Now on-line at:
Jaydeep Sarangi and Gauri Shankar Jha, eds., The Indian Imagination of
New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2006, hard covers, xii + 193 pp., ISBN
I hope this review will help stimulate wider interest in contemporary
Indian Poetry in English, of which genre Mahapatra is a major exponent.
Jayanta Mahapatra, born in 1928 and hailing from a Christian background in
Orissa, occupies a special place in the canon of Indian poetry in English,
having lived in India all his life and hence remaining outside the resident
vs. expatriate debate, and (as of recent years) writing both in English and
in his native Oriya, thus straddling the English vs. Indian languages
divide. The present volume, edited by Dr Jaydeep Sarangi of Vidyasagar
University (Midnapore, West Bengal) and Dr Gauri Shankar Jha (Indira Gandhi
Govt. College, Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh), brings together a multiplicity of
perspectives on one of India’s foremost contemporary poets.
The volume consists of 18 pieces, individual or joint, by a total of 20
contributors, all both Indian and India-resident. Of these, one is a
tribute poem, one an interview (conducted by Jaydeep Sarangi) with the poet
himself, another a study of Mahapatra’s English-language short stories and
another a discussion of his Oriya poetry. The remaining 14 focus on his
poetic production in English: here we may note that, while Mahapatra views
himself as an Oriya poet writing primarily, though not exclusively, in
English, he has no qualms about the use of the English language in India.
Clearly, the poet does not view writing in English as an obstacle to the
expression of Indianness.
Jayanta Mahapatra is beyond doubt an eloquent poet of the human and natural
worlds, but the aspect of his work primarily focused on in this collection
is his role as a denunciatory bard of the history of India and Orissa –
history being understood as a procession of events that includes and
determines the present. For the poet, Orissa is ‘the land … where the
wind keens over the grief of the river Daya and where the waves of the Bay
of Bengal fail to reach out today to the twilight soul of Kanark’. These
words point up his identification with both the dense cultural heritage and
the day-to-day suffering of his region of India.
Addition, 22 June 07 (see blog entry for that date):
This review has now been published in the 2006 issue (Vol XII, No 2), pp. 36-37, of SUMMERHILL, the review of
IAAS (the Indian Institute of Advanced Study), based in Simla.