Eminent poet and litterateur Jayanta Mahapatra passed away at a hospital in Odisha’s Cuttack on August 27. He was 95.
Mahapatra had been undergoing treatment at the SCB Medical College Hospital for pneumonia and other old age-related ailments. His wife and son had predeceased him.
Jayanta Mahapatra was the first Indian poet to win the Sahitya Akademi award for English poetry. He was also conferred with the Padma Shri (India’s fourth highest civilian honour) in 2009. However, he returned it in 2015 to protest against “rising intolerance in India”.
He is best known for authoring poems such as “Indian Summer” and “Hunger”, regarded as classics in modern Indian English literature. His other prominent works also include “Relationship”, “Bare Face”, and “Shadow Space”. In all, Mahapatra penned 27 books of poems, of which seven are in Odia and the rest in English.
He experimented with prose, too. His published books of prose include Green Gardener, an anthology of short stories, and Door of Paper: Essays and Memoirs.
Born in Cuttack on October 22, 1928, into a prominent Odia Christian family, Mahapatra studied at Stewart School in Cuttack and completed his Masters in Physics from Patna University. He began his teaching career as a lecturer in physics and taught at various government colleges in Odisha.
He began his writing career in the late sixties. His short stories and poems were initially rejected by several publishers, until his poems were published in international literary journals.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik expressed deep grief on the passing away of Mahapatra, describing him as a genius in both English and Odia literature.
“He had successfully elevated the reach of Odia literature to a wider circle. His intellect and knowledge was a guiding spirit for many youngsters to write in English literature. His mellifluous words will continue to weave their magic, reminding us of the power of human expression. The vivid imagery of his writings about daily life, particularly drawn from Cuttack, will always remain a rich encapsulation of Odia life,” Patnaik said in his condolence message.
Mahapatra’s funeral will take place on August 28 with full state honours, Patnaik said.
(with inputs from PTI and ANI)