Jayanta Mahapatra needs
little introduction. There are many features which make him
distinct from his contemporaries. He is the most prolific
poet in the history of India English Poetry, despite being
a scholar from a science background. He has established himself
in the arena of English literature, he is the first poet to
receive the Sahitya Akademi Award in Indian English Poetry,
he is a poet who commands more respect overseas than at home,
and last but not least, his poetry is particularly noted for
its profundity of images and symbols.
In the pursuit of attaining
a Ph.D. on his poetry, I had the opportunity to visit the
residence of Jayanta Mahapatra. In his nineties, he has suffered
chronic asthma and recurring migraines. Because of chest heaviness
and breathlessness he doesn't prefer, at all, to talk in the
morning hour, so in the evening I talked with him in a cordial
and friendly atmosphere. Adding to his woes, his wife Runu
Mahapatra passed away last year leaving him internally shaken
and weakened, as they were an ideal and exemplary couple.
Let us share an excerpt
of the conversation:
V Jha: In the book,
"Door of Paper: Essays and Memoirs," all the essays
and articles written by you are available.
J Mahapatra: Not all,
but most of them are available.
V Jha: Who is the contemporary you like the most?
J Mahapatra: Can't say.
V Jha: You have somewhere talked about A K Ramanujan.
J Mahapatra: Yes, he was idealistic and a very good writer.
V Jha: It is he whom you like most!
J Mahapatra: Yes.
V Jha: In the book, "History of Indian English Literature,"
authored by M. K. Naik, he mentions that contemporary Indian
poets, who have made a name in the world of Indian and English
poetry, have their first books published by P. Lal only. Is
J Mahapatra: It is true
because all these people were published by P. Lal. He also
has done a very good job, a very good humanitarian job. We
can't deny it. Giving encouragement to new writers is something
not many people have done. The poet like Ezekiel, even this
man who made a name, Vikram Seth, he was also published by
P. Lal. Kamala Das, all these people were published.
V Jha: Sir, you express your dissatisfaction over the absence
of constructive criticism on your poetry, especially in India.
They include only ugly aspects of your poetry. What kind of
criticism do you want to have on your poetry?
J Mahapatra: I don't
read criticism. I haven't seen those books. I don't want to
see criticism because that doesn't help me much. Unless it
is positive criticism but one writes for the sake of
one's writing. One doesn't write because the critic tells
to write like this.
V Jha: The very title of your book, "A Rain of Rites,
Shadow Space, Bare Face, Lies of Dawn," of poetry bears
significance of bleakness and barrenness. Is there vested
interest in doing that?
J Mahapatra: No, It
came on its own.
V Jha: What works are you busy with at present?
J Mahapatra: At present
I am writing my autobiography in Oriya. At least one part
I want to publish at the latest by June 10, if I am living
(smilingly). After I finish it, I will publish a new book
of English poems. So let me see what happens.
V Jha: Have you decided the title of your new book of poetry?
J Mahapatra: No, no,
V Jha: How many poems will there be?
J Mahapatra: I don't
know. I have still not decided.
V Jha: Your autobiography is available up to 1989. Are you
planning to write or have written about yourself after that?
J. Mahapatra: I have
written a small portion of my autobiography because an American
Encyclopedia wanted it for living contemporary writers, but
now I am writing my autobiography in Oriya. It's being serialized
in a magazine.
V Jha: It is after 1989.
J Mahapatra: No, no,
no, it's about my childhood and early days.
V Jha: Has it been published?
J Mahapatra: I am just
writing it now. Only three have come out. The next will come
out soon, one by one in a series. I am trying to write. I
don't know what I will pull on. I can't tell of tomorrow (Kal
ki baat to ham nahin bol sakate). But I am trying to do whatever
I can. It's all about my childhood, my youth, and my days
V Jha: Your theme of
poetry is oriented on that only.
J Mahapatra: Yah, all
V Jha: What would be
your advice to the budding poet?
J Mahapatra: Write whatever
you feel, feel from your heart, from your inside. One thing
will also help you. Just as you write from a certain level,
tilt to a little higher level. If we can go somewhat towards
God in the guise of writing (Thora eshawar ke taraph, thora
sa, aagar hamlog ja sakate hain likhake). If we can, that
should be our goal. Don't you think so? Your conscience and
soul search good things. And when you go about writing a poem
as a priest offers the God by picking and choosing the flowers
so we should do with words. (Jaise Poojari phool chun-chun
kar chadhate hain to hamlog Pooja ke tarahshabad ko aik-aik
kar ke banana chahiye. Mera to yahin khyal hai.)
V Jha: To whom do you
want to dedicate your success as a poet?
J Mahapatra: It's my
wife. She has been very cooperative. She has given me freedom.
If your wife doesn't give you freedom, how can you write?
V Jha: I would like to know about your reaction to the talk
of your being the father of the modern and postmodern Indian
J Mahapatra: No, no.
I write what I can. I don't think about it.
V Jha: Can you recall the moment and instant which had inspired
you to compose maiden verse?
J Mahapatra: Actually
I was writing a story in the beginning, but this story was
not published, they were all rejected. So I didn't write for
long day. I did research in I Physics, and in Still Photography
I also had a interest. Then later on I began writing. I don't
know how it happened; very late it happened.
V Jha: Is Chandrabhaga (a literary biannual journal) still
publishing or not?
J Mahapatra: We are
not publishing it now. I didn't have time. I didn't have the
money necessary for publishing. All these sorts of problems
take over. That's why we stopped it.
V Jha: In a country
of more than one billion people, the magazine Chandrabhaga
has come to cease publication. In your view, what is the fate
and future of Indian English poetry?
J Mahapatra: Graphic
magazine, fashion magazine, movie magazine, you can only get
funding. Otherwise nobody is purchasing a literary periodical.
Not only in India, I think this is the case of everywhere
in the world but especially in India we have too much
emphasis on film and fashion.
V Jha: I have read your
various interviews, articles, and essays and found that you
never mentioned the great names like Shakespeare, Wordsworth,
Keats, T.S. Eliot, and Y. B. Yeats. Does it make you something
unorthodox and unconventional?
J Mahapatra: I didn't
know. I didn't study them. I studied science you know. English
literature I didn't read.
V Jha: What was your main source of inspiration?
J Mahapatra: Main source
of inspiration: my land, my people, my place, what I see,
what social injustice I see, and political injustice. I should
like to write about the hunger. I think Orissa is one of the
very, very, very, very poor states, very poor. You go inside
the villages and you will see they don't have the place to
live in. They don't have a roof over their heads. They don't
have one meal a day. They don't have rice also to eat. During
election time politicians do visit the villages once, but
for the next five years nothing happens. The same poverty;
they sell their children to keep their own stomachs full.
Mothers sell their daughters, fathers sell their daughters.
Even today it's happening. Especially in Orissa and the interior
V Jha: In your autobiography you have talked about a beautiful
J Mahapatra: Irene!
Irene! It happened just in the class. But this is in Oriya.
I have talked about other girls also, so that I could enjoy
more priority. In English you can't do that. In your own mother
tongue you can talk about those things that you can't talk
about in English. What we have by virtue of our soil and local
air that we can't have any other way, we have with our mother
tongue. I have one and only one religion that if I couldn't
help anybody why should I harm? (Apani mitti se, apani hawa
se jo hoti hai wo bahar ke raste se nahin. Apani maa ke juwan
se hoti hai. Mera to ek hin dharma hai ki kisi ka kuchh harm
mat karo. Ham to kisi ke liye kuchh kar nahin pate hai to
kisi ko dukh kyon pahuchayen). If you can't help somebody
let us not harm somebody. That should be the religion of everybody.
Religion has no concern with temple, church, or mosque.
V Jha: You have talked
about some emerging poets from the Northeast region.
J Mahapatra: There are
some good and young poets especially from Meghalay, Mizoram
and also in Arunachal Pradesh.
V Jha: Earlier such talents were not there in that region.
How is it now such things happen?
J Mahapatra: See, there
is tension in the Northeast. If you have no tension you can't
write well. If you have tension you can bring about your feelings
well. Unless you have failure, suffering, and sorrows in your
life how can you write? If you have enough to eat, enough
money, a good house and a car, why will you write? What will
you write about? You have no problems to write about! If you
have got problems: maybe racial problems, religious problems,
hunger problems, and social problems . . . problems will lead
you to think, unless you think you can't write, ideas will
not come in your mind. For ideas you need the images to supplement
your ideas. So all things make a certain cycle that is necessary.
It begins only when you have certain problems in your life
to start writing poetry. Is that right Vivekanand?
V Jha: You have talked about one poet from Kolkota.
J Mahapatra: You talk
about Rudhra Kinshuk. I like this poet. A young boy who makes
good use of new images. I like when you put new types of images
in the poem.
V Jha: what do you mean by new images? Innovation should be
extracted from the new invention, science, and technology.
J Mahapatra: New images
mean you try to bring about something that never happened
or is done by some other poets before you. There was a great
Urdu poet from Allahabad side, Faiz Ahmad Faiz; he used to
write, "I want to drink through eyes not by lips."
( Lavon se nahin Main peena chahata, main ankhoon se peena
chahata hoon.) Something new like this.
of Jayanta Mahapatra
Poetry in English
Close the sky, Ten by Ten, Calcutta. Dialogue Publication,1971
Svayamvara and Other Poems, Calcutta. Writers Workshop
A Father's Hours, Calcutta. Writers Workshop, 1971
A Rain of Rites, Athens (USA). University of Georgia Press,
Waiting, New Delhi. Samkaleen Prakashan, 1979
The False Start, Bombay. Clearing House, 1980
Relationship, Greenfield, New York. Greenfield Review Press,
Life Signs, New Delhi. Oxford University Press, 1983
Dispossessed Nests, 1986
Selected Poems, New Delhi. Oxford University Press, 1987
Burden of Waves and Fruit, Washington, DC. Three Continents
Temple, Sydney/Mundelstrup/Coventry. Dangaroo Press, 1989
A Whiteness of Bone, New Delhi. Viking Penguin, 1992
The Best of Jayanta Mahapatra, Kozhikode. Bodhi Publications,
Shadow Space, Kottayam. D.C.Books, 1997
Bare Face, Kottayam. D.C.Books,2000
Random Descent, Bhubaneswar. Third Eye Communications, 2005
The Lie of Dawns: Poems 1974-2008, New Delhi, Authorspress,
Poetry in Oriya
Bali (The Victim) Cuttack.
Kahibi Gotie Katha (I'II Tell A Story), Cuttack. Arya Prakashan,
Baya Raja (The Mad Emperor), Cuttack. Vidyapuri, 1997
Tikie Chhayee (A Little Shadow), Cuttack. Vidyapuri, 2001
Chali (Walking), Cuttack. Vidyapuri, 2006
adiba Gapatiayy, Cuttack. Friends Publishers, 2009
Countermeasures: Poems, Calcutta. Dialogue, 1973
Wings of the Past: Poems, Calcutta. Rajasree, 1976
Song of Kubja and Other Poems, New Delhi. Samkaleen, 1981
I Can, But Why Should I Go: Poems, New Delhi. Sahitya Akademi,
Verticals of Life: Poems, New Delhi. Sahitya Akademi, 1996
Tapaswini: a Poem, Bhubaneswar. Orissa Sahitya Akademi, 1998
Discovery and other Poems, Kolkata. Writers Workshop, 2001
A Time of Rising (Poems), New Delhi. Har-Anand, 2003
The Green Gardener, Hyderabad. Orient Longman, 1997
Orissa, New Delhi. Lustre
Poemas (in Spanish), Mexico. Instituto de Cultura.
Biography of Vivekanand Jha
Dear Friend, I am not
a prolific bard
I have something to be heard
I am nothing but a singing bird
Who is hungry of coining a word
And live by pen not by sword
Vivekanand Jha, son
of noted professor and award winning poet Dr. Rajanand Jha
(Crowned with Sahitya Akademi Award, New Delhi), is a poet
and research scholar from India. He is 32 years old. He is
composing poems on contemporary and relevant themes. He is
also performing Ph. D on the poetry of the noted Indian English
poet Jayanta Mahapatra from Lalit Narayan Mithila University
Darbhanga under the close supervision and intimate guidance
of Dr. A K Bachchan, Professor of English in the post gratuate
department L.N.M.U Darbhanga. His topic of research is The
poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra: A study in dominant theme and
His poems have been published in following magazines:
(i) Pagan Imagination
(ii) P & W (Poetry and Writing)
(iii) Danse Macabre
(iv) Vox Poetica
(v) Writing Raw
(vi) Whisper on line publication
(vii) Tribal Soul Kitchen
(ix) Literature India
(x) Mother Bird
(xi) Retort Magazine
(xii) Kalinga Times
(xiii) Holy Rose Review
(xiv) Munyori Poetry Journal
Home Address for correspondence:
C/O Digambar Jha
Road no. 07, Yoginagar
New Laxmisagar, Darbhanga