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  • Topic: Poetry, English poetry, The New Poetry
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  • Published : December 29, 2012
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Jayanta Mahapatra is one of the best known Indian English poets. Perhaps any discussion on Indian English Poetry is incomplete without reference to his poetical works. Physicist, bilingual poet and essayist, Jayanta Mahapatra holds the distinction of being the first Indian English poet to have received the Sahitya Akademi Award (1981) for Relationship. In 2009 he was awarded by Government of India with "Padmashree Award", country's most prestigious award for civilian citizen for his out standing contribution to the field of literature. Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta is a fine craftsman with a superb control over his medium in a fair response to his poetry though one is not sure of a significant and meaningful departure has been made; and a reflection that is stuff of contemporary India, but “Jayanta’s sensibility is both Indian and modern; and his response to Indian scene is authentic and credible”, says Vishawanathan. Panikar agree with Vishawanathan and pointed out that Mahapatra’s concern of the vision of belief and loss; dejection and rejection are typically Indian.

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In Sahitya Akademi Award winner volume The Relationship, we experience Jayanta’s desire to discover one’s root; and manifestation of this desire in a variety of ways in the strength of his poetry. There is evidence of a Hindu sensibility and all the poetic energy is spent in recognizing the Hindu world.

Jayanta’s poetry is not spatial being confined to an insect, a home, a street dog, a window or a river; but the most temporal, with consciousness of the past memory being the driving force of his poetry. His modernism is not a simple, undimensional; phenomenon; it is a rainbow of many hues and has a number of strains—personal, socio-cultural, archetypal and so on. His modernism can be seen in manner, form and in complex symbolic mode. As a regional poet, says V.A. Shahani, “Mahapatra constant pre-occupation with the favorite places such as Jagannathpuri, Cuttak and Bhuvneshewar… constitute the permanent layer of his works; this is the poetic expression of the soil to which he still belongs”.

His sensibility is essentially Indian which can be seen not only into his presentation of man-woman relationship but also in his poem about Orissa. Note the example from Kurunthohai, a Tamil classic:

“but our hearts are as red
earth and pouring rain,
mingled beyond parting” 

there is rich simplicity and native nutty texture that is the strength of his Indianess which sound so natural, powerful and evocative.

Like R. Parthasarathy, in Jayanta we notice a play of the sharp Tamil intellect which can enliven mood, situation or atmosphere. We should note that Jayanta’s area is limited, but like Jane Austen, he can crave on his six inches of ivory. As William Walsh says, in his essay “Small Observations in a Large Scale”,“His poems show an extreme precision so that the contour of each phrase, the sense of each image, the slightest rise or fall of rhythm, is defined with an unqualified accuracy.”And one agrees with Walsh in his observation that “his mind and his language work, not by any poetic murmuration or suggestiveness, but by pointing, by specifying, delimiting and detailing”.

Apart from Indianess, Jayanta is a poet of human relationship and raises his situations from the regional to universal. He has employed imagery and epithets, symbols etc to present the human conditions, which are not only the conditions of India but of the whole world. In Mahapatra’s poetry the human relationship centers round man-woman relationship. The portrait of woman reoccurs in his poetry and the stress has been laid in presenting woman as the sufferer. In Indian Summer, he presents the gloomy state of a woman: 

the good wife
lies in my bed
through the long afternoon
dreaming still, unexhausted
by the deep roar of funeral pyres.” 

Similarly, the poem “Lost” takes up the case of “a lonely man who welcomes his room in half-lights”. The room naturally becomes...
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