The Poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra (Fourth Revised and Enlarged Edition, 2009) is an incisive and well-researched book. It makes an in-depth analysis of the corpus of Mahapitra's poetry from Close the Sky, Ten by Ten to Random Descent (2005). In this new edition, Mahapatra's latest two books of verse, Bare Face and Random Descent, have been evaluated in the context of global poetry written in the Third World countries. This edition also includes an interview with the poet which highlights the aspects of Mahapatra's art of writing poetry. The development of Mahapatra's poetry from Modernism to Post-modernism and again from Post-colonialism to Neo-colonialism has been analysed in a lucid manner. This is an invaluable book on Mahapatra's poetry.
Bijay Kumar Das, Ph.D., D.Litt., is a contributor to The Encylcopaedia of World Literature in the 20th Century (New York). He has published a number of reference books which include, Form and Meaning in Mahesh Dattani's Plays (2008); Critical Essays on Postcolonial Literature (2007); Post-Modern Indian English Literature (2006); Twentieth Century Literary Criticism (2005); A Handbook of Translation Studies (2005); Critical Essays on Poetry (2003); Shiv K. Kumar as a Postcolonial Poet (2001); A Reader's Guide to Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets (1999); The Horizon of Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry (1995); Perspectives on Indian English Poetry Criticism (1993); and Modern Indian English Poetry (1992). He has edited three reference books: Comparative Literature (2000); Perspectives on the Poetry of R. Parthasarathy (1998); and Contemporary lndo-English Poetry (1992). He has also co-edited one reference book entitled Studies in Postcolonial Literature (2007) and several textbooks including Nineteenth Century English Poetry (OUP, 1992, 1998). He has successfully guided 14 Ph.D. scholars. He is the Editor of The Critical Endeavour. Formerly a Reader in English at Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, Dr. Das is now a Professor of English at Burdwan University, Burdwan (West Bengal).
Jayanta Mahapatra, the best known Indian English poet, both at home and abroad, happens to be the most prolific poet as well, with seventeen volumes of poems to his credit. Two of his latest volumes of poems, Bare Face (2000) and Random Descent (2005) appeared in the twenty-first century. Added to these two books of verse, his prose collection, Door of Paper appeared in 2007. In the fourth edition of my book, I have added a new chapter on his latest poetry and included his interview to me.
I have enjoyed reading his poetry and given my own interpretations of his poetry in the light of recent theories of criticism. I would be glad if this book helps the readers, researchers and teachers of our country to understand Mahapatra's poetry and appreciate it. The bibliography, as usual, is updated.
Last but not least, I am thankful to M/s Atlantic Publishers and Distributors (P) Ltd., New Delhi, particularly to its Chairman, Dr. K.R. Gupta for bringing out the fourth edition of the book in record time.
ONE of the most widely known and published Indian English poets of our time is Jayanta Mahapatra. Like Nissim Ezekiel and A.K. Ramanujan, he is widely read and discussed both at home and abroad. But unlike Ezekiel and Ramanujan, Mahapatra is difficult to read for obscurity, complexity and allusiveness in his poetry. He is rather in the company of Shiv K. Kumar and Keki N. Daruwalla, in creating contrive images and learned vocabulary that immediately set him a class apart from most of his contemporaries. At the same time, in his desire to acclimatize an indigenous tradition to English language, and create a new Indian English idiom, he shares some of the concerns of the well-known Indian English poets of our time. Therefore, to study Jayanta Mahapatra in isolation seems to be a difficult task, especially when he has influenced a number of contemporary Indian English poets and brought recognition to this new poetry by winning the firstever award by the National Akademi of Letters for his book of verse, Relationship in 1981. In order to study his poetry in its proper perspective, one should take the background and development of Indian English poetry into consideration to arrive at a balanced judgment. That is why, I take the background of Indian English poetry into consideration to facilitate my evaluation of Jayanta Mahapatra as a contemporary Indian English poet.
The place and status of Indian English poetry before and after Independence are open to debate. There are people representing diametrically opposite views on the achievement of this poetry in general. One group outrightly condemns the poetry written before 1947 and eulogizes the Post-Independence Indian English poetry. Take for instance, R. Parthasarathy's pronouncement that Indian Verse in English, "did not seriously begin to exist till after the withdrawal of the British from India."' P. Lal and Adil Jussawalla are in the company of R. Parthasarathy in denouncing the poetry of Sri Aurobindo and his contemporaries, lock, stock and barrel.
On the other hand, there are critics like K.R.S. Iyengar, V.K. Gokak, C.D. Narasimhaiah and a few others who have lauded the poetry of Sri Aurobindo and his contemporaries like Sarojini Naidu. To Gokak, Sarojini Naidu is the Yeats of India and Sri Aurobindo a great innovator in the art of versification. He classifies the Indian poets in English before Independence into two groups "neo-symbolists" and "neo-modernists". The neo-symbolists dive deep into mysticism and the neo-modernists' vision is coloured by humanism.
C.D. Narasimhaiah speaks of Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu and Sri Aurobindo in admiration in his well-known book, The Swan and the Eagle. He lauded both Toru and Sarojini as pioneers in the field of Indian English poetry. C.D. Narasimhaiah is more eloquent in his praise of Sri Aurobindo whom he considers not only as a distinguished poet but a critic too. He goes a step forward to tell that English language has gained from Sri Aurobindo and compares him with Joseph Conrad who broadened the descriptive range of the English language. He writes, "It may be said of Sri Aurobindo that he made the English language accommodate certain hitherto unknown (inconscient) areas of experience both through his prose work, `Life Divine' and through his epic Savitri, not to speak of the numerous translations from Sanskrit poetry and drama as well as his other less known but important works."2 It is interesting and important to remember that Sri Aurobindo nearly succeeded in creating an idiom in English which is peculiar and unique to the genius of Indian people. Well-known scholars and critics like K.R.S. Iyengar, Sisir Kumar Ghose and M.K. Naik too praise Sri Aurobindo and Sarojini Naidu as poets of importance. In the course of an article entitled Indian Poetry in English-Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow (The Literary Criterion 18:3, 1983:9-18) K.R.S. Iyengar takes R. Parthasarathy, Keki N. Daruwalla and Adil Jussawalla to task for criticising Sri Aurobindo and earlier poets in English for wrong reasons.
On the other hand, there are sceptics who denounce post-Independence Indian English poets beginning with Nissim Ezekiel. To some Purists, the best post-1947 poets in English would appear as Pseudo-Keats, second- rate Tennyson, third-rate Hardy, and fourth-rate Eliot. It seems to me that a good deal of poetry of our time can be highlighted without denying or denigrating the poetry of our predecessors or taking a parochial and what George Woodcock calls, "literary incestuousness" attitude to recent Indian poetry in English. I believe that serious Indian English poetry came to be written not immediately after Independence but in the Sixties and after. The Indian English poetic movement of the Sixties and Seventies did much to fix its image as deliberately deficient, moderate with a will. Indian English poets sought comparisons with Anglo-Americans and unfortunately, followed either the genteel English poets or the confessing Americans. This tendency has gradually frayed and will probably give way altogether for the fact that however deliberate (and after a faltering start) post-Independence Indian English poetry has proved increasingly robust, varied, responsive to the times and enjoyable. It is now very rarely either consciously indebted or consciously hostile to Anglo-American models, it has acquired a distinct character and discovered its own voice. The voice is discovered by the poet's genius for intimately registering the idiom of his own world.
Post-Independence Indian English poetry is both a break with the past and a continuation with it too. Modernity in recent Indian English poetry, which essentially means a break with the past, has three identifiable manifestations: one-a past-oriented vision which is associated with a sense of loss and hopelessness, a sort of cultural pessimism; two-a future-oriented vision, associated with a desire to remake the world; three-a present-oriented attitude, ahistorical, amoral, neutral, stoic, ironic, ambivalent, absurdist. This modernity has two modes of "expression"-one, it might result in one turning inward going on One's "voyage within"; two, it might result in an ironic observation of reality in "voyage without".
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