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Creation and Criticism

ISSN: 2455-9687  

(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal

Devoted to English Language and Literature)

Vol. 08, Joint Issue 30 & 31: July-Oct 2023

In Memorium

Jayanta Mahapatra: A Messenger of Tolerance


Jayanta Mahapatra (July 22, 1928 - 27 August 2023) is regarded as one of the leading figures in modern Indian English poetry. Mahapatra is the first Indian poet who won a Sahitya Akademi award for his English poetry in 1981. His notable books of English poetry are— Close the Sky, Ten by Ten (1971), Svayamvara and Other Poems (1971), A Father's Hours (1976), A Rain of Rites (1976), Waiting (1979), The False Start (1980), Relationship (1980), Collected Poems (2017), Random Descent (2021), Re-reading Jayanta Mahapatra: Selected Poems (2022), NOON : New and Selected Poems (2023). His poems, particularly “Indian Summer” and “Hunger”, are considered masterpieces of contemporary Indian English poetry. His poetry vividly explores the themes of human existence, the intricacies of life, and the effects of social and political issues on human beings all around the world. His poetry is widely accepted and appreciated for its profound philosophical insights, vivid language, and rich imagery. In 2009, he received the fourth-highest civilian award— the Padma Shri, but he returned the honor in 2015 in order to raise his voice against the growing intolerance in India.  


Poems of Jayanta Mahapatra


1. Indian Summer


Over the soughing of the sombre wind

priests chant louder than ever;

the mouth of India opens.


Crocodiles move into deeper waters.


Mornings of heated middens

smoke under the sun.


The good wife

lies in my bed

through the long afternoon;

dreaming still, unexhausted

by the deep roar of funeral pyres.


2. Hunger


It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back.

The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly,

trailing his nets and his nerves, 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 flesh’s sling.

Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in.

Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth

his old nets had only dragged up from the seas.


In the flickering dark his hut 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.

Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind.


I heard him say: My daughter, she’s just turned fifteen…

Feel her. I’ll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine.

The sky fell on me, and a father’s exhausted wile.

Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber.

She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there,

the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.


3. A Rain of Rites


Sometimes a rain comes

slowly across the sky, that turns

upon its grey cloud, breaking away into light

before it reaches its objective.


The rain I have known and traded all this life

is thrown like kelp on the beach.

Like some shape of conscience I cannot look at,

a malignant purpose is a nun's eye.


Who was the last man on earth,

to whom the cold cloud brought the blood to his face?

Numbly I climb to the mountain-tops of ours

where my own soul quivers on the edge of answers.


Which still, stale air sits on an angel's wings?

What holds my rain so it's hard to overcome?


4. 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.


5. Freedom


At times, as I watch,

it seems as though my country's body

floats down somewhere on the river.


Left alone, I grow into

a half-disembodied bamboo,

its lower part sunk

into itself on the bank.


Here, old widows and dying men

cherish their freedom,

bowing time after time in obstinate prayers.


While children scream

with this desire for freedom

to transform the world

without even 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.


Not to meet the woman and her child

in that remote village in the hills

who never had even a little rice

for their one daily meal these fifty years.


And not to see the uncaught, bloodied light

of sunsets cling to the tall white columns

of Parliament House.


In the new temple man has built nearby,

the priest is the one who knows freedom,

while God hides in the dark like an alien.


And each day I keep looking for the light

shadows find excuses to keep.


Trying to find the only freedom I know,

the freedom of the body when it's 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.


I, Abnish Singh Chauhan, with the team of Creation and Criticism, pay my sincere tribute to this messenger of tolerance. May his soul rest in peace!


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