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Vivekanand Jha interviews Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta Mahapatra needs little introduction. There are many features which make him distinct from his contemporaries like: the most prolific poet in the history India English Poetry, belongs to poor and middle class family, a scholar from science background, first poet to recei e !ahitya "kademi "ward in the Indian English Poetry, a poet who commands more respect o erseas than at home, and profundity of images and symbols in his poetry. It was the morning of #$Th %o &'( I ha e an opportunity to isit the residence of Jayanta Mahapatra. Jayanta Mahapatra is in his nineties and he has chronic asthma and recurrent migraine. )ecause of chest hea iness and breathlessness he doesn*t prefer, at all, to talk in the morning hour. !o I returned empty handed in the morning but in the e ening I ha e a talk with him in cordial and friendly atmosphere. "fter passing of his wife,+unu Mahapatra, last year, he is internally shaken and weakened, as they were an ideal and e,emplerary couple. "fter meeting with him when I came out of his room I spoke to his maidser ant who has been ser ing them for years regarding how Jayanta Mahapatra feels the absence of his wife. !he said he wept bitterly when his wife died and e en now he brusts into tears occasionaly in her lo ing memory. -et me share e,cerpts of our con ersation: V Jha: In the book, ./oor of Paper: Essays and memoirs0, all the essays and articles written by you are a ailable. J Mahapatra: %ot all, but most of them are a ailable. V Jha: 1our theme of poetry is oriented on that only. J Mahapatra: 1ah, all my childhood. V Jha: 2ho is the contemporary you like the most3 J Mahapatra: 4an*t say like that. V Jha: 1ou ha e somewhere talked about " 5 +amanu6an. J Mahapatra: 1es, he was idealistic and ery good writer. V Jha: It is he whom you like most7 J Mahapatra: 1es. V Jha: In the book, .8istory of Indian English -iterature0 authored by M. 5. %aik, he mentions that contemporary Indian poets, who made name in the Indian and world English poetry, ha e got his first book published by P. -al only. Is it true3

J. Mahapatra: It is true because all these people were published by P. -al. 8e also has done a ery good 6ob, ery good humanitarian 6ob. 2e can*t deny it. 9i ing encouragement to new writers is something not many people ha e done. The poet like E:ekiel, e en this man who made a name, ;ikram !eth, he was also published by P. -al. 5amala /as, all these people were published. V Jha: !ir you e,press your dissatisfaction o er the absence of constructi e criticism on your poetry especially in India. They include only ugly aspects of your poetry. 2hat kind of criticism you want to ha e on your poetry3 J Mahapatra: I don*t read criticism. I ha en*t seen those books. I don*t want to see criticism because that doesn*t help me much. <nless it is positi e criticism but one writes for one write. =ne doesn*t write because the critic tells to write like this. V Jha: The ery title of your book of poetry bears significance of bleakness and barrenness. Is there ested interest in doing that3 J Mahapatra: %o, It came own its own. V Jha: 2hat are the works you are at present busy with3 J Mahapatra: "t present I am writing my autobiography in =riya. "t least one part I want to publish latest by June, if I am li ing >smilingly?. "fter I finish it, I will publish a new book of English poems. !o let me see what happens. V Jha: 8a e you decided the title of your new book of poetry3 J Mahapatra: %o, no, not yet. V Jha: 8ow many poems will be there3 J Mahapatra: I don*t know. I ha e still not decided. V Jha: 1our autobiography is a ailable up to #'@'. "re you planning to write or ha e written about yourself after that3 J. Mahapatra: I ha e written small portion of my autobiography because an "merican Encyclopedia wanted it for li ing contemporary writers but now I am writing autobiography in =riya. It*s being seriali:ed in a maga:ine. V Jha: It is after #'@'. J Mahapatra: %o, no, no, it*s about my childhood and early days. V Jha: 8as it been published3 J Mahapatra: I am 6ust writing it now. =nly three has come out. %e,t will come out soon, one by

one in series. I am trying to write. I don*t know I will pull on. I can*t tell of tomorrow >5al ki baat to ham nahin bol sakate?. )ut I am trying to do whate er I can. It*s all about my childhood, my youth and my days at Patna. V Jha: 2hat would be your ad ice to the budding poet3 J Mahapatra: 2rite whate er you feel, feel from your heart, from your inside. =ne thing will also help you. Just you write from the le el, tilt a little higher le el. If we can go somewhat towards 9od in the guise of writing >Thora eshawar ke taraph, thora sa, aagar hamlog 6a sakate hain likhake?. If we can that should be our goal. /on*t you think so3 1our conscience and soul search good things. "nd when you go about writing a poem as a priest offers the 9od by picking and choosing the flowers so we should do with words. >Jaise Poo6ari phool chunAchun kar chadhate hain to hamlog Poo6a ke tarahshabad ko aikAaik kar ke banana chahiye. Mera to yahin khyal hai? V Jha: To whom you want to dedicate your success as a poet. J Mahapatra: It*s my wife. !he has been ery coAoperati e. !he has been gi ing me freedom. If your wife doesn*t gi e you freedom how can you write3 !omebody should be there, you take the time also and also worries, no worries from other things, household things and all like that. !o if you ha e time and then she gi es you freedom also to li e and we want to li e to help the people, not to help the people. V Jha: I would like to know about your reaction on the talk of your being the father of the modern and postAmodern Indian English poetry. J Mahapatra: %o, no. I write what I can. I don*t think about it V Jha: 4an you recall the moment and instant which had inspired you to compose maiden erse3 J Mahapatra: "ctually I was writing story in the beginning, but this story were not published, they were all re6ected. !o I didn*t write for long day. I did research I Physics and still photography I also had a interest. Then later on I began writing. I don*t know it happened, ery late it happened. V Jha: Is 4handrabhaga still publishing or not3 J Mahapatra: 2e are not publishing it know. I didn*t ha e time. I didn*t ha e the money in ol es for publishing. "ll these sorts of problems to take o er. That*s why we stopped it. V Jha: In a country of more than one billion people, a maga:ine 4handrabhaga had come to cease the publication. In your iew what is the fate and future of Indian English poetry3 J Mahapatra: 9raphic maga:ine, fashion maga:ine, mo ie maga:ine, you can only get funding. =therwise nobody is purchasing a literary periodical. %ot only in India, I think this is the case of e ery where in the world but especially in India we ha e too much emphasis on film and fashion.

V Jha: I ha e read your arious inter iews, articles and essays and found that you were ne er mentioned the great name like !hakespeare, 2ordsworth, 5eats, T.!. Eliot, and 1. ). 2eats. /oes it make you something orthodo, and uncon entional3 J Mahapatra: I didn*t know. I didn*t study them. I studied science you know. English literature I didn*t read. V Jha: 2hat was your main source of inspiration3 J Mahapatra: Main source of inspiration: my land, my people, my place, what I see, what social in6ustice I see, and political in6ustice. I should like to write about the hunger. I think =rissa is the one of the ery, ery, ery, ery poor state, ery poor. 1ou go inside the illages you will see they don*t ha e the place to li e in. They don*t ha e roof o er their heads. They don*t ha e one meal a day. They don*t ha e rice also to eat. "nd only politician can find out which things are there. /uring election time they do isit the illages once and ne,t fi e years nothing happens. The same po erty, they sell their children to keep their own stomachs. Mothers sell their daughters, fathers sail their daughters. E en today it*s happening. Especially in =rissa and interior of India. V Jha: In your autobiography you ha e talked about a beautiful girl. J Mahapatra: Irene7 Irene7 It happened 6ust in the class. )ut this is in =riya I ha e talked about other girls also, so that I could en6oy 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. 2hat we ha e by irtue of our soil and local air that we can*t ha e any other way. 2e ha e with our mother tongue. I ha e one and only religion that if I couldn*t help anybody why should I harm. >"pani mitti se, apani hawa se 6o hoti hai wo bahar ke raste se nahin. "pani maa ke 6uwan se hoti hai. Mera to ek hin dharma hai ki kisi ka kuchh harm mat karo. 8am 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 e erybody. +eligion has no concern with temple, church or mosBue. V Jha: Is your madam sur i ing or not3 J Mahapatra: %o, she is no more. V Jha: In which year she e,pired3 J Mahapatra: -ast year. V Jha: I came to know from your autobiography that you ha e performed your M. !c. from Patana. J Mahapatra: That*s right, from Patna, Patna !cience college. V Jha: "s I am from )ihar, I would like to know about your e,perience of staying there during the course of post graduation at Patna <ni ersity. 2hat was the positi e aspect you had found there3

J. Mahapatra: Those days were much better than today. "nd Patna <ni ersity was one of the best uni ersities of India. I was li ing in a small mess, small erandah and small rented building. 2e were about ten students. 2e are rented small rooms of the professor of engineering college, Prof =6ha. The building in which we were staying was near to the Mahendru 9hat and law college. V Jha: In which year you ha e done your M. !c.3 J Mahapatra: It was in the year #'C'A$&. V Jha: Dor how many years you had been )ihar3 J Mahapatra: I had been there for three years. V Jha: That time P. 9. course was of three years7 J Mahapatra: I didn*t appear in final e,amination. I came away home. "gain I went and appeared in the e,amination. That time riots were there. I didn*t feel secure. "ll sorts of things were there. V Jha: 1ou ha e talked about some emerging poets from the %orthAeast region. J Mahapatra: There are some good and young poets specially from Meghalay, Mi:oram and also in "runachal Pradesh. V Jha: Earlier such talents were not there in that region. 8ow now such things happen to see3 J Mahapatra: !ee, there is tension there in %orthAEast. If you ha e no tension you can*t write well. If you ha e tension you can bring about your feelings well. <nless you ha e failure, suffering and sorrows in your life how can you write3 If you ha e enough to eat, enough money, a good house and a car, why will you write3 2hat will you write about3 1ou ha e no problems to write about7 If you ha e got problems, may be 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. Dor ideas you need the images to supplement your ideas. !o all things make a certain cycle that is necessary. It begins only when you ha e certain problems in your life to start writing poetry. Is it right ;i ekanand3 V Jha: 1ou ha e talked about one poet from 5olkota. J Mahapatra: 1ou talk about +udhra 5inshuk.I like this poet. 1oung boy and he makes good use of new images. I like when you put a new type images in the poem. V Jha: 2hat do you mean by new images3 Inno ation should be e,tracted from the new in ention, science and technology. J Mahapatra: %ew images mean you try to bring about something that ne er happened or done by some other poets before you. There was a great <rdu poet from "llahabad side, Dai: "hmad Dai:, he used to write, .I want to drink through eyes not by lips0 > -a on se nahin Main peena

chahata, main ankhoon se peena chahata hoon?. !omething new like this. V Jha: 1our son is at "hmadabad. Isn*t it3 J Mahapatra: %o, no. 8e is at !ingapore. 8e has gone outside. V Jha: =nly writing is your main sort of engagement. J Mahapatra: I read also a lot. 2hen I can*t read, I write. 2hen I can*t write I read. V Jha: 2hat is your source of entertainments3 J Mahapatra: I like to watch T;. V Jha: 2hich program do you like most3 J Mahapatra: I put it on and 6ust think of other things. V Jha: /o you like news channels3 J Mahapatra: %o, no they are ery, ery sensational news. E en now cricket also I don*t see. Earlier I used to watch each and e ery match without fail. -ast year I ha e stopped it. 4ricket has degraded now after the rising importance of TA twenty Matches. E Literary Works of Jayanta Mahapatra List of Poetry in English: 4lose the sky, Ten by Ten, 4ulcutta. /ialogue Publication,#'F# ! ayam ara and =ther Poems, 4alcutta. 2riters 2orkshop " Dather*s 8ours, 4alcutta. 2riters 2orkshop, #'F# " +ain of +ites, "thens ><!"?. <ni ersity of 9eorgia Press, #'FG 2aiting, %ew /elhi. !amkaleen Prakashan, #'F' The Dalse !tart, )ombay. 4learing 8ouse, #'@& +elationship, 9reenfield, %ew 1ork. 9reenfield +e iew Press, #'@& -ife !igns, %ew /elhi. =,ford <ni ersity Press, #'@H /ispossessed %ests, #'@G !elected Poems, %ew /elhi. =,ford <ni ersity Press, #'@F )urden of 2a es and Druit, 2ashington, /4. Three 4ontinents Press, #'@@ Temple, !ydneyIMundelstrupI4o entry. /angaroo Press, #'@' " 2hiteness of )one, %ew /elhi. ;iking Penguin, #''J The )est of Jayanta Mahapatra, 5o:hikode. )odhi Publications, #''$ !hadow !pace, 5ottayam. /.4.)ooks, #''F )are Dace, 5ottayam. /.4.)ooks,J&&&

+andom /escent, )hubaneswar. Third Eye 4ommunications, J&&$ The -ie of /awns: Poems #'FCAJ&&@, %ew /elhi, "uthorspress, J&&' Poetry in Oriya: )ali >The ;ictim? 4uttack. ;idyapuri, #''H 5ahibi 9otie 5atha >I*II Tell " !tory?, 4uttack. "rya Prakashan, #''$ )aya +a6a >The Mad Emperor?, 4uttack. ;idyapuri, #''F Tikie 4hhayee >" -ittle !hadow?, 4uttack. ;idyapuri, J&&# 4hali >2alking?, 4uttack. ;idyapuri, J&&G adiba 9apatiayy, 4uttack. Driends Publishers, J&&' Translations of Poetry: 4ountermeasures: Poems, 4alcutta. /ialogue, #'FH 2ings of the Past: Poems, 4alcutta. +a6asree, #'FG !ong of 5ub6a and =ther Poems, %ew /elhi. !amkaleen, #'@# I 4an, )ut 2hy !hould I 9o: Poems, %ew /elhi. !ahitya "kademi, #''C ;erticals of -ife: Poems, %ew /elhi. !ahitya "kademi, #''G Tapaswini: a Poem, )hubaneswar. =rissa !ahitya "kademi, #''@ /isco ery and other Poems, 5olkata. 2riters 2orkshop, J&&# " Time of +ising >Poems?, %ew /elhi. 8arA"nand, J&&H Short Stories: The 9reen 9ardener, 8yderabad. =rient -ongman, #''F Others: =rissa, %ew /elhi. -ustre Press, #'FH. Poemas >in !panish?, Me,ico. Instituto de 4ultura. Sample poems of Jayanta Mahapatra !nger It was hard to belie e the flesh was hea y on my back. The fisherman said: 2ill you ha e her, carelessly, trailing his nets and his ner es, as though his words sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself. I saw his white bone thrash his eyes. I followed him across the sprawling sands, my mind thumping in the fleshKs sling. 8ope lay perhaps in burning the house I li ed in.

!ilence gripped my slee es( his body clawed at the froth his old nets had only dragged up from the seas. In the flickering dark his leanAto opened like a wound. The wind was I, and the days and nights before. Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls. = er and o er the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind. I heard him say: My daughter, sheKs 6ust turned fifteen... Deel her. IKll be back soon, your bus lea es at nine. The sky fell on me, and a fatherKs e,hausted wile. -ong and lean, her years were cold as rubber. !he opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there, the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside. "reedom "t times, as I watch, it seems as though my country*s body floats down somewhere on the ri er. -eft alone, I grow into a halfAdisembodied bamboo, its lower part sunk into itself on the bank. 8ere, old widows and dying men cherish their freedom, bowing time after time in obstinate prayers. 2hile children scream with this desire for freedom to transform the world without e en laying hands on it. In my blindness, at times I fear I*d wander back to either of them. In order for me not to lose face, it is necessary for me to be alone. %ot to meet the woman and her child in that remote illage in the hills who ne er had e en a little rice for their one daily meal these fifty years. "nd not to see the uncaught, bloodied light of sunsets cling to the tall white columns

of Parliament 8ouse. In the new temple man has built nearby, the priest is the one who knows freedom, while 9od hides in the dark like an alien. "nd each day I keep looking for the light shadows find e,cuses to keep. Trying to find the only freedom I know, the freedom of the body when itKs alone. The freedom of the silent shale, the moonless coal, the beds of streams of the sleeping god. I keep the ashes away, try not to wear them on my forehead.

#sh The substance that stirs in my palm could well be a dead man( no need to show surprise at the di::y acts of wind. My old father sitting uncertainly three feet away is the slow cloud against the sky: so my heartKs beating makes of me a sur i or o er here where the sun Buietly sets. The ways of freeing myself: the glittering flowers, the immensity of rain for e,ample, which were limited to promises once ha e had the lie to themsel es. "nd the wind, that had made simple re elation in the lea es, plays upon the asceticAfaced ision of waters( and without thinking something makes me keep close to the walls as though I was afraid of that 6ustice in the shadows. %ow the world passes into my eye: the birds flutter toward rest around the tree, the clock 6erks each memory towards the present to become a past, floating away like ash, o er the bank. My own stirrings like the windKs

keep hoping for the solace that would be me in my fatherKs eyes to pour the good years back on my( the dead man who licks my palms is more likely to encourage my dark intolerance rather than turn me toward some strangely solemn charade: the dumb order of the myth lined up in the lifeAfield, the unconcerned wind perhaps truer than the rest, rustling the empty, bodiless grains.

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The little girl*s hand is made of darkness 8ow will I hold it3 The streetlamps hang like decapitated heads )lood opens that terrible door between us The wide mouth of the country is clamped in pain while its body writhes on its bed of nails This little girl has 6ust her raped body for me to reach her The weight of my guilt is unable to o ercome my resistance to hug her. inter iews E ;i ekanand JhaKs poetry

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