03 June 2009

Jayanta Mahapatra

The poems of Jayanta Mahapatra have been justly praised for their incorporation of themes from Orissan culture, but not too much attention has been given to the way he writes in Oriya, using English words. I don't know Oriya, but I know English, and I know that these lines (from his "A Whorehouse in Calcutta Street") could not have been written by someone that thinks in English, unless we are talking of Inglish:

you miss them in the house's
dark spaces, how can't you?

Rather than detracting from so-called International English (also called english or Englishes), the lines add to the ability of the English language to reflect other languages. More precisely, from the point of view of literary criticism, the language signals a shift in worldview, a linguistic turn that brings the reader into another world (assuming the reader is not Indian). The reader becomes a dark space in the house, interrogated by the poem, challenged by the poem into becoming one with the poet and thus being illuminated by and illuminating the dark spaces in the lines.

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