Sitakant Mahapatra is a major voice in modern Indian poetry. Anthologies of his poems have been published in all the Indian languages and in Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew. Awards include the Jnanpith Award, Sahitya Akademi Award and the Kabir Samman. He has been recognized as the foremost interpreter of oral poetry of Indian Tribes. UNESCO has published his volume of oral poetry titled They Sing Life. A noted social anthropologist, he has been a Fellow in the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. Soka University, Tokyo conferred its ‘Highest Honour’ on him in a special Convocation. The President of India conferred on him the Padma Bhushan in 2003. He is the Vice President of FOSWAL.


When he went, he carried with him
many things:
in the breast pocket
a small framed photo of Jagannath
along with few grains of His nirmalya
tied neatly in a piece of cloth,
eight half-ripe mangoes
from their garden in a hand bag
and ten pieces of cheese-molasses rice cake
his mother made keeping late night.

In the breast pocket too
he treasured two photos:
one, Sumitra’s before marriage
with long coiffure and deep swirling eyes
another, Sonali on his lap.

Also he carried Sumitra’s quick kiss
planted on his cheek stealthily
like a lightning and Sonali’s
unaccustomed shy kiss
after many persuasions and kitkat bribe;
they were warm till
he reached Kargil.

He carried countless sobs
carefully hidden away in his chest
and tear drops lurking in the eyes
till their faces got lost in the distance
like stars in the sky.

He returned fast asleep
covered with tricolour
inside the womb of a box
eyes closed, cheeks cold as ice
face a wilted flower.
This time he had brought nothing
neither toys, frock and chocolate for Sonali
nor for Sumitra a saree
nor a light shawl or eye-glasses
for his mother.
He returned empty-handed.
A sinless bird struck by a lethal arrow
he circled and descended
to the ground in an aircraft,
to his mother, Sonali and Sumitra
nearly lost in the crowd
and that too on his own birthday.