Bhubaneswar, Nov. 25: Glowing tributes were paid to the memory of eminent Indian poet Jayanta Mahapatra at the 2nd SOA Literary Festival here on Friday with poets and writers describing him as a ‘legend’ and ‘beckon light of Indian English poetry.’
The three-day festival, being attended by around 250 writers, poets, novelists, critics, historians, artistes and theatre personalities from across the country, included a special session on the 95-year-old poet who passed away on August 27 last.
Chairing the session, Ms. Sukrita Paul Kumar, a renowned poet, said: “Mahapatra has left behind a huge legacy in Indian literature.”
“His works were initially not given adequate attention in India but he got recognition only after his works came in for much praise in the west,” she said adding “he can be described as the beckon light of Indian English poetry.”
Mahapatra was the first Indian poet to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for English poetry and received the Padma Shri in 2009 for his contribution to literture.
Prof. Ashwani Kumar, Mr. Durga Prasad Panda, Mr. Nilim Kumar and Mr. Dipak Samantarai, all accomplished poets, also paid tributes to Mahapatra describing him as a legend in Indian literature.
Ms. Kumar said Mahapatra was rooted to the soil and made Cuttack his work station. “He could have gone and lived anywhere in the world but chose to live in his ancestral home in Cuttack,” she said.
“Childlike in nature, he was existential in his thinking,” Kumar said recalling that Mahapatra once said he accepted each day ‘as a gift given to him.’
Mahapatra also translated other Odia poetry into English. He did not believe in a monolingual society but thought that all the languages should negotiate with each other, she said.
Prof. Kumar, who teaches at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, said he used to speak to Mahapatra every day for the last six years. “He was a much adored poet but people have not done justice to his works which are immortal,” he said.
Assamese poet Mr. Nilim Kumar recited one of his poems in Odia which was translated into English by Prof. Kumar.
Mr. Samantarai, who was close to Mahapatra, recalled that he had the opportunity to interview Mahapatra in one of the sessions of the 1st SOA Lit-Fest in 2020 which he attended. The poet’s needs were minimal and he never felt the need to have an air-conditioner in his living room.
“He was accessible to anyone, be it the rickshaw puller or the mechanic in a cycle repairing shop near his home. They were his friends,” he said.
Mr. Panda, who knew Mahapatra closely, recalled that when the poet was invited by the Sambalpur University to be honoured with the Gangadhar Sahitya Samman, the university authorities informed him that a car would be sent from Sambalpur to pick him from his Cuttack home. But he declined the offer saying he would make his own travel arrangement.
Mahapatra informed them that he was coming to Sambalpur by train. Those present at the railway station to receive him were surprised when he emerged from a passenger train which was running several hours late.
He later informed those waiting to receive him that he had a nice time in the train talking to villagers who were involved in collecting forest produce, Mr. Panda said.