My first meeting with Jayanta Mahapatra was in Shillong. We were milling around a hall in the university campus. Someone said Jayanta Mahapatra is here. He was an icon, a revered name among poets. I had recently joined the North East Writers Forum and was getting ready to read some poems aloud, for the first time. I recall halfway through I tried a peek in the direction of where he was sitting. He appeared to be asleep. Chin resting on hand, it’s a pose for listening too, I thought.
That was the start. That was my impression of Jayanta Mahapatra, the poet. Reticent, attentive, kind. It was the start of writing poetry, poetic exchange, poetry submissions and reading fellow poets. All through this time Jayanta Da was giving us confidence, encouraging us with handwritten notes and letters.
Now I am looking at the Chandrabhaga issues that he continued to publish with such commitment and effort. Most of the time it was done so quietly, we would never notice how hard it must have been, to keep a journal appearing twice a year for so many years.
In 2017 I visited him at his home in Cuttack. No photos- we just sat and talked. Do poets suffer loneliness? The old house was big. There is a lot of space, I thought. I imagined him wrestling with his thoughts. Alone, sometimes weary, maybe; but in his own words about time and space Jayanta Da said poetry is a fragile, private business. There were closed doors, and the despair of the blank sheets of paper- until suddenly language flowed into rhythm like the unseen wind moving the branches of the mango tree in his little courtyard.
In 2018 I listened to him reading at the Bangalore Poetry festival. It was then, so many years after our first meeting that it struck me very strongly that I had failed to fully recognize Jayanta Mahapatra, the man we greeted so casually like an old friend every time we met because he was always so responsive and kind. I suppose it is like that with a lot of people we know. We overlook dreams and visions, the scope and depth of a life. Now in remembrance I pay humble tribute to a truly generous, magnificent poet and true believer, ‘leaping into blindness or light. Call it freedom.’
Rest in peace, Jayanta Da.