Manas Ranjan Mahapatra

Gradually I am losing all my old connections. Poet Jayanta Mahapatra, with whom I had the association of over four decades, has left for his heavenly abode.

After the demise of Prof. Manoj Das two years ago, Prof. Jayanta Mahapatra was possibly the only prominent living major author from Odisha in Indian English known worldwide. He was also a major translator from Odia to English. The state government of Odisha didn’t bother to bring him to the state capital for better treatment in a super specialty hospital.

I first met poet Jayanta Mohapatra in 1981 when I was a beginner working journalist at Cuttack. Later, on a Sunday morning in 1988 December in my NCERT days, Jayanta Mahapatra and I met at Konark. It was the first ever All India Poets’ Meet organized by Sanibar Sahitya Sandhya. Poet Anubhav Tulasi was also with us. Most probably, the late Subhendu Mund, the then-president of Sanibar Sahitya Sandhya was also there with us.

Jayanta Mahapatra was a popular person among youth, especially girls, maybe for his sense of humor or say, he was very lively in his approach. He has written some stories too. Some of his stories like ‘The Bottom Pincher’ have been popular among youth. His poems in Odia are not as impressive as his works in English. He was possibly the first poet from Odisha with an international reputation as a poet writing in English.

Two of the living stalwarts in Odia Literature, Ramakanta Rath and Sitakant Mahapatra were possibly his students at one point in time. There may be many more to whom I know, but my focus of this post is not to make a list of his students but to appreciate him as a teacher, poet, and human being.

My interaction with Jayanta Mahapatra continued. I visited him with Sumatheendra Nadig and Varsha Das sometime in 1999. We were together in another All India Poets Meet organized by Odisha Sahitya Akademi and NBT at Konark, most possibly in 2006-07. Pravat Tripathy, Chandrakant Deotale, and Sameer Tanti were there. In fact, it was his greatness that he gladly received me at Bhubaneswar. I was thrilled. We went to Konark together, gossiping. He also enjoyed the dance of Poets Kajal Chakraborty, Anupam Kumar, Jayaprabha, and a few others at the Pantha Nivas lawn the next evening.

I was new at Shillong. It was 2016. I got the news that Jayanta Mahapatra is there as a Sahitya Akademi programmer. I did not have a proper invitation. but I rushed. So refreshing…but the organizers from the University had not contacted the right people. The attendance was poor. I called some of my friends in the teaching departments of the University. Some of them turned up. But the speech of Jayanta Mahapatra on contemporary literature and what a writer is supposed to do was thought-provoking.

A simple man, unusual as a Professor, a person of international reputation Jayanta Mahapatra didn’t have a mobile phone. I am not sure if he had a car. He had not got any major civilian honours too except a mere Padmashri.But, the saving grace is, he always lived life as King Size.

When I got the news that Sahitya Akademi has decided to confer on him its coveted fellowship I murmured,’ But it is too late…especially to combine him with lesser-known writers like VP Tiwari, he should have been a solo choice’. But Sahitya Akademi has its own way of functioning.

Last year I exchanged WhatsApp messages with Jayanta Mahapatra. He lost his wife earlier. These days I have relocated to Delhi. Sadly, I could not meet him before his death. Tributes.

(The Author is a former editor of National Book Trust, New Delhi. Views are personal)