Jayanta Mahapatra, Bodhi Publications,Calicut, 1995, Shadow Space, D.C.Books, Kottayam, 1997, Bare Face, D.C.Books, Kottayam, 2000Random Descent, Third Eye Communications, Bhubaneswar,2005,The Lie of Dawns: Poems 1974-2008, Authorspress, New Delhi, 2009

The books of Jayanta Mahaptra have appeared from both, big and small presses. If we talk about the first book of poems, it is a slim volume which follows the course of its own. There is nothing to delve deep, but instead of it, morning shows the day is the thing to be marked in here. Mainly the shorter and simpler, but meaningless poems figure in it and they can make sense if related to with references.

If Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel is a poem of Hindu-view karma, dharma and bhoga, Jayanta Mahapatra’s Dawn at Puri is a poem of some asthi-kalsha and pinda-dana combined with will and testament of Jawarharlal Nehru. This is as because the poet’s mother wishes to be cremated on the sea beach near the temple complex as Puri is the swarga-dwara, the gateway to heaven and it might have made her move along the Hindu line. We do not know what it has happened to her as she is perhaps a Christian. The pyres burning on the sea beach adjacent to the Great Temple, the Jagannath Puri temple, a little away from, scenic and landscapic tell many a tale against the backdrop of the temples, the sea and the lacklustre widows past their centre of hectic activity and the formless lepers beyond recognition. Nissim and Daruwalla also refer to them in their poems. Service to man is service to God corrodes the base of faith and belief. The things seen through the dawn scenery against the backdrop of life and death, faith and doubt belittle it all and we turn into a skeptic. Faith like light too is frail as this human body of the helpless widow is in reality.

‘Svayamvara and Other Poems’ as a collection of poems made a way after Close the Sky, Ten by Ten from Writers Workshop, Calcutta in 1971 when Jayanta Mahapatra had been a teacher of physics traching at Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. Though the book is no variation from his as usual style, it is essential to record as for his growth and development as a poet. We do not know if the editors pick up from Close the Sky, Ten by Ten or Svayamvara and Other Poems. Peace, For a Displaced Season, Blind This World,

A Kind of Love, Sonnet, Sometimes, Morning, Awareness, A Point of View, Betrayal, The Marriage Portrait, Apartment, At The Zoo, Love’s Caress, Where Does Night Begin?, Bells, The Bride, Traditions, Svayamvara, Between, Bones, Sun Worshipper, Child and Teacher, Traffic Constable, Intimacy, Faith, Poem, The Poster, My Boy, Blind Singer in a Train, Henry the Robot/ A Theme of Love, A Name,

Poem (For R.M.) ,etc. are the poems included in it. Whatever be the theme of the poem, but he has not left his love of imagery and imagism, lyric and lyricism, so private and personal, so delving into the realms of nothingness, the space and the vacuum, the things of his perusal.

As Jayanta Mahapatra has evolved today so the people are after Close the Sky, Ten by Ten and Svayamvara and Other Poems. Generally, the readers do not attach any importance to the first entries. But it is easier for the Indian English poets even after their first publications. Those who are going to write first poems also pressure for to be called poets and poetesses. The first anthology which P.Lal edited will show the things in a very poor light. Even Nissim too had not been established in the sixties. Jayanta’s name does not figure in the anthology of poems edited by V.K.Gokak.

Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet is not one who comes from the field of literature, whose business will be emotion and feeling as the cheap sentiment of his, but is a physicist, a professor of physics writing in English.To see it from his discipline of study, physics is his poetry and he has found his theme in physics, the branch of it called astrophysics, light and darkness chapters. The history of the origin of universe is the thing of his deliberation. What it is today will not be tomorrow. Where does light break forth and where does it retreat back to? Who can answer all these questions, the things of the fickle and unconscious mind? Everything is but in a flux; ever-changing state. If this be the state of the things, what to say it more? Imagery is the chief tool of his and he keeps working.

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