Jayanta Mahapatra (94) passed away on 27th of last month. Then I was asked to write some sentences, because I remained silent due to my own reasons. Many have written. But I will write now what I think of him. In Indian literature, especially in relation to poetry, there is a trio to say. They are AK Ramanujan, R. Parthasarathi and Jayanta Mahapatra who died recently. Jayanta's name has been familiar to readers of English literature since about two generations ago. Even abroad..!
It was Jayanta who blazed a new path with themes related to his daily life, not the path paved by English poetry written by people like Nissim Ejikel and Arun Kolatkar from Bombay in those days. Jayanta's English poetry was written based on his own Oriya life. He wrote not only poetry but also stories and essays. Out of total 27 books, twenty books were written in English and seven books in Oriya language.
Indian English magazines started publishing his works only after foreign magazines recognized and published them. Magazines like The New Yorker, New England, Chicago Review, Georgia Review, and The New Republic initially encouraged his English poetry. His writings were well published in Bi Monthly like Indian Literature published by Kendra Sahitya Akademi and in other desi magazines.
He was the first to be awarded the Central Sahitya Academy Fellowship in English Literature. There is a long list of awards and honorary doctorates. Although he was a physics teacher by nature, his English poetry made him special. He started writing poetry very late i.e. from the age of 40. Chandrabhaga, a literary magazine published by him from Cuttack, is a notable milestone in the field of Indian English literary service.
Satchidananda Mohanty, a fan (retired English professor) writing about Jayantha Mahapatra said that his childhood was painfully torn between two worlds, and he used to tell his friends about it in his last stages. Jayantha Mahapatra's grandfather converted to Christianity and used to follow those practices at home, but as all his relatives were orthodox conservatives, he was far away from Hinduism.
The poem "Grandfather" was actually written for their grandfather. It got a good reputation. The gist of it is that he was converted to save himself from a terrible drought in 1866. In those days, food was given only to those who had converted to Christianity in camps to help them from famine. Jayanta described it pathetically in that poem.
He lived for 94 years and seems to have predicted his death in advance. When a publisher told him that I would publish your collection of poems, Birds of Water, in December 2023, he joked that would I be alive till then. That came true unfortunately. The Orissa state government conducted the last rites with state honors.