Jayanta Mahapatra is a well-known Indian poet writing in English. Though he is no more active poetically (or poetically dead) as he has already produced the best he could, one or two decades ago, still, Mahapatra is the undoubtful benchmark in Indian English Poetry tradition. Most of the students who graduate or excel in English Literature studies in India have to go through the poems of Jayanta Mahapatra. His poems, liked by some and otherwise, are always a part of the discussion whenever it happens to be on Indian English Poetry. Born in 1928, Mahapatra is a poet and occasional prose writer who writes in English as well in Oriya also. Out of his twenty books of poems, only a few could keep their existence in the light for long. Some of his poems, however, are evergreen!
Mahapatra is a poet of landscape and mostly, his poems are but a kind of search for peace in the natural essence. He is a poet who begins with some sort of image (or group of images) and then follows the lead to make it into a poem. In a letter to M. K. Naik, 1983, Mahapatra writes:
“Perhaps I begin with an image or a cluster of images; or an image leads to another, or perhaps the images belonging to a sort of ‘group’… The image starts the movement of the poem… but I do not know where I am proceeding in the poem or how the poem is going to end. ….. I don’t know myself how the poem is going to be.”
Indeed, most of the poets are either Coleridges or T. S. Eliots – one just wandering for the sake of poem or another with a purpose to write something which has a meaning already attached to the poem. We will put Jayanta Mahapatra in the first pair of brackets – a poet who just wrote for the sake of making poetry (very much evident in his case as he began writing poems once he was 40 already).
Still, one cannot deny that even the random ramblings of this poet could make poems which were worthy of reading. Some of the important collections of poems by Mahapatra are:
Close the Sky Ten by Ten, 1971
Svayamvara and Other Poems, 1971
A Father’s Hours, 1976
A Rain of Rites, 1976
The False Start, 1980
Talking of the poems, individually, Hunger is a poem which is very popular, penned by this poet. This poem talks about poverty and almost extrapolates the case to be a kind of realism which some might just think once to overlook. Yes, poverty leads to prostitution… Another poem in this league by Mahapatra is A Whore House in Calcutta Street (or something of that sort is the title).
Lesser known the poet was, he achieved all his fame recently, two years ago, when he joined the award wapsi gang. Jayanta Mahapatra returned his Padma Shri award to protest against the rising intolerance in India which suddenly emerged out of the blue after the current PM, Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Ironically enough, Mahapatra won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1981 and cleverly overlooked the Sikh massacre of 1984 without even a line of protest. Leaving that aside, the great Kashmiri exodus was also conveniently overlooked by the poet! Well, these are the political norms that these artists and literary personalities have to follow…
To conclude, Jayanta Mahapatra is one of the finest poets in India writing in the English language. He is often put in the league which contains the poets like A. K. Ramanujan. His poems mostly talk about the grim realities of India or the great landscapes, the geographical beauty our country has.