Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta is a fine craftsman with a superb control over his medium in a fair response to his poetry though one is not sure of a significant and meaningful departure has been made; and a reflection that is stuff of contemporary India, but “Jayanta’s sensibility is both Indian and modern; and his response to Indian scene is authentic and credible”, says Vishawanathan. Panikar agree with Vishawanathan and pointed out that Mahapatra’s concern of the vision of belief and loss; dejection and rejection are typically Indian.

In Sahitya Akademi Award winner volume The Relationship, we experience Jayanta’s desire to discover one’s root; and manifestation of this desire in a variety of ways in the strength of his poetry. There is evidence of a Hindu sensibility and all the poetic energy is spent in recognizing the Hindu world.

Jayanta’s poetry is not spatial being confined to an insect, a home, a street dog, a window or a river; but the most temporal, with consciousness of the past memory being the driving force of his poetry. His modernism is not a simple, undimensional; phenomenon; it is a rainbow of many hues and has a number of strains—personal, socio-cultural, archetypal and so on. His modernism can be seen in manner, form and in complex symbolic mode. As a regional poet, says V.A. Shahani, “Mahapatra constant pre-occupation with the favorite places such as Jagannathpuri, Cuttak and Bhuvneshewar… constitute the permanent layer of his works; this is the poetic expression of the soil to which he still belongs”.

His sensibility is essentially Indian which can be seen not only into his presentation of man-woman relationship but also in his poem about Orissa. Note the example from Kurunthohai, a Tamil classic:

“but our hearts are as red
earth and pouring rain,
mingled beyond parting”

there is rich simplicity and native nutty texture that is the strength of his Indianess which sound so natural, powerful and evocative.

Like R. Parthasarathy, in Jayanta we notice a play of the sharp Tamil intellect which can enliven mood, situation or atmosphere. We should note that Jayanta’s area is limited, but like Jane Austen, he can crave on his six inches of ivory. As William Walsh says, in his essay “Small Observations in a Large Scale”,“His poems show an extreme precision so that the contour of each phrase, the sense of each image, the slightest rise or fall of rhythm, is defined with an unqualified accuracy.”And one agrees with Walsh in his observation that “his mind and his language work, not by any poetic murmuration or suggestiveness, but by pointing, by specifying, delimiting and detailing”.

Apart from Indianess, Jayanta is a poet of human relationship and raises his situations from the regional to universal. He has employed imagery and epithets, symbols etc to present the human conditions, which are not only the conditions of India but of the whole world. In Mahapatra’s poetry the human relationship centers round man-woman relationship. The portrait of woman reoccurs in his poetry and the stress has been laid in presenting woman as the sufferer. In Indian Summer, he presents the gloomy state of a woman:

the good wife
lies in my bed
through the long afternoon
dreaming still, unexhausted
by the deep roar of funeral pyres.”

Similarly, the poem “Lost” takes up the case of “a lonely man who welcomes his room in half-lights”. The room naturally becomes his “meditation chamber”, “a private chapel” for “experiencing pain and pleasure”. The sufferings of the protagonist are, obviously, similar to those of his female counterpart in “missing person”.

Similarly, the poem “Logic” is extremely over packed with meaning. It is essentially an indictment of a male thinker—a scholar, immersed in his mental reflections; and the woman persona is deeply pinned down by the use of logic by her better half:

“Make me small and edible love.
This scalp hurts not from the steep drag
of your hands from my own practiced drivel.”

In “The Whore House in a Calcutta Street” the woman is painted nearly a mechanical tool of man to whom she requests:

“Hurry, will you? Let me go,
and her lonely breath thrashed against your kind.”

Mahapatra here effectively underscores the pathetic condition of those unfortunate women who, despite their false chatter, do have deep feelings. Hunger and male exploitation seem to have driven them into the flesh trade which they have accepted with a kind of stoic registration.

“Life is painful, the process of writing a poem is painful; poetry is going into and finding the centre of yourself. I suppose, you can’t do this if you don’t give up your own self.” (Mahapatra). It is often been pointed out, and rightly too, that Jayanta Mahapatra has, in his mental make up, something of the existentialist outlook on life. He is a close observer of men and things, and finds:

“Every man, every beast
trapped, deaf in his own sleep”.

Naturally, the vision of life he presents in the poetry is extremely horrifying which transports the reader to that inner core of existence: “Where there is nothing of the paradise charm that man has long been dreaming of.”

His contemporaries are generally satisfied with the expression of their confessional problems—sexual, marital, extra-marital, financial or otherwise. Hence they fail to have much sincerity about them. They fail to have a voice that comes from Jayanta’s “varanmayi” personality “is stun total of all his inner and outer qualities”. Kamala is engagingly feelingful, Nissim is playfully ironically but Jayanta is vaguely gloomy. His poetry leads us to dark world where there is loneliness and despair.

The vision of the life he builds up in poem after poem is, therefore, as blood-curdling as its actual experience in contemporary life. As he himself writes: “What appears to disturb me is the triumph of silence in the mind”. A careful consideration of his popular poems—“A Missing Person”; “Lost”; “The Logic”; “Hunger”; “The Whore House In A Calcutta Street”—have already achieved something of that tragic vision of life that has been “the crowing glory of the very best in the world”.

In “A Missing Person”, Mahapatra presents a woman who is watching for her lover in the “darkness room”, and fails to find her “reflection in the mirror”:

In the darkened room
a woman
cannot find her reflection in the mirror.”

The technical devices used by Mahapatra to project this tragic vision are remarkable for their deep connection with the poet’s Indian background. Panikar pointed out that Mahapatra’s concern of the vision of belief and loss; dejection and rejection are typically Indian. Mahapatra is, obviously, at his best when he speaks of the “drunken yellow oil lamp (which) alone could find where she finds her body”.The poet in Mahapatra is, obviously, a poet of the twilight realities of loneliness—a poet of ailing and aching heart pining for what is not.

Mahapatra’s presentation of the tragic vision of the contemporary life proves beyond any shadow of doubt that as a poet he does not carry the conventional badge of the academic class. He is absolutely free from pastiche, borrowing and derivativeness. As a poet, he is partly personal, partly existential, partly socio-cultural, and partly archetypal. He has a much more extended scope and range than any of his contemporaries—Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Shiv Kumar or Ramanujan.

Hence his greatness as a poet is quite apt; everywhere he gives something new and original; he is not like other poets but “Greater than the greatest in the modern Indian world”.