Freedom by Jayanta Mahapatra
About the poet
Jayanta Mahapatra (born on 22 October 1928) is one of the leading modern Indian poets writing in English. He was born in Orissa, lives in India and writes about India, closely observing her. He is the most celebrated poet in India and one of the best-known writers abroad. Compared to his contemporaries, Jayanta Mahapatra started writing poems fairly late. But in no way does this late beginning skew his achievement. He is the first Indian poet in English to win a Sahitya Akademi award for English poetry (1981). His poems have appeared in most of the reputed journals of the world. He received the prestigious Jacob Glatstein Memorial Award (Chicago) in 1975. His other volumes include Close the Sky, Ten by Ten, Svayamvara & Other Poems, A Father’s Hours, A Rain of Rites, Waiting, The False Start & Life, Sings.
Jayanta Mahapatra is a highly regarded Indian poet. His field of pursuits is very large. His poems are peopled by street cobblers, starving street kids, a woman in pain… all that goes to make up the intricacies of real people’s daily lives, caught up in the whirlpool of human emotions.
Freedom by Jayanta Mahapatra is about his concept of freedom. It is not the kind of freedom we all have understood. It is a different kind of freedom.
What did we promise to try to do with the independence of India? Today India is free, but what do we have for women, children and widows? Only false promises cannot provide a strong foundation, and the country cannot advance alone on the white lies of the leaders. These are the very questions on which the poet shed light on in the poem. In other words, the poet seeks to know what freedom actually is. Should it be corroborated by India’s independence and the establishment of democracy? How does it vary in context from man to man? If freedom means something to one man, it can be different for another man.
In the poem, Freedom Jayanta Mahapatra in the reflective mood illustrates the stark reality that remains despite the fact that the country proclaims its independence. He sheds light on inequality and reveals the paradoxical state of life.
Sometimes when he watches, the body is cremated on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, and its half-burnt remains are left in the river to float down. No one knows where the remains eventually settle, in the vastness of the ocean, could be the ultimate destination for the river “somewhere” is an unspecified destination in the vast expanse of space.
The body here is not an individual human being but a whole country, a group of human beings, now a mere body floating down the river to an unspecified destination. It appears to be that the country’s body goes floating on the river waters. Left alone he grows into a disembodied bamboo half sunk into and half flourishing on the banks. When the body floats freely on the river, it is released from its slavery to mortal life.
In other words, the country is now free in a different way. It’s now, in 2021, celebrating 73 years of independence from colonial rule. What if the woman and her child didn’t have enough rice for a meal every day, all these seventy-three years. Independence from foreign rule did not free them from hunger.
Old widows in Brindavan or Varanasi are free from their worldly attachments. They were betrayed by their families, and they had to live alone in desolation, uncared and unloved. But here old widows and dying men cherish their freedom by bowing downtime after time in obstinate prayers. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, obstinate prayers are said with the eternal hope that one day God will listen to them and grant a miracle to carry them out of their misery.
While shedding light on freedom, Jayanta Mahapatra says that in India, the old widows and dying men cherish her, bowing in obstinate prayers. They’ve been under constraints throughout their lives. The Indian widows are unable to mix openly, feed and live freely.Likewise, the dying men see it as freedom.
While the old and dying pray for their deliverance, the children cherish to be free and dream of a world so creative and dreamy and full of imagination. The young pray that they can change the world even before they face it. They have their notions of Utopia, which the poet cannot adhere to. Nor can he join the aged and the dying in their desire to be free from slavery. This way he is left to be alone, not to meet the hungry woman and boy, or to try to find a political solution to the economic and social ills of society by resorting to parliament.
Nor with a desire to know the people lying unfed and unattended in remote villages, with little rice to say what we have had in the wake of these long years of independence, who don’t even know what freedom really is. When did India become a free country? What about the Parliament House? Who’s sitting then, who’s now? They are the least interested since they have nothing to do with it. Nor is he there to see the bloodless sunset lights capturing the tall and white pillars of the House of Parliament. In a new temple, the priest enjoys independence, while the gods appear to be hidden in the dark like an alien. This is not the end of the story. The poet has plenty else to tell about this.
In the new temple, a man constructed nearby, the priest is the one who knows about freedom while God is hidden in the dark like an alien.
Beautiful lines. It is the priest who is free against God in the temple, who hides in the dark corner of the temple. The priest maintains his own independence and enjoys the freedom to let God communicate with the devotees as and when he wants to. He alone has the power to make God available to the devotees. The priest is our man and one of us. God is an alien, available to us only through this priest’s intermediary.
Mahapatra portrays the pain, guilt, sorrow, hunger, desire and moments of renewal, his surroundings are filled with symbols of faith in the daily lives of the people of Cuttack, the temples, the Hindu festivals, the ancient monuments.
Only Parliament, with its historicity and its constitutionality, cannot guarantee its freedom. It cannot be the charter of our natural freedom alone. Freedom is what we take, what we believe in both privately and personally. Freedom is the freedom of the mind, of the heart and of the soul; of the spirit, of emancipation, of total deliverance. The unconscious mind is the screen on which the perceptions of the heart and the soul appear. Impulses are the harbinger, but we need to distil them in order to be social. Label it that the diamond is taken from the dark layer of the coalfield. And our Dark Consciousness is where it all originates from.
The liberation of the silent shale, the moonless coal, are the beds of streams the sleeping god’s as he holds the ashes down, tries not to place them on his forehead. What is what, who can say? The things of the poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra are the communications of the unconscious mind.
The mechanism of liberation is a dynamic construction for Mahapatra. For him, freedom is not freedom only. For him, freedom combines with a sense of rich past heritage. Freedom for him has no meaning without this aesthetic realisation.
Freedom for Mahapatra is the freedom to recreate the golden glory of the past and the present in which its future lies. There’s a tinge of irony in the title. He ridicules the independent status of a nation that, according to him, is a farce. It’s not in practice and it’s surreal like a shadow without life. His poetry is a reminder of the ideals and identity of the country. And apart from, each day he keeps looking for the light which but the shadows fail to contain in. The only freedom that he knows is the freedom of the body when it is alone. The lines are very meaningful:
Trying to find the only freedom I know,
the freedom of the body when it’s alone.
The poet wants to say that what we’re meant to be something is nothing and vice versa. Freedom is not what we really mean for. Freedom is the freedom of the body, the freedom of the soul and of the spirit. Freedom is the state of being free and unrestricted without any barrier and binding, where the mind goes or flies to or captures its dream and reflection. But tell me, who’s free? Are we there? What we like, can we do without hindrances and bumps? Do we really take the mind and the heart to good faith? What’s the human mind? How is the structure of it and the reveries? Our impulses are inhibited; they are uncontrolled.
Questions and Answers
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