Table of Contents
The grandfather’s conversion to Christianity to avoid famine is the main element of Jayanta Mahapatra’s poem “Grandfather,” which was published in 1983. According to historical records, more than a million people—nearly a third of the region’s population—died during the terrible famine of 1866. The people endured lengthy hardship during this time because aid did not arrive for several months.
Due to the preceding monsoon’s lack of rain, there was a drought before the famine, which was made worse by the administration’s lack of preparation. Jayanta Mahapatra tries to comprehend his grandfather Chintamani Mahapatra’s conversion to Christianity from the perspective of this catastrophe.
About the Poet
One of the most well-known Indian English poets of the modern era is Jayanta Mahapatra (1928–present). He is a very sensitive poet who writes on a wide range of emotions, with most of his poetry focusing on the man-woman relationship. His poetry carries a strong Orissa flavor. In 1981, Mahapatra became the first poet from India to write in English to get the Sahitya Academi Award.
The yellowed diary's notes whisper in vernacular. They sound the forgotten posture, the cramped cry that forces me to hear that voice. Now I stumble back in your black-paged wake.
The yellow diary’s pages illustrate the grandfather’s anguish. The torn diary’s notes murmur in a dialect. They force the poet to pay attention to that voice by making that restrained cry and forgotten posture audible. The poet was now making his way back through the diary’s black pages.
No uneasy stir of cloud darkened the white skies of your day; the silence of dust grazed in the long afternoon sun, ruling the cracked fallow earth, ate into the laughter of your flesh.
The bright sky of your day was unaffected by any irritating cloud movement, and the long afternoon sun quietly grazed the dust that covered the uneven fallow ground, savoring the laughing of the flesh.
For you it was the hardest question of all. Dead, empty trees stood by the dragging river, past your weakened body, flailing against your sleep. You thought of the way the jackals moved, to move.
It was an especially difficult question for the grandfather. Beyond his feeble body and fighting against his sleep by the dragging river stood dead, vacant trees. He watched the jackals walk and thought about them.
Did you hear the young tamarind leaves rustle in the cold mean nights of your belly? Did you see your own death? Watch it tear at your cries, break them into fits of unnatural laughter?
When the grandfather died, the poet asks him if he heard the rustle of young tamarind leaves during the winter evenings; if so, did he see it coming or watch it rip through his sobs, changing them into bursts of odd laughter.
How old were you? Hunted, you turned coward and ran, the real animal in you plunging through your bone. You left your family behind, the buried things, the precious clod that praised the quality of a god.
He turned into a coward and fled when his grandfather was born and you were being followed, the genuine animal in you chewing at your bones. He ran away from his family, the hidden items, and the costly rock that proclaimed the attributes of a god.
The imperishable that swung your broken body, turned it inside out? What did faith matter? What Hindu world so ancient and true for you to hold? Uneasily you dreamed toward the center of your web.
The unmovable that flipped his broken body inside out and twisted the imperturbable. The poet questions Why was religion useful and What ancient and authentic Hindu universe should his grandfather hold. His dream was awkwardly moved to the middle of your web by the grandfather.
The separate life let you survive, while perhaps the one you left wept in the blur of your heart. Now in a night of sleep and taunting rain My son and I speak of that famine nameless as snow.
The separate existence allowed you to live, even though you might have been the one he left crying in the fog of your heart. Now, in the middle of a rainy night that kept them awake, the poet and his son were discussing that famine.
A conscience of years is between us. He is young. The whirls of glory are breaking down for him before me. Does he think of the past as a loss we have lived, our own? Out of silence we look back now at what we do not know.
They are separated by a number of years. When the poet was a child, he could see the whirlwinds of glory fading in front of him. Again, the poet inquires as to whether he felt a loss in the past. They were now silently gazing back at what is unknown.
Stanza 9 There is a dawn waiting beside us, whose signs are a hundred odd years away from you, Grandfather. You are an invisible piece on a board Whose move has made our children grow, to know us,
The daybreak that awaits everyone was around one hundred years distant from the grandfather. He was like an unseen chess piece. The poet raises the issue of who is to blame for their children’s development and socialization.
carrying us deep where our voices lapse into silence. We wish we knew you more. We wish we knew what it was to be, against dying, to know the dignity
He would lead the poet to a location where their voices would cease to be heard. They hoped they had more information on him. The poet yearned to understand what it felt like to face death with honor.
that had to be earned dangerously, your last chance that was blindly terrifying, so unfair. We wish we had not to wake up with our smiles in the middle of some social order.
It was so unfair that his grandfather’s last chance to achieve dignity required him to take a risk. When they awoke in the middle of some social order, the poet laments that they had smiled.