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Jayanta Mahapatra (1928 - ):
A Study in Imagery and Imagism
by Bijay Kant Dubey
The Poet & The Thinker
Maybe this shadow of mine
was born before I was.
Now I am never alone
because it’s always there.
People come often, stopping by
for my shadow.
(Random Descent, Third Eye Communications, Bhubaneswar, 2005, p.28)
I have no choice today
The house I have lived in all these years
has forgotten the stone it was made of
A dusk of memories
makes me feel weak and light;
I am unable to move.
Old stories reach
For those memories’ hands.
− A Sound of Flutes
(A Whiteness of Bone, Viking Penguin, ibid, p.62)
What does my world say?
I follow the substance of my shadow
in the procession of light on the leaves;
and I watch myself, standing in shadow,
afraid to step out of it.
But then the sun comes down on me.
(Burden of Waves And Fruit, Three Continents Press, ibid, p.28)
Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet is not only a writer of verse to be taken simply at one go, but a dreamer and a visionary, a physicist and a philosopher dwelling apart, delving too far into the unknown and unchartered domains and trajectories, which lie they stretched beyond, lengthening off to shadow space and encompassing in life signs to tell of life lived, felt and experienced through a strange vacuum seen and perceived. Apart from one of strong faith and belief, myth and mysticism shown against the backdrop of the rock-built temples, he has little to derive from and take out, as suspense and doubt seem to be taking the space to engage him otherwise and he bends to nihilism, existentialism and iconoclasm through which he builds and outdoes, constructs and deconstructs. A search is almost there in him, as for the images of life and for values, letting them as they are and as they will be in future. Art to him is not for art’s sake merely, but for morality too and he writes attaching with that. But to gather the momentum philosophically, from nowhere to somewhere and somewhere to nowhere, where one to go, how the images and reflections of life shadowed, this very silhouetting continues in his poetry.
If to ask him, he will perhaps say it, poetry is the photo negatives of life, images fleeting and in a flux and the reel moving on is the thing to be felt and understood at some level of inner consciousness. To read Jayanta is to come to the conclusion, nothing is what it seems to be and what it seems to be is nothing, as because the scenes and sites go shifting with the change in situation, idea, thought and reflection and the unconscious mind can always be seen at work. To paint the image against the backdrop of bright and shadowed lights is the flair of the writer.
A poet of silence and rural landscapes, his mind settles in the India of villages living in mud-houses with thatched roofs and the people holding faith in great belief which but betrays too, as faith remains not faith, but turns into blind faith thudded by doubt lurking within and suspense taking over. A poet who has studied physics as his subject with specialization and has taught it into the classrooms, he startles us with his poetic flight and imagination, brooding and insight, imagery and myth-making, peep and penetration, random reflection and introspection.
After his early education which he received in Orissa, he went to Patna University, Bihar to do his M.Sc. in physics, lived on the banks of the Ganges, saw the river in its rage and majesty, but could not understand his feelings then. He returned back to his native place after the attainment of the postgraduate degree and taught in the various colleges of Orissa before switching finally over to Ravenshaw College, Cuttack wherefrom superannuated too in 1986. This is all about his professional career that we know superficially. There is still much to learn from his memoirs, sketches and reflections; essays, papers and acceptance speeches; tours, travels, visits, sojourns and literary friendships. There are some editors who have really promoted him and his poetry. An Oriya Christian, and this too has a history of own, he starts his career as an amateur writer when in his forties.
“Over the sloughing of the somber wind
priests chant louder than ever:
the mouth of India opens.”
− Indian Summer Poem
(A Rain of Rites, ibid, p.35)
Let us see how Prof K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar takes to while editing the book for the third edition in 1982 for to be brought out in 1983 and adding a new chapter called Postscript where there figures in the page about the new poet Jayanta Mahapatra and his inclusion:
“Jayanta Mahapatra’s A Rain of Rites (1976), Waiting (1979), The False Start and Relationship (1980) reveal a first-rate poetic sensibility, and the last volume fittingly won the Sahitya Akademi award. Jayanta is a close observer of men and things, and he finds.
Every man, every beast
trapped, deaf in his own sleep…
The lyric notes are sharp, they sting − yet somehow satisfy. The cripples at Puri who are taken for granted, the white-clad widows: Truth seems twisted sometimes, yet pitiless. ‘Hunger’ is brutal in its precision of despair, neither pseudo-romanticism nor routine realism. In several of the 44 lyrics in Waiting, Jayanta seems half-unconsciously to recapitulate Vedic times and themes, for he too is Man watching Nature within and without. The ancient spiritual quest tugs at the physicist-poet’s heart-strings. Why death? Why pain? Why this “wistful dreaming about the axis of the past”? The False Start is another vibrant string of lyrical poems, the running theme being the need to beyond defeat and attempt to reach after the seeming unattainable. Relationship is a sustained long poem, an expansion of the private lyric voice into a chain of meditations embracing a region, a tradition, a whole way of life. The theme and its half-hypnotic articulation alike compel respectful admiration. − (K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Indian Writing In English, Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi , Reprint 1993, p.713)
The poetic journey of Jayanta Mahapatra starts from 1971 or a little before it and the two history books will certify his arrival. This is possible in Indian English poetry that one starts one’s poetic journey just with the publication of a handful of poems and a book on the anvil, but even in our modern Indian languages it is difficult to attain the heights so soon. They turned into poets and poetesses easily, sailed through smoothly, but the coming times are going to be difficult as the writers will have to struggle and suffer more for new breaks in poetry.
that begins nowhere and ends nowhere
touches me like nothing does.
Its femininity, quickened and childishness,
stands out apart;
it begins in loss, beauty, the nearness of soul.”
− Only Twlight
(Bare Face, D.C.Books, Kottayam, 2000, p.14)
There are different facets of the same Jayanta Mahapatra. He is a poet of the morning, the dawn, the midday, the dusk and the nightfall and of the midnight too when he talks of being alone in the house with a rat running just like that of W.B. Yeats’ An Acre of Grass. There are several poems named round the golden and breaking dawn, glistening beautifully, reddening and brightening, flashing and dazzling. Again, the same scene with a little difference can be marked in the glowing sun about to set to be contrasted with the moon going behind the cottage of Lucy in Strange Fits of Passion and the glowing, sunny pastoral scene with Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd To His Love.
“Endless crow noises.
A skull on the holy sands
tilts its empty country towards hunger.
White-clad widowed women
past the centres of their lives
are waiting to enter the Great Temple.”
− Dawn at Puri
(A Rain of Rites,The University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1976, p.28)
Let us mark how Prof. M.K. Naik takes to,
“Jayanta Mahapatra (1928-), another academic, began his career with Close the Sky, Ten by Ten (1971) and has since published Svayamvara and Other Poems (1971), A Rain of Rites (1976), Waiting (1979), Relationship (1980, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1981) and The False Start (1980). Mahapatra’s poetry is redolent of the Orissa scene and the Jagannatha temple at Puri figures quite often in it. His most characteristic note is one of quiet but often ironic reflection mostly concerning love, sex and sensuality in the earlier poetry and the social and political scene in some of the later poems. His style has an admirable colloquial ease, punctuated by thrusts of striking images as, for instance, ‘his lean-to opened like wound’ and ‘the one wide street/lolls out like a giant tongue.’ His muted brooding occasionally results in extremes of either excessively cryptic statement of verbal redundancy and in weaker moments he is seen echoing other poets, as in the Eliotesque ‘mornings/Like pale yellow hospital linen’; but his better work indicates a poetic voice which promises to gather strength in the years to come.” − (M.K. Naik, A History of Indian English Literature, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1982, p.207)
A catalogue or bibliography of his books itself will speak of what he has as the works cited in as for our ready reference:
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
The foothills are quiet, it’s another day.
A new mist chokes the trees.
A sky of silence,
meaningless as man’s hatred,
as grass upon graves,
comes out into the sun.
(A Whiteness of Bone, ibid, p.62)
Jayanta Mahapatra published his first poetic venture titled Close the Sky, Ten by Ten and the book appeared from some Dialogue Publication, Calcutta. The work, though inclusive of mainly shorter poems, bordering on lyrical effusion, verbal play and imagistic lining, just talked of the arrival of the new writer. Most of the poems which he included in the work were imagistic portals, opening the Pandora’s box, full of image, imagery and imagism, the imagist in the making, the footfall of his sounding nearer, but one could not guess it then, nor the materials were so tight and meaningful. When it dazzles the light, imagery takes wings just like the gossamer shining underneath in the morning sunlight; when it grows dark and opaque, imagery takes wings again with the shadows lurking in, darkness enveloping and the birds returning back to their nests. He has played with words linguistically and the jargon of words prevailing upon. Today it is difficult to get the copy of the book. Just the xerox materials are doing the rounds for research works. It has not been reprinted. The author’s copy itself is the source material of it published long ago. A few of these poems just figure in research works otherwise the anthologists represent them not in the maximum.
I am still here.
To talk to the phantoms of time.
As the season of a hundred thousand years
starts to speak with its strange voice again.
(Shadow Space, D C Kottayam Books, 1997, p.28)
A poet of the seventies, he is a recipient of several accolades and prizes, honors and certificates and has delivered his lectures and speeches world-wide, going to the overseas. Jayanta received SAARC Literary Award for 2009, Allen Tate Poet Prize for 2009 and an honorary doctorate from Ravenshaw University in the same year. A recipient of Padma Shri from the Govt. of India in 2009, he is acclaimed for his service to literature and society.
A poet of Orissa, Oriya history, art, culture and thematics, he writes with Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark as the hub of his poetry which he keeps rounding about, referring in a multiple way. The Chilka Lake with its natural habitat and migratory birds, the Konark Sun-temple with the chariot, the Jagannath Puri-temple with the statues of Jagannath, Balabhdara and Subhadra and the Lingaraj-temple telling of rock-cut splendour, the Puri sea-beach with calm and commotion and the Mahanadi and the Chandrabhaga rivers flowing through hold the poetic pen of Jayanta to write about and he does too in demarcating a cartography of that. As an imagist, he is Ezra Poundian, exploiting imagery and imagism and poems come to him as images and reflections and you go on seeing them rather than deriving for meaning just like a passenger peeping out of the window of the moving train bogey.
A myth-maker, he weaves the myths personal and private, deriving in the way as Yeats did in Sailing to Byzantium and others, as did Wordsworth while tuning to the reaper’s song. A singer of Ireland not, but of Orissa, its history, art, sculpture, tradition and space, he goes in the way of his to be a Gregoryian ballad singer. Just like David Herbert Lawrence, he sees the erotic sculptures carved on the outer temple-walls telling of man-woman relationship, telling of the dharma, artha, kama and moksha motif and the yoga-yoginis and it is form there that he got the dark daughter of his Relationship.
Who is this dark daughter, a yoga-yogini or a nautch girl turned into stone or a temple-serving devadasi? How to identify her? Is she an attribute of the Mother Goddess or a working class girl standing speechless and benumbed? Maybe she womankind upon whom atrocities are heaped upon. How to identify her?
A historiographer, a curator, a conservator, a photographer, he photographs the rock-built temples, in their full splendor and long-standing, the poet tries to go deep into their history, as for who made them and when did they? But there is none to answer. Everything is but anonymous and the history silent about all that. The history of Orissa is his subject and the culture of it the space of his poetry. He is first and foremost an Oriya rather than an Indian. An Oriya poet in an English garb is the thing to be dealt and this is true in respect of the poet. His poetic spectrum and the horizon of thinking match with that of Samuel Beckett’s in Waiting for Godot. Just waiting continues, not sure of whether Godot will turn up or not. Why are the tramps waiting for? Or, are we the tramps in reality passing our days in doing absurd and useless things? Is our life meaningless as Shakespeare says in the extract from Macbeth that life is a series of tomorrows ending death? Life is nothing but a walking shadow. Is it not? We do not know if his existentialism from the book of physics or from Kierkegaard, Kafka and Sartre. Poetry as seems to us from a reading of his poetry is but a book of physics, more specially the light chapter of it. To understand him better, Jayanta is but an absurdist and his poetry a study in absurdism. As Khushwant Singh is of the Punjab and its legacy and heritage so is Jayanta Mahapatra in his delineation of Odisha and the Odias.
He is an imagist and this is the reason for which the images cannot be resolved, analyzed and annotated. Apart from an imagist’s foray and delving, he is a nihilist too, drawing from vacant thinking, random reflections and the shadow space, and this all shows his journey from here to astronomy to where? To read him is not to be light and happy, but to be laden and down, tense and fretful. A serious poet, he takes life seriously. Many read him, but fail to derive from as he is obscure and meaningless. The meaning is not there in his verse-lines. He is so abstract and condensed that words fail to claw at. Shifting shadows and images can never be explained and this is the case in the context of the poet in pursuance to meaning not, but linguistic presentation. Light and darkness are two sides of the same coin and these go swapping places in the poetry of his. A poet of some Oriya heart and soul, he cannot dwell anywhere barring it, the mind cannot lift to barring the place where he was born, got his schooling from, just falling short of being a Rupert Brooke.
Jayanta Mahapatra went on publishing one book after to substantiate and consolidate his position. Svayamvara and Other Poems was just a little bit better than the former. A Rain of Rites is actually the book to be reckoned with and here his poetry takes the flight. The famous poem, Dawn At Puri is herein. The False Start too is a good attempt whereas Waiting is a book of historical background. Relationship brings him the laurel in the form of the Sahitya Akademi Award. But one should not take for the Temple of Jayanta Mahapatra as for George Herbert’s The Temple, as the title is contradictory and there is nothing like that which Herbert has detailed upon in his poetry. Apart from being a poet, he is a prose writer, a short story writer, an editor, a translator and a reviewer and his books have arrived from small and big presses. Before getting name and fame in India, he had been famous elsewhere as he used to send his poems to foreign journals. Some of these were rejected definitely, but instead of that, he got rewards for his poetry. Sometimes the editors misjudge the entries and the same make a way when published elsewhere.
We question Nissim Ezekiel with regards to his identity and he suffers from the quest for identity too, but Jayanta passes the test without any doubt, as he is an Indian poet writing with Oriya blood and soul. The defeat of Ashoka he has not forgotten, the blood which it spilled from the slaughtered Oriyas when lay they lifeless and motionless in blood, writhing in pain and death on the banks of the Daya river, as the fields of Dhauli littered with the dead bodies, innumerable in number. On seeing the men killed and butchered, the heart of King Ashoka changed and he begged for penance through his rock edicts and turned into a Buddhist.
Apart from an imagist and a photographer of scenes and sights, temples and picnic spots, lakes and beaches, villages and village-ways, he is a realist, a social thinker and a feminist. Rape, violence, murder, atrocity, corruption, terrorism, communal unrest, bombardment, poverty, exploitation and injustice rake him badly and he longs for an expression. The newspaper items dealing with hunger, poverty, rape and death take the canvas away from him and he seeks to dabble in ink with a very heavy heart of his rarely to be found. What can poetry if the ills are not diagnosed and cured? The dowry deaths sadden him and he feels morose and broken. In the earlier poems of his, he had been so much imagistic and lyrical, but in the latter he turned to feminism and social realities.
An orange flare
lights the pale panes of the hospital
in a final wish of daylight.
It’s not yet dark.
(Burden of Waves And Fruit, ibid, p.23)
We do not know as to how to re-designate and rechristen him by calling a modern or a post-modern, a colonialist or a post-colonialist. When he just started to write, he had not been sure of what the future critics would designate him as for his verse. Like an Indian poet, quite insecure of his rank and placement into the annals, he just chose to dabble in verse. It is also true side by side that there had not been too much of competition then. A few used to think of publishing in English and the poetry-collections of the then time used to. To be a modern Indian language poet was but a difficult task rather than being an Indian English poet.
To see the things in the eyes of K.S. Ramamurti,
“Mahapatra is again a poet whose poetry shows the stamp of the modernist and post-modernist influences. The recurrent themes of his poetry are loneliness, the complex problems of human relationships, the difficulties of meaningful communication, the life of the mind in relation to the life of the external world and the complex nature of love and sex.” − (K.S.Ramamurti, Twenty-five Indian Poets in English, Macmillan, Delhi, Reprinted 1996, p.55)
“Mahapatra has a feel for some rare moments which, even if they appear to be ordinary and insignificant, can mean a great deal for a poet of such delicate sensibility when he looks back upon it and contemplates it in retrospect. As in most modernist poetry, there is in Mahapatra’s poetry greater emphasis on subjective memory and inner self than on the external world or actual events.” − (Ibid, p.65)
“There is a photograph still hanging
on the wall in my father’s house. It is quite old;
and against an elaborate backdrop the photographer used,
are my parents, my younger brother and I.
I want to shut it from my mind
because it reminds me of a useless moment.”
− The Dispossessed
(A Whiteness of Bone, Viking Penguin, New Delhi,1992, p.29)
People call him a very tough poet to be dealt with, as because he is imagistic, linguistic, lyrical, nonsensical, nihilistic, blank, abstract, mythical, psychological, philosophical, introspective, multi-dimensional, rural, landscapic, social, humanistic, liberal, factual, real, regional, personal, private, patriotic, national and international at the same time when we sit to assess a genius like that of him. His poetry is a poetry of pinda-dana continuing in on the beach and of the asthi-kalsha hanging to be disposed off into the holy waters, the rituals going on the sea shore adjacent to the Puri temple. The poet marking the skulls and thinking of the dawn at Puri, the pyres lit around, flames going up in the air, the trails of blazing smoke rising upwards and the sands shifting, these strike not the heart, but the image-taker’s lenses. He is there to present and picture life and the world as they are rather than to be remorseful. The same world, the same man and the same time, what does it make the difference! The same time is fragmented into ages, decades, years, months, hours, minutes, seconds and moments. Poetry is perception, poetry is impression, poetry is unconscious mind at work, whatever tell you is true in connection with Mahapatra and his poetry. Poetry is blank thinking and the poet a blank thinker, nothing in the mind, consistent and stable, everything in a flux, this may also be true and his poetry can be explained through the light chapter of physics.
The opening passage from Relationship itself states it clearly,
“Once again one must sit back and bury the face
in this earth of the forbidding myth,
the phallus of the enormous stone,
when the lengthened shadow of a restless vulture
caresses the strong and silent deodars in the valley,
and when the time of the butterfly
moves inside the fierce body of the forest bear,
and feel the tensed muscle of rock
yield to the virtuous water of the hidden springs of the Mahanadi,
the mystery of secret rights that make up destiny;”
( Relationship, The Chandrabhaga Society, Cuttack, Second Indian Edition, 1999, p.9 )
Mahapatra quotes a stanza from Walt Whitman to start Relationship and this is the ground for which we call it a Leaves of Grass in miniature. Relationship as a work is so visionary, so much dreamy and fanciful that the poet just floats on and flows by as Tennyson’s The Brook murmurs by, as John Keats goes with the nightingale into the woods smelling fragrant flowers. Similar is the case with the Mahapatra of this long poem. Just like Ruth or Philomela, Ulysses or the Ancient Mariner, he holds the hands and tells the stories of his own. Maybe it that the writer of Christabel Coleridge is before us or that of The Listeners and Martha poems, who is none but Walter de la Mare. Somewhere the music is like that of Look, Stranger of W.H.Auden, somewhere that of Poem in October of Dylan Thomas. Here the poet is a singer like the Wordsworth of Tintern Abbey, The Daffodils, To The Skylark, The Lost Love, Upon Westminster Bridge, By The Sea and John Masefield of Sea Fever.
Jayanta’s attachment with the land of his birth and nativity, there lies it depicted in a very flowery language and a dreamy glide, floating by. The poem deals with the lost mariners, Ashokan bloodshed and the fields smeared with bloodshed and the bodies with bloodstains and the river Daya unable to wash off the sin of the emperor and in the aftermath of all that he relented and repented for after having killed and that was why laid down the arms for peace. The Dhauligiri Shantih Stupa, the Peace Pagoda adds to the beauty of the site. The rock edicts at the foot of the Dhauli hills tell of many a thing in the form of his decrees. Ashoka felt guilty of conscience as for the unwashable sin of killing many and felt aggrieved from his within. There is the thunder shower of The Cloud of Shelley as well as shantih of The Waste Land of T.S. Eliot, but in a subdued way. Here in this fairy man work, the poet Mahapatra is serene, tranquil and quiet taking the flight as do the swans, herons and storks for the marshy plots, making us remember of W.B. Yeats’ The Wild Swans At Coole. Sometimes the poet draws the things from tantra-yoga and the yoga-yoginis; sometimes tells about the lingam-yoni motif in Relationship. The Frostian woods lovely, deep and dark, but miles to go before we sleep, stopping near fascinated by the mystery and beauty of the tract one evening and the Longfellowian footprints on the sands of time to follow after as per the psalm of life tempt us really.
A few stanzas from Song of Myself of Leaves of Grass will put it comparatively:
“I celebrate Myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease….observing a spear of summer grass.
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes….the shelves are crowed with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume….it has no taste of the distillation….it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever….I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.”
− (Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Edited, with an Introduction, by Abraham Cowley, Penguin Books, USA, 1986, p.25)
M.K. Naik in one of his contents named Two Worlds: The Imagery of Jayanta Mahapatra of the latest book of criticism writes:
“An intensive scrutiny of Mahapatra’s imagery reveals that his images are dawn from two worlds viz., the exterior world of phenomenal reality and the surrealistic world and the way these two worlds are related is equally significant. The image is for Mahapatra not merely what Wyndham Lewis called, the primary pigment of poetry; it is almost his characteristic way of reacting to experience, ordering it and recording it.” − (M.K.Naik in Indian English Poetry from the beginnings upto 2000, Pencraft International, Delhi-110052, pp. 2009, p.104)
Random Descent, Bare Face and Shadow Space are alike in theme and expression and are the latest books of his poems, but the poet has not changed his track. He is the same Mahapatra who began with his earlier books as he cannot do away with imagery and word-play. Poetry, to him, appears to be a cobweb of words glistening as gossamer in the morning when the first rays of the sun flash upon. The Lie of Dawns is not at all a new collection, but a selection from his different works, together with a few unpublished poems to be counted on fingers. His Temple is one dealing with poverty, hunger, food problem, suicide, rape and killing, opening the wounds again to question, how secure are we, how the food problem lies it addressed to! The attainment of freedom, the celebration of the 50 years of India’s independence and the voters coming to cast their votes stun us differently in thinking what we have really done for all those people, what to do with the false dawn of democracy! Summers, hot and perspiring, take the canvas of the poet for a deliberation and he tells about the orchards, the woman passing the midday and the daughter combing her hair underneath the shades and the mangoes dropping to change from one theme to another.
“The girl’s line of life climbs those sheer
vertical walls she’ll never be able to climb herself.
In the darkness of the city, familiar bloody hands
are cleaning their livers and their intestines.
Neither daughter of wind nor cloud, the girl’s
mind is wrapped in a haze of thousands and children.”
− From the poem ‘Palmistry’
(Random Descent, ibid, p.16)
The final passage from the work, Relationship ends as thus, embroidering the mythical text of the dark daughters
Is anything beyond me that I cannot catch up?
Tell me your names, dark daughters
Hold me to your spaces
In your dance is my elusive birth, my sleep
that swallows the green hills of the land
and the crows that quicken the sunlight in the veins,
and the stone that watches my sadness fly in and out
of my deaths, a spiritless soul of memory.
(Relationship, The Chandrabhaga Society, Cuttack, Second Indian Edition, 1999, p.38 )
The word ‘door’ plays a pivotal role in the understanding of his poetry as his poems pertaining to the dawn, the morning and the nightfall are in their essence. There are also many poems taking the summer theme as for poetic expression, but in a very private and personal way of reflection. The unconscious mind at work and play is the thing of his deliberation, what it comes to the plane, stays not, but passes out as fleeting impressions in a flux. The brooding quality of his poetry seconded by the visionary glides, imaginative flights and dreamy drives take him to the pedestal of glory. A search for meaning pervades the whole poetic corpus in the form of questions and answers ever raised, ever tried for a solution, but the solution is not. Sitting by the door, he dreams and dreams, thinking about the unknown paths of life and the world, leading whereto,
So many doors before me,
and each single one open.
Yet one cannot enter,
walking silently by a door.
These dead things
loom larger with every hour that goes.
(A Whiteness of Bone, ibid, p.53)
More by :
Bijay Kant Dubey
Jayanta Mahapatra The Poet
The poet talking of the lingam-yoni motif,
The myth and mystery of creation,
And their attributes and denominations.
Sitting in the temple complex,
He keeps thinking of the windows,
The door planks,
The small doorways of the rock-built temples
Telling of yore
And its hoary days.
The Konark Sun-temple
Radiating in sunshine,
With the Sun-god seated on a chariot
Drawn by white horses
Catches us aflame.
The grotesque wooden-crafted gods and goddesses
Of Jagannath Puri,
Krishna, Balabhadra and Subhadra
Ogling in his poetry
And he deriving from the Ratha-yatra.
The panda-danas continue on the sea beach,
The asth-kalashas immersed being in,
Rites and rituals continuing in
With rains and summer-time
And the choric chants coming from.
In the form of the prayers in the temples,
Rites and rituals continuing in
Or the bodies being cremated on the sands
Of Puri, the area adjacent to the temple and the beach,
Surrounding the Swarga-dwara.
Jayanta an Odia poet of Odisha
Telling of the cartography and demography of Orissa,
The place of his birth, nativity and roots,
The ecology of it,
The lakes, bird sanctuaries, hills and rivers.
A poet of coastal Orissa
Of rains and rites, summers and siestas,
Mango groves and sun-burnt earth,
Hamlets and thorps,
He views life in his own way.
The myths of the dark hamlets
Standing against the backdrop of the hills,
He tells of the darker myths,
Superstition, backwardness, underdevelopment,
Illiteracy, poverty and hunger.
The tales of the dark daughters strike him,
Holding the hands
Tell they the story
Of their toil, tears, sweat and blood,
Their trouble and tribulation.
Jayanta Mahapatra And His Paper On The Dark Daughters
To talk of Jayanta Mahapatra is to talk of the dark daughters, the dark daughters of the land which he refers to in the last pages of his book named Relationship and this is reality one of the mysteries of his poetry that he has spoken about so. The image of the dark daughter is so mythical, mysterious, symbolical, historical, artistic, aesthetic, archival, archaeological and museumlogical that one cannot interpret it so easily and herein lies the philosophy and sociology of his interdisciplinary poetry drawing from history, art, culture, myth, mysticism, society, science and painting or these may be the folklore sisters dancing and making Buddha follow up the middle path of life, neither too much austere nor loose, but of the middle path and let life be as such. They may be dark outwardly, but are not so, but full of so much so love and affection, sympathy and bonding; they are dark as for the blazing sun and the sun burnt summers lasting long and earths cracked, parched and baking. Dark is not the dark daughters; dark is Kali, Call her Uma, Sati, Chandi, Kalika or Parvati; the myths of Creation and of Darkness. What it is dark, let it be, as they will remain, continue unto the last. Have you not heard it, dark is beautiful? So are the dark daughters, the creations of various yoga-yoginis, various make-overs, take-overs or attributes representing in the ways varied and reflective enough. They keep the houses, work on the farmlands, rear up the children; they work as planters, reapers and harvesters, let them be. Give value to their labour and sweat. But lest it be not that we shall snatch their sweet pulsation of life. Let them be vibrating and humming; reaping, cutting and humming into the fields of life.
They are the beauty of the world to see and feel; art and artifacts; the aesthetic sense and value which also constitute life. They are the art-symbols and the myth and mysticism of it with which the things of art and artifacts made and in whose absence the world may turn to a dull and dreary affair. Art and artistic sense is a must and such a taste endows with really. The art pieces he comes to mark them on the pillars of history, art and architecture and museumlogy and he thinks of their making with his efforts put into the understanding and working of these, how had it been the times, how the people engaged in work and who those unknown builders? How the artisans, masons and architects at work? The dark daughters are the daughters of the land who struggle, suffer and sacrifice their lives to keep the homes intact, livable and healthy, bearing heat and dust. When she is in the house, the house looks a house and when she is not, the same house turns into a haunted house in the absence of sweeping of the dust daily and showing of light at day and night to God, burning of a candle before to light it all. The dark daughters are the girls of the museums seen in the priceless and rare potteries, art and artifacts excavated and found, pirated ad sold and found again. The dark daughters are the sculptures and figurines embossed on the temple pillars of the terracotta temples, lime clay and small brick made temples and decorated with the borders on the entrances leading to the sanctorum. But it startles us to feel that they made grand temples, rock-cut, stupendous structures of art and architecture just to house in the mute gods and goddesses. not for themselves, the poor builders and workers doing the construction work. It is a fact that those who build houses are but the houseless people and sleeping on the muddy floor of the house, they dream of making great architectural things and house-plans. Similarly the case of her. The dark daughters help the labourers on the scaffold for the house under construction in heat and dust, but remains unable to get the dieting for two times whereas she keeps nurturing the dreams of the owner. For her labour, what does he get from? Just a hand to mouth living is the expectancy of her and this much makes her live. The dark daughters are the daughters of the soil whose troubles, tears and tribulations we come to feel it not; who keep labouring like the ox, getting skeletoned, reeling under the load of life and the world and we go elating about. The dark daughters are a picture of toiling, striving hard mankind, womankind itself and we lying hard of heart to understand their feelings and emotions. They too have a passion for living; they too have a heart vibrating and pulsating within. The dark daughters are the girls trafficked round, sent across, sold and re-sold with the whereabouts unknown and traceless. Have we at least thought of them, what they dreamt and what have they got from this life of ours? Perhaps we do not have any time to give to them, as self possessed are we thinking about our own things rather than them writhing under misery and pain of living. Hiding the faces from broad daylight, they continue to eke out a poor and humble living, but they too are men however detestable they may be. In the sun burnt dark and nondescript hamlets and thorps, dotted and littered across a vast stretch of lands, just like the mounds of old earth, from being thereon she continues to live strugglingly, just like a nameless entity whose household legacy and values and housekeeping attach we to not so much. The small-small daughters, poor, humble and simple, half-fed and half-clothed, unoiled and lousy going to read under the shade of the orchard plot with the jute knapsacks to sit upon and the slates and lime stick pencils, eating late into the day, taking the stale food of the night-time as breakfast, helping her mother at work, burning the earthen oven with haystacks and dry leaves and cow dung cakes, taking the younger brother into the lap and left-overs, she passes a life of her own, a very neglected and ignored girl child of India, perhaps going to be extinct and poverty, malnutrition and gender bias wiping it out. Today infanticide, feticide, bridal torture, domestic violence and bruise seem to corrode and maraud the inner self of the womankind.
Dark is dark, let it be, whatever it be, as we cannot change the course of life and the world we are born in, the situations and circumstances born with. Light and darkness are the two sides of the Creation and both of these bound to have their turns one by one. If there is light, there will be darkness and vice versa as one gets followed by another.
Rains and rites
A Rain of Rites by Jayanta Mahapatra opening with the first poem named Dawn and continues on with the poems, as thus, Village, Old Places, These Women, A Missing Person, Samsara, Five Indian Songs, A Rain of Rites, A Rain, The Exile, Listening, Summer, Ceremony, Main Temple Street, Puri, The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street, The Sentence, A Twilight Poem, Appearances, Myth, Four Rain Poems, A Dead Boy, Moving, Silence, Dawn at Puri to the poems, Listening to a Prayer, Sunburst, On the Bank of the Ganges, Girl Shopping in a Department Store, A Tree, Indian Summer Poem,
The Ruins, Evening, Idyll, The Bare Arms in Packing Cases, Ikons, I Hear My Fingers Sadly Touching an Ivory Key, Somewhere, My Men, Hunger, An Old Country, The Desert under the Breath, Hands, Of Armour, This Stranger, My Daughter, India, The Landscape of Return, The Face, The Faces, The Tattooed Taste, Now When We Think of Compromise. A poet neither of rains nor of rituals, he is of a guilty consciousness, marking the malignant purpose in the nun’s eye, in the dark room, a woman searching her reflection, this is the samsara, a business of man, gods and priests and the worshippers, at land’s distance, there lies a mouldy village, resting rawly against the hills, the charred ruins of sun, the long-haired priest of Kali, putting the plucked and stolen jasmines of his villa, whose door never closed he as per his father’s instructions, as for to be put into the goddess’ morning eyes.
In the poem, Myth, the poet catches the incantation of the drift of years and the chants, the long years as the incense, man as worshipper coming and going, the same old and brassy bells laden with memories tolled and the scene recurring again with the same meditational sadhu in sadhna telling of the sanctum lying on the fringes of Annapurna and Dhaualgiri or elsewhere pointing to, but the poet dares not enter into the temple as myth keeps changing the track of, shifting from hand to hand, eye to eye, the offered, crushed and dried leaves and flowers smiling at him, maybe it that the bearded and saffron-man may ask f he a Hindoo or not. A poet so imagistic, he just keeps playing with words, frolicking with thoughts, ideas and images, coming as converted imagery, pure and distilled, but unexplainable, just as the scenes and sights continue to be, art-pieces seen on the canvas, how to describe them, how to penetrate into something very artistic?
The phantoms of time talking in whispers in the haunted houses
"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest's ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
----Walter de la Mare in the poem, The Listeners
Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet is very much like the Walter de la Mare of The Listeners, Sea Fever of John Masefiled and Look, Stranger of W.H.Auden. The poem, The Listeners evokes the same sense of wonder, suspense and astonishment which Mahapatra seeks to infuse in his poetry. The phantoms of time talking to or unresponsive even after knocked by the unknown horse-rider in the woods or listening to from the haunted house and the horse meanwhile champing grass from the turf add to the suspense and curiosity of ours in Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners and similar is the case of Mahapatra when he talks of life and vegetation under the shadowed space, slipping through the doors of dreams.
Mahapatra’s Burden of Waves And Fruit as a collection of poems contains in Rains in Orissa, Another Day in the Rain, Events, Winds of Spring, Summer 1983, Summer Afternoons, A Rain Poem, The Voice, An Evening By The River, Trapped, A Time, At Shivaji’s Fort At Panhalla: Looking Across the Western Ghats, River, Shapes By the Daya, A Startled Sun, Twilight, An October Morning, Ann, 30th January 1982: A Story, This Is The Season of The Old Rain, Harvest, A Letter To Kazuko Shiraishi in Tokyo, Stone, May, Of A Dawn, Love Fragment, Song of The Bones, The Wind, Days, Sunday, A Summer Afternoon, Burden of Waves And Fruit, The Life, Stand By, Memory, Dust, Again The Rain Falls, The Dawn of A New Year, It’s My Room Once Again, The Hour Before Dawn, Waiting, Of This Evening, An afternoon, The Skies of Night, Talking of Death, The Looking Glass, Why I Am Afraid To Die, The Year’s Last Evening.
It is difficult to tell about a book of poems and that too an Indian English poetry text, not easily available in the markets, generally self-published and out of stock, frankly speaking, they often sell not, if acquainted with the writer, you will get a copy and if not, you will not get the text of even R.Parthsarathy’s Rough Passage and Mahapatra’s Relationship so easily, as flimsy in their assessment, even the libraries may not contain in
forgotten and lost copies of the missing and unknown writers, even now Kolatkar’s Jejuri is not available. What to say of Nissim’s the first book of poems? I smile on hearing the urban pseudo-research scholars, the bluff master scholar and the bluff master guide, all saying great-great in their slangy expression.
Burden of Waves And Fruit which appears from Three Continents Press, Washington in 1988 is no doubt a good work written in the same style, the same expression which he often clutches with and strides along, the imagistic style, the imagistic portals of his and there is no change in Mahapatra and his visionary glides, dreamy flowing and glides, imagistic delving and dwelling upon and by dipping into the waters of nothingness, a poet of the space, the void and the vacuum all around. The things of the sub-conscious and the unconscious level take hilarity and wave around, a centre full of hibernation, there is nothing as concrete, but wavering in thought and idea, image and reflection, emotion and feeling, a neurotic man’s poetry is it, a half-addict’s smiles lie therein, a patient of insomnia thinking within and smiling within is the case with this writer with the base of physics, physics as his subject and he coming to poetry via physics, not literature.
The negatives of the photos are the things of his and he working in the studio to reflect upon, a play with light and shade, just like silhouettes, an artist pencilling images, the images of life similar the case with this writer of writer of physics, experimenting with the Big Bang theory, thinking about the origin of the universe, the space, the solar and lunar bodies, the limits of the skyline, a poet of nothingness, a poet existential and iconoclastic, making and breaking, joining and splitting.
Jayanta Mahapatra does not remain stuck to one theme, one title, he often goes slipping from his themes. A desperation pervads all trhough.
Why I Am Afraid To Die
A thin wind.
Sands of the river where water floods and goes.
This rain shaking loose the old spelled earth.
My love for you is a selfish love,
wing of decit. .
Now to defy you with defencelessness
for a while,
dumb when you are so near.
What mystery did the sands conceal?
Walking through empty streets
the wind drops on my shoulder.
Any way across this earth, over the water?
How can one look when there is nothing to see?
Here all around,
whatever it’s called, sky or wind ---
its beautiful mouth,wide open.
(Burden of Waves And Fruit, Three Continents Press, Connecticut, Washington, 1988, p.58)
Jayanta is a blank and to do blank thinking is the idle job of the poet. To be with him is to dip in nothingness, existentialism and skepticism. Poetry to him is a series of vacant thinkings, with nothing to do, nowhere to go. Optimism not, but pessimism too move side by side in his poetry.
An orange flare
lights the pale panes of the hospital
in a final wish of daylight.
It’s not yet dark.
In the children’s ward
under a mothe’r face,
the dead,always so young.
Water startles in the river’s throat.
a plea to share in its curse?
Somewhere, this twilight shall fall
and hide the whiteness of jasmines
about to bloom.
in the houses across the street
make me look out at the wet August evening
that holds up the vast unknown
in such small delicate hands.
(Ibid, p. 23)
'Rains In Orissa' is a poem of coastal Orissa and its landscapic scenery. The eco-centric description is picturesque enough. Time, the sense of it is very strong in him and he cannot without relating to it.
Rains In Orissa
The sky’s face expressionless.
An oriole call echoes away in the sullen grayness,
the book of earth throbs with the light of things.
A pond heron floats warily in a rain pool.
Its face a mask, it pauses for another look around.
Grass everywhere is huge and moves forward to kill.
The fallen water stores a strange, cold darkness.
A yearning spreads through the vast blur of air.
Something like moss wells in the day’s green eyes.
How time sticks on to the face of this light.
And a graceless hibiscus is swallowed by its shrub of silence.
And lashes of wind give death back to the wild weeds.
Old fireflies invade.
Our efforts to escape turn to mud.
Then, the fatal touch of inaction like this country’s history.
A skyful night full of stars and the moon too takes him to vacant and reflective questionings of the self. Jayanta Mahapatra is a poet of some existential delving and he got it not through philosophy or literature, but through his study of physics, a study of light and darkness chapters. The poet may grow over the years, but his style will not change it, as the adage says it, style is man.
The Skies of Night
Sometimes there is this night,
a sudden sound wakening me from my reverie.
It is speaking my name maybe,
proclaiming something before the final hours,
a moonlight which raves as a delirious child
or some stubborn black root
screaming out of a cracked wall of memories.
It is as though something lies ahead of me,
a grave task I have to perform,
that lures my blood to war.
Or does the sharp blade of time I hold
turn in my bewildered hand?
What sound is it, growing from within,
that feels the false quiet of repose?
I know I am powerless to reveal myself.
Nor do I know how to hold my silence.
Perhaps the voice which returns at nightfall
and lies sleepless with me in my bed
knows it is too late to talk of peace.
My cries merely slide down its walls.
The lies give way beneath me.
A Rain of Rites and Waiting
Listening to a Prayer
“Stone cuts deep
A bell trembles,
touched by the pain
of countless people.
Across the temple square,
that settles on my shoulders
has nowhere to go:
neither a silence
nor an answer”
-----Jayanta Mahapatra in the poem, ‘Listening to a Prayer’ from A Rain of Rites collection
(A Rain of Rites, The Univrsity of Georgia Press, Athens (USA), ibid, p. 29)
“In an impressive map of lime-washed childhood
can one straggle out,
shift the brutal bones of its boundaries?
The Siva linga,
the rhythmic susurrus of chants on wrecks of petals,
the cage suspended in every father’s just eyes.
Small patient birds here sing in the drawn-out summer twilight,
then fall silent to the night.
The trembling of dreams is everywhere, like the wind.
When we learned dumbly to grow,
we felt of ourselves abandoned in the wilds, in things not real,
full of the mysterious fog that excites the shadows of the spirit.”
----- Jayanta Mahapatra in the poem, ‘ India’ from A Rain of Rites collection
A book of poems, as such A Rain of Rites, brought out by the Univ. of Georgia Press, Athens (USA) , in 1976 carries it forward the imagistic portals. It’s difficult to say what he takes up and what he means, as it means not what he says, just goes on viewing,
without any comments. You cannot summarize what he has as the meaning is not
and the words turning on, without anything to reveal, just the things in a flux. Nothing is concrete, everything in a flux, floating and passing, so much abstract and condensed,
with blank thinking and reflection. Dawn is the first poem to begin with, later taking on Village, A Missing Person, The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street, Myth, Dawn at Puri, Hunger. Summer, Silence, Main Temple Street, Puri, Listening to a Prayer, Indian Summer Poem, Samskara, A Rain of Rites, tell of his poetic escapades. So deep in time, consciousness and flux, they take their own recourse as for reflection and shedding of light, so inner and internal. The lonely countryside dotted with the nondescript villages
shaded by the bunyan and peepul trees, the mother and the daughter sitting in the mango orchard, the missing person and her image haunting. The title poem too likewise where the meaning is not, just the word-plays and fleeting images of the things in a constant flux, always coming, always passing. Most probably rains of the coastal region and the rites performed in the rock-built temples, but the mud-built houses the tales of his. They made the grand temples for faith’s sake and to house in the deities, not for themselves
and the masons and architects remaining anonymous. The rock-built temples are splendid and grand, an example of architectural and sculptural excellence, but the beggars still visible at the entrances of the temples. Faith and doubt seem to put him into a conflict, if faith be so strong, why doubt seems to be lurking in, leaving the scope for?
The benefit of doubt befits him and he goes on revelling, dwelling and delving with the light, faith so frail, darkness enveloping and encompassing it all. The cattle coming back at twilight, drinking water from and returning back, the darkness enveloping the countryside just lie with the flickers of the oil lamp burning for sometime.
At The Burning Ground
“The dead ones draw close, looking over
the edge along the river bank
where a new pyre fames high; the river
curls sluggishly in thick smoke,
two grey wood pigeons as though half-awake
grope around like new ashramites in Rishikesh.
The spell of vermilion burns the flesh,
fires embroider the banyan bark of the mind.
All dead faces appear the same;
is it their silence which flashes on the water,
stands in triumph to my gesture of defiance?
I gaze long at myself in the river,
unable to make out thoser features
with which I am familiar;
only an unexpected darkness
that lives alone under the stone
is able to carry me home,
as though I had never grown up:
impertinent, wild child,
who would have to be taught his lesson.”
(Waiting, ibid, p.33)
A son of the soil, an Oriya by birth and rearing, his mind can go nowhere barring Orissa,
the Orissan scenes, sights and landscapes, rivers, hills, sea beaches, forests, lakes, bird sanctuaries, historical sites and scenery. The Morning I, The Morning II, Nightfall, A Country Festival, Taste for Tomorrow, The Earth of July, Bhubaneswar, Way of the River, Song of the Past, The Faith, Thirst, Thought of the Future, Orissa, Song of the River, Konarka, Dhaulagiri, Waiting, A Summer Night, The Temple Road, Puri, Afternoons, Learning to Flow Free in the Chariot Festival at Puri, At the Burning Ground, Dusk, Sun Worshipper Bathing, Sanskrit, Shrines, At a Ritual Worship on a Sunday Afternoon, Servility, Bazaar, 5 P.M., Old Earth, The Indian Way, Rain Sense, On What to Build Then, The Beggar Takes it as Solace, Living, Among the Trees, Fragments, in follow-up to them. A Poem to Mahatma Gandhi, Story at the Start of 1978, Sky, Strike Your Secret Earth, The Stranger, Movements, Walking Home at Night, etc. are the poems of their trend, type and tenor. A poet of poverty and hunger, belief and disbelief, faith and doubt, human lust and greed, twitches of the selfish body, things in a flux and indifferent time, he follows the track of his own.
Between the fear of losing you
and the losing
of your words
opens and shuts doors
that time waiting behind
I attempt to fit mine
that never belong to me
like the gentle rain’s quality
to the hard earth’s calling
between those fattened seconds
growing upon my needs
----Jayanta Mahapatra in the poem, Between
(Svayamvara & Other Poems, Writers Workshop, ibid, p.22)
in the darkness
of the summer night
to the flowers
over the earth.
I heard them not.
Nor did the night,
in winged flight,
----Jayanta Mahapatra in the poem, Love’s Caress
(Ibid, p. 14)
Whiteness of Bone, which appears in 1992, is a major poetical work of Mahapatra, the poet to be reckoned with, substantial and typical, as his Mahapatran poems are in reality , an exercise in word-play and imagistic turning, vacant thinking and random reflection. One from Viking, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, the work consolidates the poetic base of the poet with a foothold of his own, taking poetry, silence, waiting, time, light, truth and doors. His style is the same what it was, playing hide and seek with lyricism and imagism, light and darkness the matters of his revelation as there is nothing to be thematic, poetry is silhouettes, oil paintings, poetry vacant thinkings. Silent In The Valleys is the first poem to begin with, giving way to the poems, such as All The Poetry There Is, Afternoon, Shadows, Light, House, A Death, In An Orissa Village, The Dispossessed, Bone of Time, Summer Afternoons, The Time Afterward, To A Young Girl. The Hill, In The Darkness of The Night, Doors, Farewell, Dawn, Red Roses For Gandhi, Song of The Homeless Girl, as the poems appear to be thematic outwardly, but are never, never so and one may not write a line about as for to substantiate it. While reading Mahapatra, one needs to keep in mind that The ‘Dawn’ poem of A Rain of Rites is different from the ‘Dawn’ poem of A Whiteness of Bone, there are similarly many poems pertaining to waiting, rains and rites, morning, noontime, evening, nightfall, summer and so on. A poet of relationship, with his relationship with the land of his birth and nativity, he is very, very private and personal in the use of his imagery and reflection, imagistic and linguistical which making him postmodern and postcolonial.
Jayanta Mahapatra’s The False Start, which appeared in 1980 from Clearing House, Bombay, begins with A Day of Rain poem, followed by more, such as Suppose, Today, Absences, The Gift of Night, Poem For Angelia Felston, Another Evening, Last Sadness, The Gradient of Dreams, Through The Stone, Woman In Love, A Sailboat of Occasions,
Bound, The Secret, Slum, Pain, The Rain Falling, After The Rain, Time Drawing In, The Mountain, The Storm, The Rising, The Accusation, A Sense of Adventure, Shadows, A Sense of Obvious, The Moon Moments, Ash, The Day, A Kind of Happiness, The Day After My Friends Became Godly And Great, The Years Down, The House, The Retreat, Tonight I Hear The Water Flowing, The Hour From The Window, Steps In The Dark, the poems one by one to continue with again, The Door, The Abandoned British Cemetery At Balasore, India, The Evening That Is To Come, Measuring Death, A Certain Refrain, the poems figuring in to confirm it that he is absurd, existential, a poet of the void, the shadowy space, who to answer his questions, what is this world, why are we here, what the purpose of living, what does it stay here, who is what, who can but say it?
A poet of Orissa, singing of Orissan landscapes, fields and fallows, the azure of the skies meeting the lands somewhere, coming close to, the sea, the rivers, the hills and the beaches, the tourist spots and centres. A poet of Orissa, its cartography and topography, its demography, he maps the natural wealth and resources of it, demarcating the areas of the coastal state of India. Puri, Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, the hub of his poetry, moving from one temple to another, from the Jagannath Puri temple to the Lingaraja temple to the Konark Sun temple. Existential, nihilistic and reflective, he is a poet of waiting, absurdistic, writing the poetry of the absurd, as nothing is what it seems to be and what it seems to be is nothing and our life a study in useless waiting.
A poet regional, historical and sociological, he is many-faceted, as because his base is not one of literature, but of physics, trying to delving deep into light and darkness, where does it flash upon from , where does it retreat back to?
A poem named ‘Pain’ from The False Start may be chosen as for to dwell upon:
The dark tree that stands
over the fields of my blood
has failed to leaf and bud.
Why must it cut across my blood?
I must try to understand it well.
Pursued over and again
by the sky’s heights,
it holds itself fast to the mist of time,
giving my mind little rest, small shelter.
Where are the inessential leaves
that commanded the heart,
disturbing those clouds which only are
the secrets of the sky?
When will my eye return,
that has been swallowed by the sky?
veils its world?
(The False Start, Clearing House, ibid, p.30)
Jayanta Mahapatra's waiting is an absurdist waiting, as the characters keep waiting in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, who is Godot after all, why do the tramps wait for?
Similar is the case with Jayanta Mahapatra's poems dealing with time, wait and futile turn up, an absurdist drawing from existentialism and nihilism as the space full of vacuum, nothing is nowhere and man alone in the cosmos. Jayanta Mahapatra is a poet of waiting, waiting for uselesslessly as all our todays and tomorrows have shown it to be, who waits for what and which is what? Whatever be that, let us begin with Jayanta's Waiting, a collection of poems written against a historical backdrop of penetration. Though the collection appeared from a small press, it begins with The Morning-I, telling of a morning in the stride and clasp of a sweeper girl with human excreta and while on the other, in the second morning poem, a starkly naked Jain monk calmly walks down the road determined. At The Burning Ground, Dusk, Fragments, A Poem For Mahatma Gandhi, Sky, The Stranger, are the poems of a type. But many of it, dealing with Orissa the land of his birth and nativity, more specially Puri and Konark and there is nothing more to find thematically, just personal and private reflections abound, those of the physics class and its theories of light. A Country Festival, Taste For Tomorrow, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, Konark, Dhaulagiri, The Temple Road, Puri, Learning To Flow Free In The Chariot Festival At Puri, are the Orissa-relating poems. Published in 1979, Waiting is one in the same tread of the Mahapatrean poems, a poet of bewitching silence, he just sees life in the intricacies of relationships, conspiring against with the fickle mind always in a flux, the moments as bubbles appearing on and vanishing, nothing as mementoes or memorabilia to tell of, everything but in the dustbin of time to be cleaned again.
Jayanta Mahapatra’s Shadow Space, published for first time in 1997, opens with Living In Orissa poem, followed by Landscape, A Hunt of Grief, 1992, Heroism, Trying To Keep Still, The Shadow of Day, Widow, Saving Ourselves, Illness and others to tell the story of same kind and narration as they mean it not, what he says and what he means. Abstract and reflecting, he is a poet of light and darkness, random descent and random reflection, nothing is what it seems to be and what it seems to be is nothing. There is nothing as that exists and this forms the poetic base of the poet, the vacuum writ large over the space infinite. Bazaar Scene, Possessions, Aftermath, Season, Still Life, June Rain, Village Evening, The Quiet, Greeting, Raining, Cloak of White, Defeat, Shadows, Octave, Walls, Denials, The Fear, Enterprise, Awe, Afterward, Life, Ashes, Late, The Stories In Poetry, telling the tales in their own way, what the poetic tale, what the poetic truth, the poetry of nothingness that he writes, life but an absurd waiting, that he relays to. Abstract thought, blank mood, vacant thinking, pervade the poetic spirit of the poet, the colours of loneliness that he sees and feels, the toy clockwork of poetry, what makes one wait, a brief history of losses never to be written, obscure face, the blue sky hanging above his palms, shadows can never open their mouths are the things of his reckoning. His is a poetry based on suppositions, a lot of proposition, a lot of conjecture is therein and the poet contradicting and contrasting, Comparing and presenting, laughter always on the lookout for grief is similar to Hardy’s happiness is but a bubble in man’s life and Gray’s obscure destiny of village forefathers, childhood sitting in shadow to remember and to see the changed appearances.
Jayanta Mahapatra is a poet of just suppose you and had it been; just think you, had I been not, what would have happened, had you been not, what would it have? Why does the sun shine everyday? Why does it radiate and glow down daily? Where do the retreating rays or beams go to? The things of astrophysics continue to hold its sway over him. Who can say about the sunrise and the sunset as we seek to know about light and shadow?
I am afraid of the loneliness
I would share with you.
you must tell me,
so that I may know:
have you made me unjust?
As I complete the picture of a man
who calls his dog, pets it,
to make such things of life his own,
I hear again and again
a small explosion.
I try not to think of it at all,
but it keeps sounding
like a blare of my heartless laughter.
----Jayanta Mahapatra in the poem, A Poem To Mahatma Gandhi
(Waiting, Samkaleen Prakashan, ibid, p. 55)
Jayanta Mahapatra whose base is one of physics, not of literature is a poet so much drawn to the philosophies of existential nothingness, absurd living and this meaningless existence of ours and a vacuum around and above us. It is really very difficult to annotate and analyse a poet who is absurd and complex enough to be revealed to the reader. What does the poet mean to communicate and convey is just the absurd thing to ask about his poetry? He has not writtern poetry as for laying it bare. As the things about the coming and going of the sunlight and the moonlight are flimsy to say about, the momentary coming and going of man and his shadowy presence to explain with mute silence, so are the things elemental which but we cannot reason it. Rains and rites are the main things of his poetry. Stones too are pivotal to the understanding of his poetry. Physics is his subject and this oten intercepts him and he turns to it as for the utilization of the readily available stuff.
Poverty, moral depravity, human lust and hunger twitch us for an absurd understanding of life which we do not heed at all. The hungers of the stomach combined with the sell of the body denude it all. The pathetic conditions not only make us feel helpless, but reaveal the bare realities in their all ugliness. We may be advanced, but the world has not advanced, the people have not advanced. Have we been able to eradicate and eliminate all poverty? Still now there are many living below the poverty line, passing the nights under the open skies, sleeping on the footpaths of life.
The poem ‘Slum’ can be quoted in full:
Your madness catches me:
scarred shacks, where nights begin,
and full orange fires
so dreadful on women’s faces.
Only that I must summon courage to be in,
spits of wind clawing at the flames
that keep burning here, from the dark mirror
resting on pain and plain despair.
The familiar old whore on the road
splits open in the surgary dusk,
her tired breasts trailing me everywhere:
where the jackals find the rotting carcass
and I turn around
to avoid my fiery eyes in the glass; there stands
only a lonely girl, beaten in battle, all mine,
sadly licking the blood from my crazed smile
( The False Start, Clearing House, Bombay, 1980, p.29)
The Rising places us in a vortex of ideas and images, which we but clueless with regard to meaning and amplification:
There is a past which moves over
the magic slopes and hamlets of the mind,
whose breath measures the purpose of our lives.
Like a flag it flutters across eternity,
yet when I try to hold it high,to make it
an instrument of my glory,
its call drives me
over the boundary I’ve built in my flesh.
Its hidden nest
stops the flying bird, the impenitent words.
And is made of dead leaves
that echo the wind coming through,
laden and wide with skies,
that will not divide us from our deaths.
After The Rain starts as thus without the capital letter, as because the title serves as the beginning stanza:
the earth moves in upon you,
tripping over your tormented legs,
and in the silent sky
a lost cloud slips by like an old whore,
her dignity gone.
Let old men wait in their silence,
thinking of the futures of their sons.
Simply the peacock wonders
what made him dance to the rain,
listening to the earth
grow its flowers again.
Gods of fire, what have your passions burnt?
Bright moon still swing from the branches,
the dead are flung about like stale hair,
and a world schemes still;
the last footsteps on the earth
say nothing at all.
What it appears more and more intricate and complexer si this that Jayanta Mahapatra is not only Poundian and Wordsworthian, but is Lawrentine too, as for the use and application of man-woman relationship.
‘The Morning of the World’ as a poem tricks with word-plays and playful imagery:
The sheep graze on the cold hills.
Startlight points to the heart of the world.
Right by the fire, you draw up your sinless legs
and pull the sky down on top of you.
The evening of the world remembers hills,
ponds and valleys, the scent of strange flowers
and the sweet taste of mysterious waters.
At last I turn to you, feeling absurdly naked.
Soon life will struggle to catch this one
familiar word, and memory’s stare become
the mirror of our untrue lives.
For when one says the world love,
the body of its grief shames the stars.
The world’s morning is the home of born spirit.
( Bare Face, D.C. Books, Kottayam, 2000, p.32)
The blood-smeared fields of the Kalinga war still engage him. ‘Dhauli’ as a poem is of historical and mythical background which the poet is imagining about and putting to ords in a mood of reminiscence and reflection:
when the wars of Kalinga were over,
the fallow fields of Dhauli
hid the blood-split butchered bodies.
As the earth
burrowed into their dead hunger
with its merciless worms,
guided the foxes to their limp gentilas.
Years later, the evening wind,
trembling the glazed waters of the River Daya,
keens in the rock edicts the vain word,
like the voiceless cicadas of night:
the measure of Asoka’s suffering
does not appear enough.
The place of his pain peers lamentably
from among the pains of the dead.
(Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987, p.22)
Syavamvara And Other Poems by Jayanta Mahapatra is the second work which can throw light on the evolution of his poetry. ‘Svayamvara and other poems’ as a collection of poems which appeared after Close the Sky, Ten by Ten from Writers Workshop, Calcutta
in 1971 when Jayanta Mahapatra had been a teacher of physics at Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. Though the book is no variation from his as usual style, but at that time, he had been in his initial stage into a firm footing of his, but instead of, the things can be read for his growth and development as a poet. Peace, For a Disabled 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?, the poems which figure in one after another. 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 Robert/ A Theme of Love, A Name, Poem (For R.M.), the rest keep following thereafter. 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. The owl of the night with one eye shut in the zoo, waiting for the night to come, the lotus of the morning breaking into smiles and a calm serenade, the poetic space of his, frail faith depicted in a poor light, shaky presence of man silhouetted feebly.
The poet is so abstract that our explanation ends on a note of supposition. Light and darkness are the things of his poetry.
The poem Faith may be quoted:
We have not known.
How light leaves by the door.
The masses of memory
that grow, nailing them
to doors when we want
them to, are lunging eyes
in a glass wall.
We plod on.
And those eyes, closed
imprison our reasons.
(Svayamvara and Other Poems, Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1971, p.29)
Poem as a poetic piece tells about the methodological process of his poetic catharsis and its purgatory outlets:
A feeling disturbs me when she sleeps.
I am one with the audience,
thinkling for tomorrows,
the absurd wish
to surround her in the aura of roses.
I will not let her feel that absence,
whose dark roots
are scrabbling for poetic sacrifice.
Jayanta Mahapatra is a strange poet of the strange situations of life. The poems which he writes are not for the Indian audience. These are in reality for the foreigners to note in and to interpret the lines.
Yes, he is a wonderful poet. A poet of Orissa, Orissan landscapes, sights and scenes, hamlets and thorps, solitude and loneliness, heat and dust, sun-burnt earth and summer. Nihilism, existentialism and absurdism are things of his base. A blank thinker, he thinks about life blankly, with nothing in the mind to say firmly, everything but in a just to be supposed way, what it appears to be is not so exactly. A poet of waiting, he himself cannot say, what he is waiting for and why is he? Life is absurd, the world is and the things which we see are. There is nothing as that to gather strength and confidence in us; to repose in. The best thing of his poetry is this that he is all that one wants to call him, a writer so regional, so national and international at the same time wqhen we take to study him and his poetry. Even the elements of eco-criticism are therein, why to speak of post-colonialism and post-modernism? Some may even call him though he has not written keeping in view these literary movements and their basic tenets. The oil slicks and spills from the ships and the element of pollutants in the sea waters are taking a toll on the turtles and marine lives. The sea coasts, rocks, stones, trees, forests, hills and the open skies are a part of his poetry.
To many, his poetry may appear the poetry of stones, cut to and chiselled as rock-built temples, standing as a witness to an age of belief and faith gone by, which held the people once upon a time. After reading him, one may take him to be a poet of rock-built temples and their photographs, rains and rituals continuing at the same time, but suspense and doubt leave him not behind when he speaks of the queued up white-clad widows and their austere eyes, the beggars on the ways to the sacred shrines and other realistic details. On seeing them, he feels within what we have really for them after the attainment of freedom.Today India is free and independent, but why are they destitute and devoid of? Why are the women so weak and miserable? Why do the talks even do around? Still now poverty, superstition, witch-hunt, blind faith, underdevelopment, illiteracy, backwardness and malnutrition maraud the poor self of the nation. There are many living below the poverty line. Hunger still maligns the spirit. The hunger of the stomach makes the girls sell themselves in exchange for the hunger of the body.
In his poetry, one can overhear the chants of the Upanishadas and the Vedas, going on in the temples, older, ancient and stupendous. The priests busy with and the rituals continuing up to the noontime, the siesta taken by the housewife at noonday and the corpse burning at a distance are the things to be contrasted and compared with.
The poet seems to lie in wait for the coming of a messiah who will the bail the situation out; a crisis to be resolved on, but the problem does not seem to be remedied soon, as it is a thing of the ages and ages of succeeding generations. The poet seems to say that the world will remain what it was, what it is and what it to become in the times to come. There is nothing as that can change the course of the sun. Things will be created and will crumle to dust. Each and every morn solitude will prervail upon; the sun will break forth at daybreak and will glow again to be back to with the retreating steps of at twilight.None can say about the origin of the universe as one cannot about the mystery of life and the break of the speech and its sound.
really he is a wonderful poet
I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.
---Thomas Hood in the poem ‘Past And Present’
(Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, Edited With A New Fifth Book by John Press, Oxford University Press, Calcutta, 2000, p.223)
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
---W.B.Yeats in the poem ‘The Wild Swans At Coole’
(W.B.Yeats Selected Poetry, edited with an introduction and notes by A.Norman Jeffares, Radha Publishing House, Calcutta, 2004, p.64)
If one searches Jayanta Mahapatra for as to paraphrase his poetry line by line, word by word, one will fail to do that as because he is not a writer of that type and he writes as for imagery sake. A professor of physics, he has nothing to do with poetry, but has dabbled in by the way. As a poet, he but converts the light chapter of physics into poetry. Sitting in the poetic studio, he makes the images of his own through photo-negatives. To see them in light and shades is the good job of the poet. One of the Khandagiri, the Dhaulagiri, the Jagannath Puri, the Konark Sun-temple, the Lingaraj Temple, he is a poet of the poetry in stone. Basically, a poet of waiting, relationship and flimsy thinking, he is an absurdist and an existentialist.There is nothing to reveal, but to make complex and tedious the delight of the poet. Generally, the readers read him, pass over the pages of his poetry, without getting at something. An Oriya poet, he is of Orissa, an Oriya man and he will not flinch a bit in this context. His mind and soul just like that of Rupert Brooke and his affiliation are those of Orissa and Orissan landscapes. The fields and fallows, trodden and untrodden, the rural scapes, the wilds, the sea beaches, the mango groves shaded against the hills standing are the things of his solitude and quietude and reckoning, in vain random reflection. In the nondescript villages, it is really difficult to pass time. Time hangs heavy which the townsmen and citymen cannot feel it. During the noon time, the mother and the daughter sitting in the mango orchard and waiting for the fall of a mango, passing time and waiting, the daughter looking into the hair of the mother and the daughter unaware of her unknown destiny are the things which twitch us deeply. In one such poem, the poet reflects over the siesta of his snoring wife while on the other the voices from the distant coming mind of the last rites of man being performed.
Today after reading Western canons of criticism, subjecting to and testing on that, we have started calling him post-colonial, post-modern, but God knows what he is, as because when he started he had not been sure of getting name and fame. As he has come to stay and has substantiated his position by writing and addding a few more, the sly university teachers have started calling him a post-modern as for te grants. In many of his poems, there lie in references to the lingam-yoni motif . Somewhere one may find him referring to the clay idol of ten-armed Devi Durga and the priest in tears on seeing her during the immersion time.
There are many aspects of Jaynata Mahapatra’s poetry. He is two in one not, but all in one, as because you may keep counting it, he is a dreamer, a visionary, a thinker; an imagist, a photographer, a landscapist, a linguist; a mythist, a symbolist, an individualist; a lyrist, a modernist , a post-modernist, a post-colonialist; a feminist, an eco-critic, a realist and above all, a nihilist, an existentialist, an absurdist. This is not the all, something has remained it. He is bodily, sexual and personal in his sensuality. A poet of selfish love, he is intriguing and coquettish, deceitful and conceited. The sculptures in erotic love-making seem to have defiled and corrupted his imagery, may be those ‘dharma-artha-kama-moksha’ motif, may be those of the pictures of the artisans at work and their aspirations. Have you marked the female workers at the construction site? They themselves get sucked in. Vibrant and lively blood turns into water. Lonely times, hard manual work, daylong labour and its fatigue, companionship with the male labourers and artisans tell upon their life heavily and they lose it all what it is feminine, meek and delicate. Jayanta is a poet of quietude, bewitching and intriguing, taking to the ditches of sensuality. As the Yeats’ poems, suppose that To ‘A Young Beauty’ and ‘To A Young Girl’ are are almost as for the title’s sake, similar is the case with Jayanta Mahapatra the poet. Jayanta Mahapatra’s many of the poems begin with the same title, but are different in context and description, though he has not changed over the years. His style remains the same, the same unchanged style. A poet of wod-plays, he seems to be a chess or a ludo player of Indian English poetry, as because all the time moves and tricks seen to possess him and he in the gait and go of his own.
I remember, I remember
The roses, red and white,
The violets, and the lily-cups--
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnam on his birthday,--
The tree is living yet!
---Thomas Hood in ‘Past And Present’
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
----W.B.Yeats in The Wild Swans At Coole
(Ibid, p. 65)
Even the headless torso of Gandhi
in the city square can speak.
Like truth, unsaid most of the time,
yet almost said.
(Bare Face, ibid, p.29)
This poem stares out
uneasily from the top of its cage.
It has become
a faint shadow of its former self.
It has not been able
to find its way out,
stumbling over the hunger
of another starving child.
---The Lines of My Poem
Thank you, sir, for the comment, but the fact is this that I have written quite a few brochures and monographs on the poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra, which my friends are quite aware of, but if they say not about, what can I do all alone? I published How Far Indian Is Indian English Poetry? in 2001 and it was sent free of cost. I supported and promoted many of the poets whom you see today, but they forgot me to bracket with them. A few of these monographs on Mahapatra lie in catalogued in Connemara Public Library, Madras. There is nothing new that I have written in this article, just have peddled my older stuffs.
The great poet of Orissa is before us standing against the backdrop of the rock-built, stone-hewn and chiselled temples, trying to tell about their stupendous art and architecture, sculptures as flowers in stone carved upon, telling of our classical days and classicism. Who area those who rally built them? How did they? Where those architects and stone-cutters? Jayanta as a poet draws his materials from art and architecture, culture and tradition, historiography and heritage, sociology and cartography. Jayanta cannot be Jayanta if we talk not about Orissa, Oriya history, culture and tradition. What it disturbs the poet most is this, what man has made of man? Just like the skylark, he sings in the skies, but keeps an eye on the things underneath. Just like Robert Frost, he views the beauty and mystery of the woods, lovely, deep and dark, but is aware of his duty towards his home, family and the nation, which distracts him to hasten towards. A bare face of his shows a very grim and sad Jayanta Mahapatra, so much aggrieved at his heart and care-worn from within. If this be the state, the plight of us, how to celebrate the golden, diamond and silver jubilee celebrations of Indian independence?
Here in this article I have just counted the books and if my editors allow, I shall take up the poems thematically. The second monograph, Jayanta Mahapatra The Poet And The Visionary: A Study In Imagery, I brought out in 2010.
The opening stanza from the poem The Looking Glass which figures in Burden of Waves And Fruit is referential to be quoted here in this context:
In front of me is a world
that doesn’t seem to care.
Sunlight that’s brilliant as ever.
And someone who hasn’t heard my name at all.
(Burden of Waves And Fruit, ibid, p.57)
The last stanza from the same poem,
And I follow myself around,
piece by piece, everywhere.
The world is always at the end, there.
With sunlight shaking the carcass of last night.
delighted to read your writing
it's meaningful, erudite and has a clear purpose.
Now you are really maturing.
God be with us all as ever
With good wishes