BHUBANESWAR: Poetry has been the sole refuge for escaping from the pain and suffering inflicted by life, said one of India’s greatest poets in English, Jayanta Mahapatra at the Odisha Literary Festival here on Saturday.
“I didn’t have a happy childhood. My school life was a bitter one. I was bullied, sexually assaulted, giving me wounds and scars that never seemed to go away. But then poetry came, bringing with it a healing touch,” he said.
Opening up on his personal life and experiences during his conversation with noted translator and critic Jatin Nayak on ‘The Poetic as Personal: My Life in Words’, the celebrated litterateur said the bitter experiences from childhood had pushed him to seek solace in poems.
ALSO READ | Odisha Literary Festival: Pianist Anil Srinivasan unlocks perception through the magic of music
“Let me confess, I never wanted to be a poet. The thought of writing poetry had never come to my mind when I was young. Poetry happened to me at the ripe age of 38, and slowly began, to rub off the grief that I suffered during his childhood,” said the first Indian poet to win Sahitya Akademi award for English poetry.
The poems of Mahapatra are deeply rooted on his personal experience, connecting the intimate with the imaginative. “I spent my time looking at trees, catching butterflies and walking around my house finding ant holes. These little things have had a profound impression on me,” he said.
ALSO READ | Odisha Literary Festival: No guilt trip for mothers, says Kaveree Bamzai in her new book
But, despite all the painful memories of childhood along with the global recognition and acclaim in later life, Mahapatra never once thought of moving away from his native state and the soil of his birth, Cuttack.
“When I was a child, crawling about on all fours, I used to pick up the dirt from the ground and put in my mouth. Probably, I got used to the taste of Odisha and I liked it.
I can’t find the intimacy of Cuttack in no other place. I have not been able to live in such contentment any where else in the world (than Odisha),” he said.
ALSO READ | Odisha Literary Festival: There’s Mantoiyat in all of us, says director Nandita Das
Revealing his relationship with Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom movement, the poet said he was enamoured by the father of the nation.
He had walked all the way to Bandipur, while as a student in Bihar, to attend a prayer meeting of Gandhiji and had sat at arm’s length from Bapu.
“Gandhiji meant more to me than my own father. I still feel admiration for him. I cant get rid of it,” he said. On his transition from a teacher in science to a poet, he said there was not much of a difference between the two fields. Both deal with the abstract and talk about ambiguous things, he said.
If not poet, what would he have become? “But I am not a poet. I just write poems,” says Mahapatra. “I was very restless during my childhood. I ran away from home, landed in Mumbai, slept in the open. I failed in English Literature twice, once in senior secondary examination and in Ravenshaw College. My English was not good,” he admitted.
His advice to budding poets:
“Don’t write about yourself. You must be committed to the community and the society you live in. Your poems should be about what you see and hear,” Mahapatra said, adding, “Just go on writing poetry. Don’t wait for Sundays to write a poem.” Towards the end of the session, Mahapatra recited an Odia poem ‘Gapa Tiye’. “I am happy to be reading in Odia because it is my language,” he signed off with a glint in his eyes.