Bhubaneswar: When talking about classical poets and poems of India, there is one name you can not miss out on any chance; Jayanta Mahapatra. A physicist, bilingual poet, and essayist, he is the first Indian English poet to have received the Kendriya Sahitya Academi Award in the year 1981 for his poem ‘Relationship’. He also received the fourth highest civilian award, Padma Shri, for his outstanding contribution in the field of literature.
The poet, who turned 89 on October 22, has also won various other awards internationally. His works have been applauded, not just in Odisha, not just in India but across the globe.
Here are four of his poems that’ll bring to life your old memories of Odisha if you’re living elsewhere and leave you with the bittersweet feeling of nostalgia.
Deaths in Orissa
Faces of tree-bark and grief
hang against God’s hand in the world
that cannot lift itself up to help.
In the corners of women’s eyes
the rainbow breaks against the sunrise.
Nothing but the paddy’s twisted throat
exposed on the crippled bleak earth,
nothing but impotence in lowered eyes,
nothing but the tightening of the muscles
in Bhagyabati’s neck which her outcast mother
would herself have liked to throttle to death,
nothing but the cries of shriveled women
cracking against the bloodied altar of Man,
nothing but the moment of fear
when they need a God who can do them some good.
Oh, I am a poet who barks like a dog.
Open the window, I saw, so I can breathe.
Let not my memory be like a tiger in ambush.
But there is this dangerously alive body
and only a baton or knife can tear it apart.
Dawn At Puri
Endless crow noises
A skull in the holy sands
tilts its empty country towards hunger
White-clad widowed women
past the centers of their lives
are waiting to enter the great temple
Their austere eyes
Stare like those caught in a net
hanging by the dawn’s shining strands of faith
The fail early light catches
ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another
a mass of crouched faces without names
And suddenly breaks out of my hide
into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre
that fills my aging mother:
her last wish to be cremated here
twisting uncertainly like light
on the shifting sands.
The Captive air of Chandipur-on-sea
Day after day the drunk sea at Chandipur
spits out the gauze wings of shells along the beach
and rumples the thin air behind the sands.
Who can tell of the songs of this sea that go on
to baffle and double the space around our lives?
Or of smells paralyzed through the centuries,
of deltas hard and white that stretched once
to lure the feet of women bidding their men goodbye?
Or of salt and light that dark and provocative eyes
demanded, their shoulders drooping like lotuses
in the noonday sun?
And what is it now that scatters the tide
in the shadow of this proud watercourse?
The ridicule of the dead?
Sussurant sails still whisper
legends on the horizon: who are you,
occupant of the silent sigh of the conch?
The ground seems only a memory now, a torn breath,
and as we wait for the tide to flood the mudflats
the song that reaches our ears is just our own.
The cries of fishermen come drifting through the spray,
music of what the world has lost.
Afterwards, when the wars of Kalinga were over,
the fallow fields of Dhauli
hid the red-smeared voiceless bodies
As the earth
burrowed into their dead hunger
with its merciless worms,
guided the foxes to their limp genitals.
Years later, the evening wind,
trembling the glazed waters of the River Daya,
keens in the rock edicts the vain word,
like the voiceless cicadas of night
the measure of Ashoka’s suffering
does not appear enough.
The place of his pain peers lamentably
from among the pains of the dead.
Jayanta Mahapatra connects deeply with the environment of destinations he writes about which lends a personal feel to each of his poem. His poetry reflects an amalgamation of emotional experiences and history and culture of Odisha.