The Poet and the Social Scientist

S.G. Vasudev, He, 1990, Ink on paper, more here

S.G. Vasudev, He, 1990, Ink on paper, more here

Guest post by Bishnu Mohapatra

I do social science in English; write my poetry in Odia. It has been like this for a long time. Sometimes they remain as two isolated processes: silent, looking inward, flowing in their own pace, immersed in their own music. At other times they are braided, entangled, speak to each other as good friends.

Sometimes I have wondered how much of my social science needs the light-throwing metaphors, the sense of wonder, the feeling of being lost and found that I create in my poetry. Similarly do my poems need the measured distance that I try to articulate in my social science? These are my questions. They are not merely about different languages that I use to do distinct things. They are primarily about the domains of cognition and affect I inhabit, and my way of being in the world.

Most of my academic friends do not pay attention to my life as a poet. Most of my poet friends think of my academic career as nothing but a way of surviving in this world. For them my academic work is a job, and my life as a poet is a passion. However, there are friends who would like to see me as a whole, as someone struggling to make sense of the world around me.  I would like my social science and poetry to flow into each other more, to engage in deeper conversation and stare at each other’s void. 

I know it cannot happen on its own. I need to alter a lot of intellectual furniture. This is what I have been doing in recent years. The process itself is truly enchanting, like drenching in rain, like listening to music inside a rock or observing a band of house sparrows watching the miracle of a rainbow.

Over the years I have written several poems on rain. Its arrival, its presence, its presence-absence still fill me with immense joy, prompts me to reflect on the many layered realities of our lives. The next volume of poetry in Odia - Varsabatara (Rain Incarnations) - is going to be a meditation on rain. A poem from this collection. 

Rain

A glass window

Separates me and the Rain…

Rain stares at me

I return the look

But cant see it clearly.

 

When I look at the Rain

It appears without a body

Only sound and sound I see

But when I hear its pattering

I clearly see its body and flesh.

 

I think

The Rain looks at me

But

The meaning of its look

Remains unknown

Mysterious to me

Forever.

(Translated from Odia by the poet)

Bishnu Mohapatra has authored three volumes of poetry and translated two volumes of Pablo Neruda’s poetry into Odia. A volume of his poems in English translation, A Fragile World, was published in 2005. In his academic avatar he has published widely in the domain of politics, history and literature. He has taught politics at several universities including University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Kyoto, National University of Singapore and Azim Premji University.