Jayanta Mahapatra (1928-) As A Poet
Among the exponents of modern Indian English poetry, as such Nissim Ezekiel, Purshottam Lal, Keki N.Daruwalla, Shiv K.Kumar, Adil Jussawalla, Kamala Das, Shiv K.Kumar, Dom Moraes, Pritish Nandy, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre and a host of others, whom we presume to be the harbingers of modernism, Jayanta Mahapatra is definitely one of those who have furthered it with one collection after another.
Before discussing Jayanta Mahapatra and his poetry, one should keep in mind that Jayanta is first of all an Odia poet of Odisha then anything we say about him from the identity point of view. First, he is an Odia then an Indian, a regional then national and then international one by one. If we discuss as a poet, he is but an imagist and poetry is image-making. The other most important thing we have forgotten about him is this that he is professor of physics, not of literature and poetry comes to him through physics, via it, not properly, but through the channels of light and darkness theories, astrophysics and metaphysics.
There are so many things in his poetry and it is not easy to discuss him at a stretch and this is for which he is called complex and tedious one; a poet whose poems it is difficult to analyse and paraphrase. He is abstract that the lines mean they not exactly.
As a poet he is historical and the history, art and culture of Orissa have influenced him greatly and he just represents them. The Ganga Dynasty kings and the Kalinga Empire we have forgotten them, just the history of Delhi cannot be the history of India.
As a poet, he is of human hunger, want and scarcity which he has felt in the wide Indian countryside.
A realist he is down to realities and it can be marked in several of his poems when he speaks of the fate-lines of the girl, the poverty of the fisher girl, the defeat of Kalinga and the sun-burnt hamlets of the country. In the poem, Temple, he carries the same age-old story of hunger. The things are just the same; only the shapes keep changing with time.
A feminist he has written keeping in view the poor fate of the country girl, atrocities inflicted upon the Indian women folk doing household works namelessly without any credit given to her as for home-keeping. The tales of Indian backwardness, poverty and un-culture, illiteracy and un-education, how to say to? The woes of a developing third-world nation, none, but those who live and suffer can know it well. In his long poem, Temple, he has resorted to rape and violence, basing on news items. What it maligns us is the gang-rape of the girl child and dumping of her beyond recognition.
A romantic, he is Wordsworthian, Keatsian, as and when he talks of mornings and evenings, dawns and dusks, noondays and midnights. A poet of the place, he is Lawrentine as for his references to Cuttack, Puri and Bhubaneswar and Hardyian too as they have referred to Nottinghamshire and Essex.
Silence is the prime thing through which the images germinate in a vacant mood of reflection. Sights and scenes are to see, pictures and images. Though silence is the main thing or crux of his poetry, but instead of it, there are ingredients of it. The silence of mornings and evenings, middays and midnights, dawns and dusks, daybreaks and twilights is one aspect while the silence of the solitary and secluded countryside with the hamlets and thorps against a backdrop the another thing of deliberation. At noonday the solitary pyres burning, the cremation work going on, voices resounding and the wife yawning and taking a siesta oblivious of all, tell of another bewitching silence.
A poet of the sea, he describes it otherwise in terms of J.M.Synge’s Riders to the Sea and livelihood, the rituals going on in the aftermath of the cremation, as such the asthi-kalasha and the panda-dana.
Sexuality is another bewitching and intriguing aspect of his poetry which is but the Lawrentine quality.
A poet of the country, he tells of the mud-housed and straw-thatched hamlets and thorps scattered across a vast stretch of land.
Jayanta Mahapatra had not been a modernist, post-modernist but has become as for the specialties inherent in his poetry naturally. Generally, we call him modernist or post-modernist, or post-colonial as for his handling of the theme and the grasp and grip over the language, the grip over it.
Silence is the key-word of Jayanta Mahapatra; the key-board and he keeps tapping them to play with words, juggling as a juggler, solving word-puzzles and cross-words. A ludo or chess player of words, he gives a tougher fight in coming to terms with him; his poetic words, sentences and stanzas and those stanzas are the stanzas of nothingness, existentialism, what it seems to be is not and what it seems not is to be. In a word, the gist of which is, his poetry borders on the theme of nothingness and meaninglessness, nothing is what it seems to be and what it seems to be is nothing. Apart from a poet of silence, he is very much bewitching and intriguing. Against the backdrop of all this, the conspiracies and whispers of silence can be marked in the whorehouse and fisher girl images and pictures.
Eco-centric quality is the cardinal feature of his poetry. The sea, lakes, rivers, hills, water bodies, turtles, forests, empty spaces, vacant moods ns minds and the blank sheets of paper-like feeling possess the poetic self of the writer and he longs for an expression in them. The poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra is eco-centric and environmental-friendly as and when the talks order on the theme of nothingness, existentialism and he shows us through the morning and the evening, their incessant coming and going, the passage of time. Solid mass or mater remains the same. Just the shapes of the things go changing and this is what he says, communicates and relates to in his poetry.
Linguistically rather than thematically, he goes on keeping us on the tenterhooks. His language is more powerful than being poetical and literary simply as because his is a language of science, that of physics and secondly he is a Christian too and thirdly he has studied in convent schools.
There are so many reasons for it.
Word-play is one of the bewitching characteristics of Jayanta Mahapatra and many struggle to catch the rhythm of his lines in order to mean them, but meaning is not in between the lines, just the images lie in. The images of the vacant skies, sunny and silvery with the spaces blankly lifting us and of the landscapes solitary and secluded, the herons and storks flying over a vast surface, these baffle and perplex us in grappling with.
For the foreign audience, not the Indian readers, some say it, he has written his poetry as had been famous before or in contact with them even before being recognized here. The foreigners too appreciated and admired him as for the bare details of India and the intriguing facts, cramming and compressed. The tales of hunger fascinate them; the tales of want and scarcity, moral depravity and corrosion.
The poems of Jayanta Mahapatra are the lyrics of silence which but a few have come to realize it. He is a poet of silence and his poetry the poetry of silence which is but one phase of his creative dimension.
There is Vedic incantation, Upanishadic recapitulation in Jayanta Mahapatra. The prayers, hymns and psalms recited in the Jagannatha temple can be overheard in his poetry and this is the mantric quality as well as incantation of his poetry. Such a thing is Vedic, Upanishadic and Puranic which it is available in him indirectly. The wooden frame from which the idols are made and changed every nineteen years is another time of festive celebration.
To read him is to know that he is a professor of physics turning, converting the matters and materials of physics into poetry. His base is of physics, not of literature, more especially poetry. He has come to understand and comprehend poetry just through physics. It is the theories of physics which tell of the history of the world in a different way seen through the creation of the universe and the theories doing the rounds.
He is a poet of the dark daughters whose trouble, tribulation we have failed to comprehend which is in other words the myth of feminism, how have we neglected our daughters, how have we treated them? Our patriarchal bias has ruined it all what good it was in us. The inequality and empathy with which we see our daughters hurts us, not only us, but the good and thinking people of the world. Such a thing struck it Derozio and he wrote The Fakir of Jungheera and it benumbed Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
He is a poet of Orissa, his mind one of it, his heart and soul. His mind can go nowhere except Orissa. His heart still beats for the rathyatra, the chariot festival of Puri.
His poetry is a departure from the conventional norms, rules and regulations of verse and he takes liberties with the fancy and imagination of his type, dream and reflection, leaving any a question asked and unasked, answered and unanswered.
This too is a fact not to be suppressed that fame came knocking at his door as there was a dearth of poets and he had been famous with his just Close the Sky, Ten by Ten and Svayamvara and Other Poems. Herein thought and meaning are not, juts image and word-play, abstract brooding and vacant thinking. On the chess-board of silence, he plays his moves tactfully with so much word-play and intrigue.
Waiting is without any doubt a book of Orissa, Orissan history and culture. Written against a historical backdrop, it stands for its crystal and contradictory imagery, surreal expression, change and shift in styles and transitions of thought, idea and imagery. The frequent references to Puri, Cuttack, Konark and Bhubaneswar make it an Oriya poetry-work.
The False Start contains in his famous Balasore elegy just to be placed by the side of Gray’s Elegy. A poem it startles us with its vivid imagery and clear-cut poetic conception and description. There is no ambiguity herein. Luckily, he is so meaningful here as that no one can doubt it that he is meaningless elsewhere. A poet of images, imagery and imagism, he has dealt with poetical themes, but he stuns us here.
A poet of rains and rites, he is very ambiguous as because he has little to do with the rains as it is a common phenomenon of the coastal area. Poetry to Mahapatra is an album of photographs and you just keep seeing them rather than asking him; poetry to Mahapatra is images fleeting and captured into the camera.
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, 2000,
Random Descent, Third Eye Communications, Bhubaneswar, 2005,
The Lie of Dawns: Poems 1974-2008, Authorspress, New Delhi, 2009,
Land, Authorspress, New Delhi, 2013.
Relationship, is a story of his relationship with the land of his birth, nativity and historicity of art and culture. With an Oriya mind and heart, he sings of Orissa, the Orissan scenes and landscapes and it is the book for which he has won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1981.
His poetry is the poetry of silence and on the dashboard of it, he keeps uploading the images. A photographer of the rock-cut temples, he goes picturing the sculptures and figurines in love, war and devotion, telling of sociologically, dharma-artha-kama-and-moksha.
From the sea beach he sees the dawn flashing, the evening descending upon and enveloping the area, the solitary pyres burning.
The things of the dark consciousness the poet explores about through the nocturnal flight of imagination.
The poem Dark Flight may be quoted in:
The sky darkens. The afternoon wind
drifts through the streets of the old city
and wrecks the images on the placid river
that holds the sudden terror
of a man falling into its chilly depths.
My eyes are getting used to the dark.
From time to time
my father comes at me
with outstretched arms of judgement
and I answer from no clear place I am in.
If I could get up and move about,
seeking the quick swifts in the halflight in the rain,
trying to feel the wind on the wings
that overcome the earth. In a dream
I hear someone’s laughter and it’s
no longer the same. In a wind
that carries the smoke and the fear,
the slow, doubled voice of wings
we are always afraid to hear.
( Prevalent Aspects of Indian English Poetry, Edited by H.S.Bhatia, Sita Publications International, Khanna, Punjab, 1983-84, p.28)
What he feels, what he thinks and what he puts down on paper, it is not easy to grasp, express that as because he is so psychological and internal. The exterior not, but the interior at work is the chief property of the poet.
Loss is one of the poems which deserve to be mentioned:
Outside the house, the trees have grown.
Tonight a dark wind drops down
through the congested leaves
and the fidgets on the steps leading to my door:
it has a lonely voice
of tides spilling up over the beaches of our dreams.
The grass going bare unknown under our feet,
the pigeons sailing across the uneven heart,
the acres of water lying beyond our thirst:
each a key that refuses to turn in a lock.
that memory concealed with ominous heights.
Now when I open the door
is it the green grieving wind which pushes through
and disturbs the things hanging on that instant
or is it the breath of someone once loved
trying to shake something out of the mind?
(Modern Trends in Indo-Anglian Poetry, , Edited by H.S.Bhatia, Sita Publications International, Khanna, Punjab, 1983-84, Reprinted: October, 1982, p.15)
Illness as a poem can be read for our interpretation:
The wind veers. Suddenly, around me
in the darkness of evening.
The old cottage has taken on
a comfortable look,
the afternoon sun’s warmth
has seeped in through my shirt.
But this body
thrown up on its own thoughts.
Of warm water, clean sheets on a bed,
a naked whiteness thrust into summer,
swelling of mangoes and cashews.
And the brazen wind
just trying to talk about itself.
I try to touch things.
No one has come yet to turn on the light.
(Bridge-in-Making, Editor Pronab Kumar Majumder, January to April 1999, 24th Number, p.8-9)
The myths of Jayanta are the myths of Orissa and the Oriyas; the folktales doing the rounds in his poetry. The myths of the dark daughters are but feministic and archival, historical and sociological.
As a poet Jayanta Mahapatra is Wordsworthian and Yeatsian, but first of all Ezra Poundian. Imagery and myth-making are the chief priorities, properties of the poet which he excels in profoundly. Rains of rites and rituals are the things of deliberation rather than pattering rains of the coastal area. The monsoon wedding is not the theme of Jayanta Mahapatra nor do the showers of Shravan or Bhadra month of the Hindu calendar. Jayanta is very confused in his art and craft of poetry-writing as the poems come to him as word-puzzles, cross-words and he likes to frolick with word-play.
A poet of summer, he can tell of the scent of the mangoes, raw and ripening, leafy green and sour, yellowish and ripe. A poet of summer, scorching heat and no respite from, he can suggest of passing the day under he shade of the mango groves. But side by side in that sweating can tell of conjugal love; wet man-woman relationship.
Who does not know Jayanta Mahapatra, a modern Indian English poet who has received many coveted prizes and accolades world-wide? Let us see how he weaves poetic images and myths privately and personally.
To discuss Jayanta Mahapatra is to come to know it that he is first of all imagist than anything we presume about him. First of all, an Odia by identity, he is a poet of Odisha, the and of his birth and nativity and thereafter anything else we think about him. In a writer like him, there are so many aspects and perspectives to be perused.