Jayanta Mahapatra was a true genius & citizen of the world: Prof Sachidananda Mohanty
The poet said when she started reading his work, she realised that in the arch of Mahapatra’s poetry there was this constant attention to the craft without retreating into a poetic ivory tower.
BHUBANESWAR: Jayanta Mahapatra was not one of the best poets but the best Indian English poet to emerge from modern Odisha, said academician-cum-author Prof Sachidananda Mohanty. Speaking at a special session at the inaugural evening of the Odisha Literary Festival 2023 to pay tribute to the globally-acclaimed poet, who passed away last month, Prof Mohanty along with poet Sampurna Chattarji recalled the immeasurable contribution of Mahapatra to Indian English and Odia poetry.
“As an academic, I would say Jayanta Mahapatra was a true genius and a citizen of the world. Someone who came from a small town to becoming someone who rubbed shoulders with great poets like AK Ramanujan; it speaks about the efforts he made to become so outstanding in his craft,” Prof Mohanty told senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai who chaired the session.
Recalling her association with Mahapatra, Chattarji said the legacy of Mahapatra is global. And it was Mahapatra who gave her the gift of attention. “About 20 years back when I was struggling to figure myself out as a budding poet, it was Jayanta Da who sent me his beautiful calligraphy letters rejecting my work that I sent for publication in Chandrabhaga (the literary magazine that Mahapatra produced). That was the greatest gift that he gave me. He taught me that time is a co-author for every poet. He gave me the gift of attention and encouragement,” she said.
Stating while today it is easier to publish poems and every poet is well networked, Chattarji said those days it required an investment of genuine time and caring. And this was how her respect for Mahapatra took root. The poet said when she started reading his work, she realised that in the arch of Mahapatra’s poetry there was this constant attention to the craft without retreating into a poetic ivory tower. He was very moved by what he saw and was often torn by it.
The act of meeting Mahapatra was always a pilgrimage for many young writers. Prof Mohanty said each person who had met him had a unique story to tell. He was also a great follower of Mahatma Gandhi. “He said my poems are windows and I invite the reader to enter through these windows to discover the magic and miracles of poetry,” he added.
Poetry for Mahapatra was also a source of redemption by the invocation of memory. Very often, Chattarji said, he also saw poetry as a person. “I keep going back to his words. In what he offers us through the way he works the language, is where we understand what he is trying to do. On the surface, his poetry appears simple... he seems to be talking to you. But actually he leaps across time...so he could start with one line and that line would be now. He’s seen something that has shaken him deeply and then he leaps back to a 1000 years,” she said.
It makes one think about the multiple ways in which things happen in his poems.The speakers said what Mahapatra was able to achieve with poetry was mindboggling considering the fact that he began writing poems at the age of 38.