JAYANTA and Sitakant Mahapatra are two thoroughbreds who have kept up with Pegasus these many years. Their devotion to the muse has been single-minded. They have never deviated into other genres. The fruits of their labour differ, but dont they always? Sitakant has been translated into many languages. He has won the Jnanpith, something that Jayanta cannot aspire to. The logic cant be faulted. Why should the brown sahibs be encouraged to indulge in their Anglo-Saxon idiosyncrasies? The sons of the soil, linguistically speaking, should inherit the earth. Unexceptionable.
Both poets write with their heart, sometimes with the heart on the sleeve. The Orissa landscape and way of life comes alive in both volumes. Jayanta rightly contends that he is an Oriya poet who, by accident, writes in English. And as if to offset this handicap he has now come out with a volume of verse in Oriya. Jayantas verse is ruminant, and so introverted that it borders at times, on the edge of neurosis. Sitakants verse is outgoing, buoyed on a current of empathy and sentiment.
There was a time when reading Sitakant in English was a bit of a chore. The translations were imperfect. The lines would drip with sentiment. In every fifth poem someone would be shedding tears. Midway through some mundane account of life in a village you would be ambushed by massive hyperbole. Much of that is gone. The poetry is sharp and neat and surprises with a classy turn of phrase on every other page. "How generous of the sea/to call at my door for its dues! to remember an obscure name/in its unending ledgers." Later in the poem (The Mist) sea-surrounded objects become "immaculate with eternity". And the gentle touch is visible" the hush of your absence spreads/in the fragrant moonlight".