... the first volume of Indian English Poetry to fetch Jayanta Mahapatra the Sahitya Akademi Award For 1981
Relationship is the first volume of Indian English poetry writing to fetch Jayanta Mahapatra the award for creative writing in poetry and he is the first Indian English poet to be awarded with it. But to discuss it is to know about the institution of the Sahitya Akademi award. Since when is it given to? Were there any awards before it? Were there no Indian writers of Indo-Anglican verse? The answer is definitely yes, there were some to get it. Many did not get a chance. Many felt it not encouraged. Many used to write in their diaries, but never liked to open and claim at that time. Whatever be that, let us be with it.
It is also a fact that the books of Indian English verse used to be out of print and out of stock. Most of the writers were unknown. This was also true with regard to Jayanta Mahapatra. The book shops and book stalls flatly used to deny with regard to the procurement of books and used to express annoyance. Even the books were not available in College Street, Calcutta. Even at Patna the volumes of Indian English poetry could not be traced. When I asked about the journals, the magazines stall-sellers saw me with wonder and asked to tell the names of some more dead magazines. The teachers were also not adapted to Indian English tradition and were critical of.
Just the slender anthologies of Indian English poetry were before us counted on hands, ones or twos. To get the books of Sarojini is to search antique book shops or the libraries of Nehru’s time. Who will go to National Library, Calcutta to dust the racks or shelves?
Even in the eighties modern Indian English poets were just evolving poets and poetesses rather than what they are today. Do not intermix the things of the photo-copier machines’ time with that of the smart phone and the computer.
Nissim Ezekiel got the Sahitya Akademi Award for Latter-Day Psalms in 1983, Keki N. Daruwalla for The Keeper of the Dead in 1984, Kamala Das for Collected poems in 1985, Shiv K. Kumar for Trapfalls in the Sky in 1987, Dom Moraes for Serendip in 1994, A.K. Ramanujan for The Collected Poems in 1999, Adil Jussawalla for Trying to Say Goodbye in 2014. But we cannot who have and who have not? Who should have? Something is also not in awards and prizes. Lawrence Bentlemen too was a good poet. K.D. Katrak too was no less than in his innovative writing.
The modern Indian English poets were not popular since the start, they have taken time to develop and the world too has taken time in knowing them. Had the UGC not pressurized, these could not have been included, had the Ph.D. programme been not made compulsory for career advancement! At that time Ph.Ds. done on Indian things and topics used to appear as Indian language Ph.Ds. The problem lay not with the British-text schooled professors, but with the standard and quality of Indian English verse too as it was derivative, imitative, parodied and copied, a study in minor voices and slender anthologies. The publishers too used to refuse to publish. I myself heard it and the talks passed through my ears when one research student wished to do his Ph.D. on Arun Kolatkar in the nineties as suggested by one Indian-matter inclined guide, the varsity head of the department in a dilemma hesitated if to approve the synopsis as because Kolatkar had not so many books then.
Even in M.K. Naik’s book he talks of collecting the stray poems of the poet and publishing in a book format. We too were not accustomed to reading Indian English verses. The high-powered specs-wearing olden time professors schooled during the British period had no interest at all in these slender anthologies and puerile parodied stuffs. Frankly speaking, Indian English verse is a study in private and personal collections. The poets are here but self-styled poets and poetesses. The other thing too is this that it is easy to work on Indian topics as for the dissertations rather than the British stuffs.
What it pains us most in reading Indian English poetry is this that there are no critical texts as for to analyse them. There are no critics of it. The fresh research students pose as the critics of Indian English poetry who are in reality the novice fellows as well as the learners of such an evolving genre of literature. Here whatever your write will be accepted. There is none to contradict your theory. The biographical details too of the nondescript practitioners whose whereabouts are unknown, and obscure are quintessential as for discussing their poems. If you are able to access and approach the poet, you will definitely turn into a critic here.
I searched for the books of Jayanta Mahapatra, but could not find them, even wrote to Prof. P. Lal who too responded with the proposal of photo-stating the materials and sending them after the payment of charges as required for the research. Somehow I got the address of Mahapatra and he was kind enough to send me the books. Similar had been the case with Daruwalla. But Nissim Ezekiel asked to write to Oxford Univ. Press, Delhi, but the books too were out of stock. It took time in corresponding with, getting the reply by post, sending of the M.O.
Relationship is a long poem consisting of a few pages, not so many in numbers, but is in continuation of his relationship with Orissa and the Oriya space, culture, history, myth, tradition and mysticism. Here he grappling with the topography and cartography glides with map and map-making, telling of his connection with the land of his birth, rearing, education and growing up. Just with the visionary glides and escapades he keeps on rolling and gliding, sometimes on the boat with the boatmen, sometimes with the sailors on the ships sailing on the sea and sometimes by the shore seeing the sea shores. The Oriya landscape with the rivers, forests, hills, lakes, sea beaches, historical sites, hamlets, exotic flora and fauna he binds them into a whole to weave the myth of his own delving to take the visionary flights. The Ganga kings, who to tell about? Who there to tell about the Konark Sun temple? How the sculptures and figurines of it inscribed upon the walls? What are they indicative of? What the motif behind? The tourist spots and destinations pleasurable and refreshing, where does mind get lifted to? The wooden statues carved out of fresh wood and placed in the Jagannath temple so bizarre and grotesque lift us from our busy schedule to see the Rathyatra and the gods and goddesses on outing, the chariot pulled by the mammoth of crowds following, held by reverence and piety, looking back in wonder and astonishment, devotion and religiosity and so full of festivity, mirth and joy. To read Jayanta Mahapatra is to feel that the history of Delhi is not the history of India. The history of Bihar and the U.P. is not the history of Indian politics. While doing his M.Sc. from Patna Univ., he would have definitely felt the caste system prevalent in Bihar.
The poetry-work, Relationship appeared in 1980 from the Greenfield Review Press, Greenfield Center, New York 12833, USA. With an extract from Whitman’s Song of Myself before the start of the poem, the small book opens up in its way opening the avenues of thought and idea, dream and vision; widening the spectrum and horizon of our delving. Relationship as a work cannot be analyzed, paraphrased and annotated as because so many abstract things have been assimilated into the poetic texture of the poem delving deep into Oriya land, cartography, history, art, culture, society, tradition, belief and heritage and living. How the people are, how the land is, how their living, how their language! How their deity, belief-system! His language is so metaphoric and mythic here reminding us of the Irish myth and mysticism of W.B.Yeats. What is this Orissa? How the stories of it? How to express his love and gratitude for the motherland, the place of his nativity is the question! It is Orissa which is his love; it is Orissa his dream and imagery and with it he sleeps and awakes and arises from slumber.
Wearing the mythically embroidered bespangled coat of Yeats, he starts the tale of Orissa and Orissan myth and mysticism engaging his inner space:
“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 )
A poet he can show what it is in regional history and how have we kept our histories ignored. What more do we know about our histories? Just others’ versions we hear. We do not have our standpoint. We could not take a note of that. The replica of the Konark Sun-temple is the replica of his poetry; how the wheels of it, the wheels of the chariot and how the horses of Suryanarayana! Who made the Konark Sun-temple and how? Who were the architects? Who the forgotten masons? Just like the vagabond Whitman he wants to gloss over with his visionary stance. His leaves are not the leaves of America, but of Orissa. Plucking the green grass blade, Mahapatra like Tennyson wants to pipe and sing a song. Yeats’ An Acre of Grass not, but the whole panorama and landscape of coastal Orissa is the dream vision of Jayanta Mahapatra.
The last lines of the poem take us to a different pedestal of make-believe dream sequence:
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.
(Ibid, p.38 )
Who are these dark daughters? Are these the poor toiling masses of our agrarian countrified society? Are these the poor daughters of India whose tales of pity and pathos we often hear it? Are these the tears of Sita and Yasodhara falling from their feminine eyes and cheeks? Are these the dark daughters of the temples working as devadasis or yoginis? Are the priests and the middle men okay? Are the astrologers and palmists and soothsayers true to their kindred souls? Scholasticism is good, so is classicism, but where do we go to finally? Can we detach ourselves from our bare realities and earthly connections? Can we close our eyes from seeing the trouble and tribulation of the common masses? Does hunger not malign us? Are the people not living below the poverty lines? What man does not do for the stomach?
Down the memory lanes, where does he want to go? Where is he going? What does the poet mean to say it? Is it his day dreaming or night dreaming? In a vision where does he want to lapse into? Does he want to identify his self with the self of the motherland? Here his stand is mythic and mythological, so full with the flight of imagination, dreamy glide and slide, so full of generalizations.
Divided in twelve, each section tells a tale of own. The first is grappling with myth and mysticism, the making of the land, the drift of time and the phallus stone overshadowing it all. Against the backdrop of the sea and its hazards, dark forests and dark myths of creation, he tells the tales of life and this living of ours, that of the Oriyas. There is something of Riders to the Sea of J.M.Synge in it.
The second is autobiographical but written in the form of a reverie as Dream Children by Charles Lamb is. Marking the grave of his mother, he ruminates over the passage of time as which becomes what in course of time, how memory and reminiscence play a role in human life and the images keep shifting like the sands of time.
The third starts with the first rains washing the lands and stones, sin and blood and here lies in the story of the Daya river on whose banks the Kalinga and the Ashokan armies clashed. The imagery is one of The Waste Land and The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. There is something of the Tower of Silence imagery when we think of the skeleton remains, bodies cleansed of rotting flesh. The penance of Bhagirath and the doing away of the sins of the sons of Sagar come to the mind as and when we sit to discuss it.
The fourth tells about his imagistic meanderings and loiterings. What he means to say it is not clear. The burden of peace, how to take to? Voices of children have always wronged.
The fifth as an ode to sleep though is not is all about the soothing flight of imagination, the visionary glide taken, the dream dreamt through, with the help of imagery and reflection, nostalgia and remembrance. If sleep is soothing, where will it land, all know it.
The sixth is again a glide in which he speaks of the gathering of clouds, rains and the Ganga kings and their ruins. None to say where he goes from where.
The seventh is all about who stands where, who is for what if the notions keep shifting, images keep swapping places. The ideas are not clear here. If one searches Jayanta Mahapatra for meaning, one will be at wit’s end.
The eighth is all about his connections with stones, the stones of history and archaeology, geography and architecture. It is the Konark Sun-temple that he discusses it here indirectly in a visionary style of rambling. The sweep and glance of Mahapatra is splendid.
In the ninth starting from the myth of happiness he lurks around shuttling in between dreams and imagery.
The tenth is a door relating poem in which he speaks about stumbling upon the peepul tree and the meditational connect. Slipping through the doorways and planks, one can glimpse the outward world. The doors of dreams keep unfolding and opening new avenues of thought and idea. Just lie you by the door and go on seeing the ways.
The eleventh starting with the mirror mirrors it all happening underneath the consciousness layers of his heart.
The section twelve is about the dark daughters of the temple complex, of the countryside whose trouble and tribulation keep it swapping, taking forms, bearing fruits. None strove to know what it ailed them, their spirit and self. His style is folklorish and mythical as he keeps telling in a tell-tale way of deliberation. The dark daughter, why are they? What the cause of their darkness? Are they dark really or are affectionate daughters? Can daughters be dark? And even if are, what that to? What is it the myth of darkness, is it of the Dark Goddess? There is something of the Lingam-Yoni motif, the Prakriti-Purusha concept and the Shiva-Durga story indirectly relayed through the dream vision. But the base is one of proposition and supposition; the mythic base and he taking visionary flights. What we see as things is but mass and matter and the shapes keep changing. What it is today will not be tomorrow. The human mind is always in a flux. So are the fleeting images and impressions of life.
Sometimes we ask ourselves if Relationship is Kubla Khan of Coleridge and he writing under the impact and so is Mahaptra too here under the charm of dream sequence but without taking anything. Where will the parachutes of imagination will land them to, God knows it. Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet likes to silhouette and in his poetry imagery plays an upper hand with faith being so shaky and frail. The pencil images do not remain the same as they change it from time to time.