With Jayanta Mahapatra, a poetic era passes

A towering literary personality, Mahapatra was one of the most widely-known poets of the modern period.
Jayanta Mahapatra
Jayanta Mahapatra

BHUBANESWAR: Globally acclaimed and the first Indo-Anglian poet to receive the Sahitya Akademi Award, Jayanta Mahapatra took his last breath on Sunday evening at Cuttack, bringing an end to a legendary poetic era. He was 95.

Mahapatra was under treatment for age-related ailments at the SCB Medical College and Hospital at Cuttack since August 4. 

Two days back, his health condition deteriorated and he was kept under ventilator support in the medicine department of the hospital. Mahapatra suffered a brain stroke and passed away following a cardiac arrest at 9 pm.

A towering literary personality, Mahapatra was one of the most widely-known poets of the modern period.

His poems dealt with all human emotions but most of it centered around human relationships. Mahapatra’s popular poems such as 'Indian Summer' and 'Hunger' are regarded as classics in modern Indian English Literature. In doing so, he carved a poetic league of his own.

In 2015, protesting the growing intolerance in the country, Mahapatra had returned his Padma Shri award which he was conferred in 2009.

Born in Cuttack on October 22, 1928, Mahapatra started his career as a teacher in 1949 and served in various government colleges of Odisha before retiring in 1986. He began writing poetry at the age of 38 and went on to be counted among the three founders of Indian English poetry, the other two being AK Ramanujan and Nissim Ezekiel.

Mahapatra wrote 20 books of poems with his first collection of poems being Svayamvara and Other Poems (1971). It was followed by other collections like Close the Sky Ten by Ten (1971), A Father’s Hours (1976), A Rain of Rites (1976), Waiting (1979), Life Signs (1983), A Whiteness of Bone (1992), Shadow Space (1997), Bare Face (2000), Random Descent among others. Some of his poems also aimed at bringing about a change in the society, be it ‘Dawn at Puri’ or ‘Hunger’.

His poetry was celebrated and he was accorded many prestigious awards for his contribution in the field of literature. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1981 and the Jacob Glatstein Memorial Award prior to that in 1975. This was followed by the Allen Tate Prize (2009), SAARC Literary Award (2009) and Padma Shri Award (2009). In 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Ravenshaw University.

Writer Sitakanta Mohapatra, who has written articles on Jayanta Mahapatra, said the acclaimed poet immensely contributed to Indian literature, particularly in English. “He was suffering for a long time and his death might have come as a relief but it is a huge loss to the country,” he said.

Mahapatra had recently released his biography in Odia language ‘Bhor Motira Kanaphoola’ which is more contemplative in nature than offering anecdotes and events in his life, more revelatory of the workings of a poet’s mind. The book was published by Bhubaneswar-based Ketaki Foundation. Writer-columnist and convenor of Odia Advisory Board of Central Sahitya Akademi Gourahari Das, who attended the book release event, said Mahapatra was one of the most outstanding figures in poetry not just in India but also abroad. His poems and even translations will continue to influence young bards and writers, he said.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan condoled the demise of Mahapatra.

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