Dear Poet: A Reader’s Letter to Jayanta Mahapatra

Dear poet,

Death is an enigma: it deprives the living of love, leaves them lost in the labyrinth of ‘maya’, while letting the dead escape it. But, ah, what a cruel fate for those alive! A pity, indeed.

In 2018, I realised that death not only takes away souls, but it also rips dreams apart. One of my childhood heroes, whom I had always dreamt of meeting since I was but a wee child, the widely celebrated astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, needed up as only a dream. In 2019, Girish Karnad left us a lifetime too soon. In 2021, it was Manoj Das that went, and my aspirations of his acquaintance shattered like mishandled chinaware. I was afraid that it would come to be once again; in fact, I dreaded it. And yesterday, at around 8 pm in the evening, it did again. This time, it hit much harder, especially to the child who read your poetry to cope with the pains of bereavement.

The poet whose words I grew up with, who I would have loved to elaborate the same, in person, now, no more. I thought that day was not far when I would sit down and ask you how the world looked to you but I could never have thought that it would be an eternity when it comes to being. The void was always your paradise, and I hope to see you there.

Did you see what your friends have to say about you? What about your admirers? A world of people grieving. They lament the irreparable vacuum of loss that must eventually be made painfully mundane. In a long yet fulfilled life of 95 years, you have faced it all yourself, and your poetry has always reflected the same. You have captured the aesthetics of the beginnings, and the end in your incredible poetic prowess. Undoubtedly, continuing the process even amidst the pains of old age; never ceasing to see the beauty in life and beyond. Yet, I cannot help but wonder how you see yourself there. You wrote intimately, hidden to the world until soon,
“It pains me a lot
to think of that day
when, standing by my dead body,
you’d be speaking to yourselves
that, as soon as you get home,
you would wash your body clean,
before you do anything else.”
I would have said it is rather arrogant and selfish to think that it would be any different in your case. For I thought poets were an all-feeling species, embodying what is human; godly beings that emanate generalizations, under the label of universality. But I think while embodying the human, one must also embrace the human they themselves are. So, I have no further qualms about it.

You wrote, “A man does not become anything. / But the place. / … / a man becomes the place.” I presume leaving your own Cuttack, your Odisha, your India, and your poetry, to which they were the muse, must have been difficult. I am sure that it was with a heavy heart that you did. They all echo your presence (or absence) today. Even the Indian summer has prolonged itself, for one reason or another, as if saying:
“Over the soughing of the sombre wind
priests chant louder than ever;
the mouth of India opens.

dreaming still, unexhausted
by the deep roar of funeral pyres.”

I wonder what you found in the afterlife. I wonder if it is what you called “nowhere”? Has it been kind to you as your wandering place? I imagine you must be striding about, hand in hand. Waiting. For what, I do not know. Perhaps, for your friends to welcome you, or maybe for them to join you. Either way, I bid you farewell.

“Oh I am a poet who barks like a dog.
Open the window, I say, so I can breathe.
Let not my memory be like a tiger in ambush.
But there is this dangerously alive body
and only a baton or knife can tear it apart.”

Now that you have attained a freedom that any soul would long for, I hope you can breathe easy. Be not worried, for no knife or baton was necessary. You loved and you are loved. See you on the other side, dear poet.

Yet another reader,
Ankit Rath

Also Read

Comments are closed.