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India English Poetry
     
 

Jayanta
Mahapatra

Interview

by


Vivekanand Jha

 

 
 
 
 


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 it true?

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, not yet.

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 at Patna.

V Jha: Your theme of poetry is oriented on that only.

J Mahapatra: Yah, all my childhood.

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 English poetry.

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 of India.

V Jha: In your autobiography you have talked about a beautiful girl.

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.


Literary Works 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, 1976
Waiting, New Delhi. Samkaleen Prakashan, 1979
The False Start, Bombay. Clearing House, 1980
Relationship, Greenfield, New York. Greenfield Review Press, 1980
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 Press, 1988
Temple, Sydney/Mundelstrup/Coventry. Dangaroo Press, 1989
A Whiteness of Bone, New Delhi. Viking Penguin, 1992
The Best of Jayanta Mahapatra, Kozhikode. Bodhi Publications, 1995
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, 2009

Poetry in Oriya

Bali (The Victim) Cuttack. Vidyapuri, 1993
Kahibi Gotie Katha (I'II Tell A Story), Cuttack. Arya Prakashan, 1995
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


Translations of Poetry

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, 1994
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

Short Stories

The Green Gardener, Hyderabad. Orient Longman, 1997

Others

Orissa, New Delhi. Lustre Press, 1973.
Poemas (in Spanish), Mexico. Instituto de Cultura.

Short 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 poetic imagery.
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
(viii) Winamop
(ix) Literature India
(x) Mother Bird
(xi) Retort Magazine
(xii) Kalinga Times
(xiii) Holy Rose Review
(xiv) Munyori Poetry Journal

Home Address for correspondence:
Vivekanand Jha
C/O Digambar Jha
Road no. 07, Yoginagar
New Laxmisagar, Darbhanga
Bihar: 846009
Country: India