Jayanta Mahapatra is first a poet of Orissa then an Indian writing in English of a national standard famous world-wide, but he was famous even before we recognized him as his poems appeared in the journals before our acknowledgement and acceptance of his poetry and saw the light of the day. He is a poet who draws and derives from imagery, myth and mythicism, history, art and culture and society. A muffled overtone of Vedism, Upanishadism can be heard in his poems.
Apart from that he is a poet of nothingness, empty skies, shadowed reflections, silhouettes, solitary landscapes and so on. Not even that he is in some way a historian of Orissa as he tells about the temples and historical sites of the place together with the geo-political status and nowhere can we find a description of its rivers, lakes, forests, cities, hamlets, hills and rural scapes and spaces as has in his poetry.
He is not only an imagist concerned with mere imagery but is a mythicist, a feminist, a realist, a modernist and a post-modernist too. In his poetry one may find the journey from colonialism to post-colonialism, from modernism to post-modernism and beyond. But we must keep it in mind that word-play and imagery are the things with which he has started the poetic journey of his life.
A professor of physics who has physics in the classrooms has switched to poetry after evincing an interest in photography and deriving from light and darkness chapters. As the sunlight drizzles, dazzles, brightens, fades and keeps changing and shifting from the dawn-break to the noontime to the twilight so is faith frail and shaky and in between light and darkness lies it the matter of the universe and the particles.
A poet of Udaygiri, Khandagiri, Konark, Puri, Bhubaneswar, he is a historiographer and is connected with racial and ethnic things of the community dwelling for ages and ages. The defeat of Kalinga, the Ganga kings, the Kharvel kings, all these he talks of indirectly, referring to art and architecture. The Rathyatra recurs time and again and he cannot forget the festivity connected with the gala ceremony and the sea of people offering prayers and moving with, the mammoth crowd following the chariot seating Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
But one should not forget it to put it before that he is very, very personal and private in his writing of poetry as because these arise out of his own brooding and reflection confiding in them so. As a poet he is one of vacant reflections and broodings. The image of Gandhi hangs over and he has not forgotten the Gandhian myths and principles comparing and contrasting them with the values and ideals of modern men and their society.
Today India is free, but the poet wants to know, what have we for the poorer and weaker sections of society? How have we grappled with poverty and unemployment? So as a result of that, hunger, poverty, starvation, underdevelopment, backwardness, moral depravity, mental perversity and so on find an expression into the poetic texture of his poetry. What it pains him most is the poor condition of women. What is it in the fate of a woman? What the palmist is reading from the frail hand of the poor and small Indian girl? The crisscrosses of her fate who can it about? To read him is to feel what we have for the widows, women and poor daughters.
Apart from all that, he is so privately reflective when he takes up or deals with the intricacies of relations and bodily twitches and sensuality. As a poet, Mahapatra is not only Wordsworhtian, Keatsian and Yeastsian, but Lawrentine too as the pulls of dark consciousness and bodily love have not left him behind.
Who the missing person is? An Indian rural woman.
She cannot speak the name of her husband, but the tattoo on the hand telling it all.
In a lightless house, what to speak about her personality?
In the dark room, can she see her image in the mirror?
But she also has an independent soul and body which we do not.
A Missing Person
cannot find her reflection in the mirror
waiting as usual
at the edge of sleep
In her hands she holds
the oil lamp
whose drunken yellow flames
know where her lonely body hides
A Missing Person as a poem is completely an image; a photograph snapped and cleaned with the image cast over paper. In the dark room a woman cannot find her reflection in the mirror. She is waiting as well as is feeling sleepy and drowsy which is but quite natural for a woman.
Into her hands there is an oil lamp burning dimly whose yellow flames know it where she hides her body, where she rests.
This is the crux of the poem said so symbolically and imagistically. The whole poem is an image, a portrait of a woman, an Indian woman, a village woman, her activity, her life and routine together with many things, said or unsaid, described or undescribed.
How were the villages of ours? How had it been our countryside, far flung at secluded places away from roads? The people were even unable to burn oil lamps. Where would they kerosene from? They used to burn somehow. Most of the houses used to lurk in darkness. What would one do in mud and thatched houses? An Indian woman just could know her master and none the else attaching so much importance. He was almost like God to her. She was not even allowed to speak the name of her husband. As a silent persona she used to pass her days without any name or fame. Sometimes the tattoo used to tell about the name of her husband with the hand shown to.
Whatever be that, A Missing Person is symbolic, imagistic of an Indian woman leading her life without any entity of her own. The house is her boundary, periphery; the area of her working which but she cannot trespass it. To wait for the master, the return of his is the end of all.
Exhausted with daylong labour, she feels drowsy in the poor oil lamp light, but instead of that waits for his return. The dark room, flickering yellow flames of the oil lamp, the lonely body, etc. are but the images.
A countryside rural space Indian woman without name or identity living in a nondescript Indian village where the people go half-clothed, half-fed living below the poverty line, without light, books or modern resources, living an agricultural life is the chief attraction of the story here. Just after when it is dark the whole village lapses into a slumber for want of resources and availability of things. Those who have not lived in villages will not come to feel it how life is hard therein.
It is true that she is an Indian woman without any personality of her own, without any entity or identity of her own. In the room dark where there is no light how to see her face in the mirror? So, what will she do?
But one should keep it in mind that she is also after all a body, a soul. She too has a personality of her own. She too has a space of her own which we allow her not to use. But the light swaying knows the swerves of the body, the swerves of the spirit. Why to throttle her liberty? How not to liberate her to some extent? We could not think all that. We could not feel about all that. Let her have her own existence. She has also a heart to feel. She has also a mind to speak.
An Indian village woman living a life without any personality and identity of her own is the thing of deliberation. How the Indian women have lived in the nondescript villages, passed their days in utter neglect, poverty, hunger, underdevelopment, scarcity of food and resources? But apart from a body, she is also a soul and a spirit. She has also a soul, a spirit of own which but we do not know it.
There is really some outstanding merit in the poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra which but he exposes them indirectly the evils and wrongs of our society. We have not given rights to the women which they deserve it as human beings. We have deprived them of their rights. We have suppressed and oppressed them for centuries. But they too are men, human beings. They too have separate bodies and souls and spirits. This but we do not know it. A feminist, a realist he can really light upon the darker areas, what it ails our society and its set of odd and awkward, irrelevant morals which have become obsolete and utterly inhuman.
What is love, lost love? Can it be not of remembrance and memory?
How the emotions and feelings of it, the sympathies of bonding and affection?
Time flies, but memories remain, the mementoes of it.
The pages from an old diary, an album of old photographs.
The residues of meaning remain it here.
Of that Love
Of that love, of that mile
walked together in the rain,
only a weariness remains.
I am that stranger now
my mirror holds to me;
the moment's silence
hardly moves across the glass.
I pity myself in another's guise.
And no one's back here, no one
I can recognize, and from my side
I see nothing. Years have passed
since I sat with you, watching
the sky grow lonelier with cloudlessness,
waiting for your body to make it lived in.
How beautiful is the line when the poet starts with ‘Of that love’ walked together, shared together just as a discussion going on, fragrant with the remembrance of the days of sweet love and loving and the exchange of words made cordially conjuring upon the mind’s plane and he switching over to confide in. Such a poem it is difficult to come across and see, such a poem it is difficult to mark as the style of expression and the art of presentation are so bold and prominent. One can hardly write such a text so full of sweet memory and remembrance plodding through the corridors and lanes and by lanes of memory reflecting and brooding in his way with so much dreamy sequence and impact to be exerted.
Only weariness remains and this the extant of that, only repentance remains it that it could not. This is but the residue of meaning what it lingers on with as a remnant of all that happened, gone or past.
'Of that Love' is a remembrance, a sweet memory of that love which but existed once, of that love which bound both of them into an emotional bonding, sympathetic bond, but that love is gone perhaps, where is she now? He just remembers. It can also felt for someone whom one loves by heart and soul. The poem is so much subjective and objective too.
The poem is just like a dramatic monologue of Robert browning, the poem is just lie the Lucy poem of Wordsworth. It is also a fact people turn into strangers in course of time failing to recognize each other. How does time fly away? How do the memories remain it here? Man grows old. Things get lost. But memories leave you not.
He has now turned into stranger as he sees it in the mirror of time and reflection. The moment’s silence hardly moves over the glass. What had thought and what did it happen, take place? How had he dreamt and how did it happen? The turns of events, how to take to? How do the things take a turn?
The story does not stop it here, finish it, close it. No one is back here one who has gone. None can he recognize after a gap of time. From his side he sees it nothing. Everything has but come to a close. The story is finished now. Years have gone since he saw, watching the sky grow lonelier with cloudlessness, and waiting for her body to make it lived again.
The poem is just one from a diary remembering and thinking and going through what it happened once. Time has slipped, years have gone away, only the memories and reflections remain with to go by.
I said---Then, dearest, since 'tis so,
Since now at length my fate I know,
Since nothing all my love avails,
Since all, my life seemed meant for, fails,
Since this was written and needs must be---
My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness!
Take back the hope you gave,---I claim
---Only a memory of the same,
---And this beside, if you will not blame,
Your leave for one more last ride with me.
My mistress bent that brow of hers;
Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs
When pity would be softening through,
Fixed me, a breathing-while or two,
With life or death in the balance: right!
The blood replenished me again;
My last thought was at least not vain:
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride,
So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end tonight?
----Robert Browning in The Last Ride Together
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
-----Robert Browning in My Last Duchess
Myth, whose myth, where’s?
The myths of life, snow-capped peaks of mountains and the caves of sadhus meditating
How the mystery of Nature and creation bewitching it all?
How the myths embroidered with motifs?
Where to now? Annapurna and Dhaulagiri.
An Odia Christian, how could he write such a poem, we wonder, wonder!
A professor of physics, how could he envisage such a poem!
Years drift sluggishly through the air,
is a chanting, the long years, an incense.
Face upon face returns to the barbed horizons
of the foggy temple; here lies
a crumpled leaf, a filthy scarlet flower
out of placeless pasts, on the motionless stairs.
Old brassy bells
moulded by memories, dark, unfulfilled,
to make the year come back again
a recurring prayer.
The stairs seem endless,
and those peaks too, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri;
uncertain, impressive as gods.
I dare not go
into the dark, dank sanctum
where the myth shifts
swiftly from hand to hand, eye to eye.
The dried, sacrificed
flowers smile at me. I have become;
a diamond in my eye.
Vague grieving years pit against the distant peaks
like a dying butterfly
as a bearded, saffron-robed
man asks me, firmly:
Are you a Hindoo?
Myth is but a Yeastsian poem making us elucidate what a myth is, how the base and context of it, taking us to relate it in an archetypal and customary way. What is it held as a type symbolic of and representing the content?
Myth as a poem is actually a myth of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, the snow-clad mountain peaks and ranges, Himalayan sights and scenery and the mythic ice connected with that. Trekking the routes to, he treks the stories of Hindu myth and mysticism coming down to us since times immemorial. The years which seem to be passing almost look like a chanting going, continuing for and the long years gone and past seem to be the incense burning around and the scent coming to as carried by the wind, its wisps and whiffs. Such is the mythical aroma and perfume doing the rounds. Here lies a crumpled flower, there lies a crumpled flower and leaf. The face after face which it seems to be hanging over tries to look into the landscape taking them to the barbed horizons of the foggy temples. But the old brassy bells moulded by memories, dark and unfulfilled make the years come back again appearing to be a recurring prayer. The stairs to trek and go along appear to be long and tiresome and tedious, enough time to take in bearing the hazards and perils of the journey to be undertaken. The peaks themselves are as impressive as the gods appear to be speaking and the environment as if it were a place of godliness. What to say about the place? He dares not go into the dark and cold sanctum sanctorium where the myth seems to be shifting from hand to hand, eye to eye. There the dried flowers appear to smile at him again the moment he changes into a diamond. Vague grieving years pit against the distant peaks like a dying butterfly when a bearded, saffron-robed man enquires him if he is a Hindoo. The situation is just like that of Yesudas of South India, a classical singer whether to be allowed in a temple or not.
Myth is definitely one of the greatest poems ever written in the history of mythical poetry cutting the ice of Himalayan wisdom and meditation taking the readers to Dhavalgiri and Annapurna. If it is not called poetry, where poetry will be found? In this context Eliot’s reference to the gathering of black clouds over Himavant and the reference to Meru by Yeats dance before the eyes. The caves, places, scenarios, panoramas, mountains, caves, etc. are as such that these themselves with the pristine Nature fill a sense of purity and serenity within ourselves. The lookers, visitors feel appalled to see the scenery and sights.