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Indian Poetry

A Hot May Afternoon

Jayanta Mahapatra

Not a breath of air anywhere.
Just my sinful shadow
Keeps craving for a kindred being.

Windows are shut tight
In houses everywhere.
And outside, farewell after farewell.

How can I break
This granting silence of the river’s
Burning sands inside of me?

When I muster
Enough courage
And reach for my lover’s breasts.

With a half-smile
She hands me the first Book
Of an untouched life

Translated by Gopa Ranjan Mishra from Odia

A Tale, To Begin With

Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta Mahapatra never did anything worthwhile;
Today’s young are unaware of what he did
Those who knew him a little are dead and gone.
He was a awful person.
To tell the truth, no one had ever seen him.
Neither his friends nor relatives, or his enemies.
But then, how would they know him?
He was on fire day and night.
Burning in the flames of his own karma.
People noticed only the fire
And some smoke, hazy, unclear.

The body of Jayanta Mhapatra
Had somehow worn out through the years
And all that remained
Was a vain palm-frond hat on his bald head.
So wily was he
That nobody could win him over to their side.
A juicy tale for hot, sleepless summer nights
When malicious plots against him
Were hatched all around.
Jayanta Mahapatra could never break down
The formidable walls of his body.
Never veering away, those walls
Had moved up on him day after day
Until nothing was left of his body,
And whatever was left behind was perhaps not his.
It had somehow flown away from him
As it kept searching for gold and silver,
In the deeps of earth and wells of stone,
In the hills and forest and rivers of words
But had never found anything of value.

No, there’s no sense
In looking for Jayanta Mahapatra.
At times he moves about in the cold winter skies
In the starry constellation of Scorpio,
A question himself.
And sometimes he loses himself
In the sweat-smell of the girl he loved.
Many insist he keeps reeling under some unknown fear,
A fear that lies deep down in every pore of his skin.
In a climate of fear
Can anyone make another his own?
Who can tell where this fear of his came from?
Was it from his mother’s wrathful eyes
Or from the inhuman taunts of his schoolmates?
That fear, however,
Clung to his skin forever.

That’s why Jayanta Mahapatra
Can never enter darkness.
The darkness that lives on in the history
Of blood-soaked thighs of our women.
The darkness that rests in God’s listless eyes.
But you can find Jayanta Mahapatra in Cuttack
On the weary bank of the Kathjodi
Or at the Attendants-Quarters of Christ College
In the sobbing breasts of the peon’s raped daughter
You’ II find him surely
If you really look for him.
You’ II find him surely
In the ageing leaves of the mango in his backyard
In the anguished call of the bird with a broken wing
Or in the disconsolate cry of the child
Whose red balloon got burst
In the jostling crowds on the eights day of Durga Puja.
No, you’d never find him in a church or a temple.

Had he done anything that people would know him?
Yes perhaps, he could weave dream after dream
Much like a bird perched
On a branch of his mind’s bare tree.
Wandering far and wide
He settled at lat in his home town of Cuttack.
If you ask the mechanic Mama
Who’s there all day at his bicycle-repair-shop
Or Kalu, who sells paan in his tiny wood cabin
About Jayanta Mahapatra,
They would of course tell you where he lives.
The monsoon rain could easily point him out
And even the mild misty mornings of December;
The lame pariah dog too, who hobbles over sometimes,
Wags his tail and fondly licks
His hands near his front door.

And poems? His poems simply can’t say
Where he lives.
They lie all over like the dead.
Those impetuous poems of his couldn’t subdue his mind
They just shut every door of his body.
Like the tired old peepul standing all alone
In the abandoned Buddhist monastery in Lalitgiri,
He’s there, inside the chaos of words.
Of course he’s been living in Cuttack
But not many there known him
Sometimes they’d say :

Oh! Jayanta Mahapatra?
That man?
Oh he lives in dreams
and will die in his dreams one day
How long can he hold on
to the vast sky all alone?
That’s right
Jayanta Mahapatra never did anything worthwhile.
He had a heart of course
And whatever little space was in there
He kept it solely to bury his friends and lovers
In the earnest hope
That he would finally find himself

Translated by Gopa Ranjan Mishra from Odia