Rotations of Unending Time
Translators: Sura P Rath & Mark Halperin
(From Odia to English)
Sahitya Akademi. 2014
Pages 98 | Rs 90
Hypnotic emotional poetry
Great poets may be agonizingly languid in many things, say for instance, in talking eloquent or building castles in the air about their own creations but never in their observations for these carry acts of unsoiled grace. It was a tavern and there lay on the window-seat a copy of Thomson’s book of poetry The Seasons, giving Coleridge his aha moment. ‘That is true fame!’ exclaimed he. Great poetry does exactly this. It produces aha moment for its readers. I need belabour the spirit of above episode farther to next plateau of current times – times of disenchantment, disagreement and disapprobation when it comes to modern poetry. Does modern poetry make sense? And is it reassuring; or have frivolities masked it, making it effete? Critics normally attribute enigmatic nature of modern poetry to linguistic contrivance (rhetoric and forms) that poets use as an expressive tool.
Let the cards be on the table in the context of a book of poetry – Rotations of Unending Time penned by Sitakant Mahapatra who joined Indian Administrative Service in 1961 and is a prolific poet and writer with more than fifty books of different genre getting him Jnanpith Award (1993), Padma Bhushan (2002) and Padma Vibhushan (2011). The book is a collection of 42 poems written between 1963 and 2011 and exquisitely translated from Odia into English by Sura P Rath & Mark Halperin.
The first poem ‘Relationship’ gives a sketch of any ordinary day people go about their daily routines, which remain the same on any given day. The very tragic nature of this routine Sitakant portrays from various vantage points. It is a poem of collective consciousness in a place. The intensity of concerns is such that the poet does not feel the need to describe, ‘joys and sorrows/ the tangles and encumbrances of each life?’
The poem about his ‘Grandma’ of whom he seems to have fond memories deals with her death that he describes the beginning of ‘her second long journey.’ His imagination drives him to the day when she came to that very house all adored in her new bridal decorations, the stark reality of her mortal remains lying in the room and his lifting the ‘white sheet’ from her face identifying her face with history itself. ‘Out in the front yard, I glanced at the sky/ where she was a new star.’ His tender mind wallows in a childlike observation – ‘When we cry in this life, I understood that day/ it has to be in private, alone.’
The poet evidently becomes more articulate when he sits to remember his father in his poem ‘Father, Heaven’ – ‘Behind his every act/ lay one desire/ heaven.’ A role model for him, he believes that his father must have been in close communion with all the Gods ‘that gruff voice of prayer mixed with the sweet sleep/ of my childhood days,’ and expresses his inability to understand where his father had gone after he had handed him over for cremation ‘on the wet sands of Puri beach.’ With ‘Stars blinking in the dark sky,’ ‘Only those trickster gods/in heaven’ would know that.
‘Shadow’ is a poem eliciting his emotions as a consequence of his mental awareness, maybe acquired sub-consciously, of the presence of ultimate truth, death, always lurking, ‘Like a scarecrow/ on a moonlit night, he stands/ there/ just so’ in the doorway or elsewhere waiting to take its toll. This has been a favorite topic for some other poems in this collection like ‘Come Some Other Time,’ ‘Death,’ and ‘A Morning of Rain.’ In the former, he writes, ‘Tell me: how could I give you/ time now, at this moment/ of eager rain?’ or as in the latter, he pontificates, ‘Fear of somber death?’ must make one ‘understand that every joy/ ends one day.’ Then, ‘Dreams surrender/ like waylaid butterflies... to the delight.’ He tends to dissociate the phenomenon of rain from the onslaught of death. This also may be an acquired mythical belief having roots in some childhood exchanges the poet had shared with his brother – ‘The ineffable beauty, the deep mystery/ of those tales is not present/ in any treatise.’
The poem ‘Mother’ finds him disheveled, as ‘day after day/ the dusty darkness.../ treacherous illusion.../ covers everything in all directions.’ His memories come flooding his soul and mind as he perceives, ‘a widow’s thin, antique hands appear/ face like the faded moon/ and cracked like dry soil/ the lips that showered love.’ There lies an underlying current of sorrow and caring in all these penned down lines.
Almost all his poems are very ardent and soul-touching lamentations of a sensitive mind on voyage memorizing lost relations as he spills out his agony at the tragic losses. He goes back in time and memory to recollect all the childhood nuances and experiences. He painfully attempts to console his own soul to accept the inevitable tragedy, even at a time and age when we all tend to grow up and accept the realities in life. Both his land and his mind have mythical, mystical and metaphysical landscapes. Craft is as important as the subject.
Towards the concluding part of the collection the poet dwells on the subject seemingly unable to pry loose from the melancholy mood or from a conviction that had immersed its roots deep within him that the ultimate escape from all worries and sorrows of this world lies in ‘the second journey.’ His search for lost and battered innocence has a unique ebbing coherence and he ends his innocence in ‘The Sky’ with a question, ‘You, maker of souls/ master of the void, shall I never be/ the sky?’ Presence of simplicity of style and graphical description, normally a forbidden facet of modern poetry, prompt readers to have leisurely attitude.
Sitakant’s poems are rhymed, metered and display a fair amount of assonance and alliteration. With his hypnotic emotional quality, he allows readers to reduce his poems to metaphoric or symbolic interpretation. Rich in rhetoric both figuratively as well as ornately and tight in structure, his poetry sharpens the skills essential to prevent modern poetry from being dubbed as an art of the margins. His poems deal with the ordinariness of life; abstraction is absent and the veil modern poetry is said to wear vanishes as readers get a fair idea as to the course his poems will take. Poems cover all shades of the spectrum imparting pleasures which don’t languish as readers proceed ahead.
A very model of acceptable modern poetry, many of the poems despite being melancholic, and disturbing, ‘that deep darkness/ that deep emptiness/ that unexpressed grief’ involve large array of emotions and feelings and poems are more of ‘meditations’ in nature than mere simple poems. Images throw remnants of questions that keep hovering and dispersing long after these have been read. Sitakant’s poetry befits Lenore Kandel’s description of poetry as ‘a medium of vision and experience… bursts of perception, lines into infinity.’