Loving Unconditionally Is The Highest Form Of Life: Jayanta Mahapatra

As I was browsing through the news today, I got to know that one of my favourite personalities from Odisha,  Jayanta Mahapatra, is no more. He was admitted to SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack a few days ago and found his way to eternal peace.

I am still not sure how I feel about the news, to be honest. I remember meeting him for an interview while I was working as a journalist for Odisha Bytes. During the interview, I asked him what he thought poetry was. He said, a poem becomes so when it gives you a sense of wonder. A poem that makes you feel, “Ah! Yes” about a certain idea or imagery or feeling, is a good poem. That has stayed with me and I always try to incorporate the same in my poems today.

In his exact words, he said: “When a child walks outside for the first time, after a shower of rain, looks at the sky and finds a rainbow, there is a sense of wonder in his eye. If a poem manages to arouse that whisper of wonder, then it has done its job. That is important for a poet. Wonder can be something new, something different, something that can mystify you. A journalistic poem is not a poem. If you take a report and bring in something that pertains to the soul or the man’s mind, a revelation, then it brings a climax to the poem.”

When I asked him about his childhood, he said that he was a lonely child who never thought he would write poetry. But as he grew older, he found that words and emotions were his way of connecting with the world around him. The way he articulated his thoughts and words were just so apt! I think, his experience as a physicist certainly had something to do with it.

Poetry taught me not to be alone,” he said. “It taught me to love.”

Mahapatra’s poetry is often about the duality of life, the beauty and pain that coexist in all of us. He writes about love, loss, and the search for meaning. His poems are also often political, speaking out against injustice and inequality.

“A poet is a poet by virtue of what he sees and what he feels,” he said. “You cannot keep yourself aloof from society.”

Mahapatra began writing poetry at the age of 40, after a long career as a physicist. He quickly became one of the most important poets in India, winning numerous awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Padma Shri. None of these accolades, however, brought in him a sense of pride. He met everyone with a smile, with a welcome heart, and with a certain sense of affection. I heard him talk for a few hours and the way his words reached were just impeccable.

His poetry has been translated into many languages and has been studied by scholars around the world. Mahapatra is considered one of the pioneers of Indian English poetry, and his work has actually helped to shape the way we think about poetry and the world.

In my interview, he said a few things that stayed with me. This is just in memory of the grandeur of emotions in his writings, and of the wonderful human being he was.

On Poetry

  • “One’s poem should reveal the reality of life. It should speak for the voices that are suffering. It should telling statement on society. “
  • “Poetry should be a source of wonder and mystery. It should make us think and feel.”
  • “Poetry should be relevant to the world we live in. It should speak to the joys and sorrows of everyday life. Literature is not just about old myth but also the reality of today’s world.
  • “Poetry takes us from a normal level to a slightly higher level because love is a difficult emotion. Loving unconditionally is the highest form of life.”
  • “You don’t write only for yourself. You share it and a friend says it is good, you feel good and validated. Only one percent of people love our poetry and that one percent matters. We need to believe in the poetry we write and we should be honest about our writing.

When I asked him if he had any message for us youngster, he said, “I have no message to give except a smile, emotions or words. But, yes, I think you should keep doing something. Doing something stabilises you. Do something you like, for example, painting or music. Also, don’t be on your smartphones all the time. Spend some time outside with the world.”

Mahapatra’s poetry is a testament to the power of words and the importance of writing. His work is a reminder that poetry can help us make sense of the world, to connect with others, and to find our voice. I wish I could meet him just one more time and interact with him. It’s rare to find people who words are not mere words, but layered with profoundness.

May his soul rest in peace, and may he keep blessing us wherever he is.

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