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Jayanth Mahapatra

Jayant Mahapatra made his debut as an Indian poet writing in English about
two decades ago with the publication of his first anthology Close the Sky, Ten
By Ten, and Second Svayamwara and Other Poems, both published in 1971.
The third anthology A Rain of Rites was published in 1976. His many poems
have been universally recognized. He has matured rapidly, and both the
quality and quantity of his poetic output indicate that with the passing of time
his poetry would come to be recognized as the best in Indian English.Jayant
Mahapatra is one of the foremost and outstanding Indian poets in Englishin
the post-independence era. Born in 1928 in Cuttack, he is a physicist,
bilingual poet and essayist. He holds the distinction of being the first Indian
poet in English to have received the Sahitya Academy Award in 1981 for
Relationship. He is also a recipient of the Jackb Glastein award conferred by
poetry magazine, Chicago. Mahapatra is a prolific poet though he turned to
poetry rather late in life. He took to writing poetry when he was in his 40s. He
published his first book of verse, Close the Sky, Ten by Ten in 1971. Since
then, he has not looked back. His other volumes came in quick succession:
Svaymvara and Other Poems (1971), A Fathers Hours (1976), A Rain of Rites
(1976), Waiting (1979), The False Start (1980), Relationship (1980), Life Signs
(1983), Dispossessed
Nests (1986), Selected Poems (1987), Burden of Waves and Fruit (1988),
Temple (1989), A Whiteness of Bone (1992), Shadow Space (1997), Bare Face
(2001), and Random Descent (2005). His poetry shows a continuous
development both in theme and
techniques. Mahapatra is a conscious artist who revises his poems in order to
make them more effective and meaningful.

Jayanta Mahapatras poetic world is doubtless scattered singularly with

various images of wives, beloveds, whores, seductresses, village women, city
women and adolescent girls, having deeply significant metaphoric evocations
and spotlighting his tragic vision of life to which he is essentially committed.
Demonstrating his vital poetic strategy and dimensionalising his deep
humanism as well as his overriding thematic obsessions, Mahapatras images
of women indubitably form a tonal chord central to the mood of his poems.
Mahapatra tried to transcend the pseudo-hierarchical attitude of the
patriarchy in Orissa. Blending his romantic imagination with the ironic
symbolism, he evokes the limits of enunciation for the patriarchal society. The
position of the woman in his poetic vision was far more elevated than it was
in reality. The conception of considering a prostitute woman as a part of the
civic society is a blasphemy. But Mahapatra gave her a transcended romantic
identity. Since time immemorial, the prostitutes have been considered as
ostracized individuals, who cannot be a part of decent and cultural society.
Writers tried to fight for their social space. His poem The Whorehouse in a
Calcutta Street seemed to deal with the pains and agonies that these
prostitutes suffer in their everyday life while confronting the cultural
But, at the same time, he is profoundly perplexed at perpetual and perennial
problem pertaining to women. He discloses his disappointment and
disgruntlement in this way:
Perhaps, the status of the Indian Women in our society today has gone
down. It is pathetic indeed to read accounts of the degradation our women
subjected to in the daily newspapers. Cases of rape, murder, mutilation
continue to fill the pages, and one sits helplessly, feeling this pain one is not
able to do anything about..I can see the pain in the eyes of women as they
pass by the road every day; their seems to say: we are the beast of the
burden, like cattle. It is about this pain I would like to write because I cant do
anything else. (Write full reference, name of book, page no.?)
Mahapatra not only talks about these ostracized women but in general he
describes the condition of woman who is exiled at home. He uses a sad and
serene voice to give their thought a narration. They are the sufferer in a
relationship. Whether a wife, daughter, or a mother, the male dominated
world has deprecated the limits of existence for the women. The role of wife
is enunciated with speculative irony. The wife is alienated from the freedom
that she enjoyed before marriage. Though we may be devout devotees of
women divinities but when it comes to assisting the damsels in distress and
desolation we deter ourselves from our deeds. What to speak of common
women, we do not spare even the Goddess Sita from passing through ordeal
and severe trial where she is asked by husband Lord Rama to pass the Agni
Pariksha to prove her chastity after she is released from abduction by the
great monster Ravana. Draupdi, the wife of five Pandavas, is disrobed by
Dushasana in the presence of all courtiers and stalwarts. We have copious
example of such extent in our history and myth. And same is the plight of
ordinary women in their conventional and customary lives.
Women are acute sufferers of gender biasing. They are neglected and
marginalized at both cultural and biological levels. At the one hand their life
is restricted to house and kitchen, to look after the children, husband and
others; on the other hand they are only meant to quench the carnal crave of
men. Basically it is very painful that woman is compelled to be alone. She
suffers from loneliness, not only a social one, but also an emotional
loneliness. Mahapatra tries to describe this solitude with truth and
authenticity. He succinctly sums up deploring and muted state of Indian
women in the poem Dawn:
Mahapatra presents pulchritudinous portrait of women struggling for their
identity. They lead a meaningless and futile life. There is nothing but
darkness all around them. The life is a living hell for them and they are bound
to survive amidst sorrows and difficulties. They are mired in the mud of this
mundane mayhem:
In the darkened room
a woman
cannot find her reflection in the mirror
waiting as usual
at the edge of sleep
In her hands she holds
the oil lamp
whose drunken yellow flames
know where her lonely body hides.
Above listed lines are possibly maiden of Mahapatra poetic career and he
gave them title of A Missing Person. It is autographical in tone and
temperament. To his own confession:
And the picture of my mother, swathed in sari, holding on to the oil lamp in
the shadows, the sooty flame swaying in the breeze, seemed to establish
itself firmly in my mind.
Strangely, these evenings stayed as though carved of black and polished
bone. An inexplicable loneliness linked itself with the sad-eyed oil lamp of my
mother. They came to mean the same thing to me. Coupled with this was the
frustrating, numbing pity felt for my cousin who was battered by frequent
beatings from her drunken husband.
The intention and context of writing this poem is further corroborated by his
conversation with authoress Neeru Tandon. The poet clarifies:Married
woman doesnt see her image in the mirror, when she looks she cannot find
her features. Yes, it is loss of identity. A man was used to come drunk and;
here of course I have taken it from a real incident, he used to beat his wife in
front of me; I mean it happened in my house. I had a cousin who used to
come late in the evenings and I would open the door because I was there; he
would come and beat his wife; I saw it as a mere spectator, so these things
affected me.2
The word women is considered as a metaphor of sacrifice and suffering.
There desire and fate is destined by men. They are compelled to surrender
against willful and stubborn desire of men.
Women feel insecure and unsafe away from home. Wherever they go, evil
and vulgar eyes of men stare at their sensuous limbs. They confront indecent
and indecorous truant of men at public and non-public places. Mahapatra
illustrates an instance of a shopkeeper staring in a lecherous way at woman
who goes to shop to purchase four kilo of rice:
Two big-arsed
Srikakulam women
nude hunger in eyes
fans himself in the lethargy of his dream.
Mahapatra soul is seriously shattered at the misery of women. They make
their presence felt even in their absence and they remain to resonate and
reverberate in his rhythmic rhyme. He aptly recapitulates:
When she is
When she is not
The poem, Hunger is one of the best examples of the circumstances which
compel women to adopt the profession of prostitution. A fisherman who is
poor and penniless, doesnt hesitate to bargain the flesh of fifteen years old
daughter. The poet wants to emphasize that numerous such incidents take
place in our society where innocent and adolescent girls are dumped into this
trade. It exposes stark reality of our contemporary society and independent
I heard him say: my daughter, shes just turned fifteen
feel her. Ill be back soon, your bus leaves at nine.
the sky fell on me, and a fathers exhausted wile.
long and lean: her years were cold as rubber.
she opened her wormy legs wide. Felt the hunger there,
the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.
With the onset of evening, the common people finish their jobs but it is the
time when whores come into activity. Having dressed beautifully, they flaunt
on the road to woo the customers.
Mahapatra has made an ironical comment on the functioning of the
government machinery and police administration. One and only cause of
prostitution is poverty and this profession can be uprooted by eliminating
poverty, by implementing rehabilitation programs, by providing free food and
education to their children and by employing them on some jobs. In spite of
taking such measures and initiatives, the government issues license to the
women indulging in the flesh-trading and that further aggravates their
wounds. Police nabs and persecute those prostitutes who are not in the
possession of license and to get rid of police they envisage different lame
excuses as a young boy does to escape evil acts from his parents. Moreover,
the only source of income and livelihood for prostitutes are their flesh and
skin, and with the rolling of the days, weeks, months and years, their charms
and appearance gets faded and they keep on loosing customers. So, to hide
their age and looks they go in the shelter of cosmetic illusion. Mahapatra
writes in The Twenty-fifth Anniversary of a Republic: 1975:
The prostitutes are younger this year:
At the police station theyre careless to give reasons
For being what they are
And the older women careful enough not to show their years.
Mahapatra has depicted both the prostitute and client in professional and
commercial way. On the one hand the prostitute is in the hot haste to attend
another customer because, firstly, this is only means of her sustenance.
Whatever amount she gets, only a small part of that remains with her and a
great chunk is devoured and extorted by the touts and the pimps. Secondly,
she might have fed up with monotonous and wearisome sex, so she doesnt
show curiosity and involvement with the clients. On the other hand, the
client, tired and fatigued with the jobs of the day or not in good terms with
his wife or miles away from home, family, wife and children to earn bread and
butter, visits and pays the whore to have a kind of enlightenment and
refreshment; a play and foreplay before the final play.
It is an attempt to take the review and the development of Indian
poem in English. How the Indian poets applied the poverty, exploitation
of women, and hunger through the modern views, which uses the new
styles and applies them to his creation. The poems entitled Hunger
and The Whorehouse in Calcutta are two of his excellent poems on
these themes. A comparative study of these poems is enlightening and
productive because both poems are taken The Rain of Rites
(1976).Hunger the poem reflects the modern view, mixed with his
autobiographical elements and based on true incidents, as he
discussed in his essay called Door of Paper: Essay and Memoir, the
poem is focused in terms of landscape of Golapur on sea and moreover
it talks about inner self to realize his own helplessness, sensibility of
his solitude. (Das, 1-5) The analysis of the poem is as follows; Hunger
is one of the most outstanding poems of Mahapatra. It is categorized
by great concision of expression. In this poem there are three
characters: the poet himself, who speaks in the poem, and is suffering
by the requirements of the flesh, the fisherman and father.
The fisherman a character offers his girls to another or tourist this is a
representation of modern poor life, it express the feeling of empty
stomach. The poem symbolizes two kind of hunger, one is physical and
another one is sexual. The poem shows the life of poor and the conflict
of body verses mind. The father also appreciative to sell his daughter
to stay body and soul as one, and the daughter has become a helpless
and unreceptive device and victim of male desire. This characterize of
the poem is severe economy that there is no wordiness and
embarrassment the image of girls at all. The three characters have
been used to merge the emotional feeling with the experience of gains
in strength and realism to tell about the metaphors of hunger girls.
(Mahapatra, 40-50)
She opened her wormy legs wide.
This line of the poem says that the girl has been unfamiliar with starve
the love of his father. Mahapatra expresses her fights against the
parents because the society does not enemy of the girl who is
presented in the poem Hunger. Once again the poet conveys religious
sorrow of the father at the time to sell his daughter and she does not
speak a lot of words in front of his father but girl achieves his
eloquence through silence. (Panikar, 103)
I moves to another poem of Maharapatra entitled; The Whorehouse
in Calcutta Street. Mahapatra tries to give you an idea about the
suffering of poverty, which are certainly the most dilemmas in our
country. He feels apparently the poverty and lustfulness of men of the
people, who wants to exploit the women by physically and sexually in
his poem. For the reason that this poem presents the modern theme of
sexuality because the business of prostitute is going on at so many
cities of the different parts in India.
If the person has watched the posters and hoardings of attractive girls
in the street and public places, which would be sex take place in him.
Then he wished to visit the whorehouse in the street of Calcutta. At this
time he means lusty man feels to meet the attractive girls or prostitute
at the place whorehouse, which he has seen in the posters and on the
hoardings. On the other hand, he decided to cross the threshold of
humanity and took the whole benefit of sex by the prostitute. She did
her business to sex with the men or customer like professional, and
prostitute did the whole thing as per the demand of customer.At this
point, we can understand phenomenon relation between the customer
and prostitute with the sensible conduct. Sexuality and poverty is the
branch of his some poems. Thats why the business of prostitute or
whore would be continuing with poverty and seduction. Mahapatra
tries to expose the hidden idea of prostitutes that they are also human
being. (Singh, 4)
Perhaps their reminding themselves
Of looked-after children and of home:
the shooting stars in the eager darkness of return.
At this juncture, there are two major words above the quotation first
one are children and on the other hand is home. If we can considered
the word children means the prostitutes family and the word home
means belonged to the society. It means, they gone out of their home
to earn some money by the contentment of the darkness and after that
they departs from their family, who all become the proportion of
society is formed as they deals with the hurt by their soul in term of
the public.At this moment, we can compare these two poems through
the perspectives of poverty, exploitation, sexuality with an innocent
girl in the poem Hunger and a prostitute in the poem of the
whorehouse in Calcutta Street. Both girl and prostitute are
suffering from the same things in term of poverty.
Now I come to the conclusion of Jayanta Mahapatras poem in the
approach of modern view. An effort will be made to analyze the poems
of Mahapatra through the modern angel. His poems explore profound
into the dark and deepest recesses of the human minds. A number of
his poems show both continuity and growth of his diverse things like
poverty, exploitation, seduction and sexuality. Jayanta Mahapatra is the
greatest poet of post-independence era with his new techniques and
style. It enabled him to make a superior consequence on the Indian
Mahapatras Hunger poem shows his distress over poverty and the
discrimination of women which are undoubtedly the greatest problem in our
country. He obviously feels much perturbed by poverty and destitution of the
Indian people. Hunger is brimmed with an integrated, specific content, quite
exceptional in Mahapatra's canon.In Hunger the fisherman makes an
agreement to offer his teenaged daughter as a sexual partner.
Thefishermans low financial status compels him to push his young daughter
towards prostitution. 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 ( Hunger)It is the poverty that has driven the
fisherman take refuge in trailing his nets and his nerves which indicate his
disturbed psychological state of mind where an
unresolvable conflict is going on. The fisherman is restless, and nervous;
perhaps it is the first time that he is forced to sell his daughter.Hunger bears
ambiguous meaning the hunger of the belly and the hunger of the sexual
organ.In this poem
Mahapatra shows that love is mere carnal passion with an irresistible desire
for sexual gratification. Here it is not a spiritual bond but a business for
transaction of sexual pleasures. The love of a father for the daughter often
tends to build up feelings of securities from the male-dominated world. A
daughter starts relying onthe male species in general and conceptualises
about all of them as her own fathers world of love has madeher perceived:
My daughter, shes just turned fifteenFeel her ( Hunger)
A father might never visualise her daughter as an object of sexual
gratification, but for the patriarchal worldshe is nothing beyond a sexual
object. In a country like India, girlchild is forced negligence and subtle
ignorance. This form of feelings that the little girl confronts developin her an
attitude to be engrossed with her own self. Thus the primary stage of self-love
evolves with
suchreciprocation from the society she grows. The conception of considering
a prostitute woman as a part of the civic
society is a blasphemy. But Mahapatra gave them a transcended romantic
identity.The prostitutes have been considered as ostricised individuals, who
cannot be a part of the decent and cultured society. Mahapatra considers the
prostitutesas a part
of the society and an identity iscreated by him as he deals with pain
andagonizes the less unfortunate ones inconfronting the cultured society. His
poem The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street seemed to deal with the pains
and agonies that these prostitutes suffer in their everyday life.In the poem a
customer enters the premises with a great hope of seeing pretty faces of the
whores as advertised on posters and public hoardings. But he experiences a
sense of guilt and shame and learns something more about the women as the
whore asks him to hurry up and finish his turn so that she may be able to go
away for another
customer.Love does not have any existence in todays life. Only burning
passion is involved. The woman becomes the victim of the commercial,
passionate instinct of exploitation.Women are acute sufferers of gender
biasing. They are neglected and
marginalized at both cultural and biological levels. On the one hand their life
is restricted to house and kitchen, to look after the children, husband and
others; on the other hand they are only meant to quench the carnal crave of
men. Basically it
is very painful that woman is compelled to be alone. Shesuffers from
loneliness, not only a social one, but also an emotional loneliness.AWoman
once married loses her freedom. She is to put up with everything after
becoming a wife. She
maintains a mechanical life.She has neither emotion nor any interest. Only a
fatigued, tired, exhausted and tasteless life is her world. As if she herself is a
mechanical creation, though a wife, but a prostitute on the other hand. She is
forbidden to see her face in the mirror.
In the poem The Whorehouse at Calcutta Street Mahapatra probes into the
of the prostitutes that they are human beings who have left their families
behind to earn money by giving pleasure to the
menfolk in need of sex. In the poem, the reader can see the men folk being
free having a wide ranging social life of immoral behavior and the prostitutes
seek for money by being as pleasure givers forever but inwardly they are sad
anxious to rush home to be with their families. In the poem Hunger the
poet has focussed the reality occurring in India
where poverty plays a pivotal role promoting sex to earn money. Hunger
involves the hunger of money to satisfy
physical hunger and the hunger for sex. The reader is astounded to see the
father of the daughter allowing strangers to have
sex with his own child.