Sitakant Mahapatra is a major voice in modern Indian poetry. He is at his best while portraying the ethos of Orissa and its traditions. His poetry brings alive the landscape, the way of life, attitudes and beliefs of the people. The poem “Father” centers round the poet-persona’s memories of his father. In the poem we find the poet persona’s attitude has a decided ambivalence. He is caught between deep respect for his father’s beliefs and his own skepticism regarding their validity, particularly the father’s belief in Vaikuntha as the ultimate escape from the harsh realities of life. The poem also shows Mahapatra’s preoccupation with the motif of death in various forms.
The poem begins saying that all the deeds performed by his father was done with one sole purpose and desire- the desire for Vaikuntha. The father used to begin his day following the typical hindu rituals of having a dip in the river Chitrotpola, offering consecrated water to the rising sun, followed by the reading the Gita and chanting the prayers. The poet says that right from his childhood he had been seeing and hearing his father do all this.
Whenever father would leave home, he would never step out without taking the name of Durga-Madhav. All through the day, even when he used to help in the mundane household chores he used to call to his mind the face of Gods. The picture of the face of the gods used to bring happiness in his mind just as the stars twinkling in the darkened sky ora child’s smile. The poet’s father being a school teacher might have seen the Trinity- Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara glowing in three circles on the children’s slates. The poet feels that his father was a very devout and sensitive person. He must have found the worldly life mundane and deceptive. When the anxiety, burden and difficulties of the family became unbearable and painful; the poets father might have decided to leave this world and swim across to his dream world somewhere in the clouds- Vaikuntha
The poet’s mind is now caught in a dilemma. He asks himself as to why his father preferred Vaikuntha to this earthly world. Was it because he had etched an absolutely divine and beautiful picture of Vaikuntha, where the rivers are filled with blessings of endless raindrops descending from the sky, a temple in the dense grove of beautiful flowers and the temple bell chiming endlessly. Or was death a means of escape from this world that is battered by disease and pain or was it his deep love for the Gods. The poet finds it very difficult to rationalize and come to an understanding as to why his believed that Vaikuntha is the ultimate escape from the harsh realities of life.
To a loving son, the gods take on the image of his father; and now that his father had died he had to hand him over into the hands of the god of fire. The loss of father has created emptiness in the poet’ life. He still thinks of his father and wonders whether his father has really reached Vaikuntha, the world that earnestly desired while he was alive. The poet is not able to find an answer to these questions. He feels that only the Gods will be able know. The poet expresses his skepticism by calling the gods ‘deceitful’ as he feels that they have deceitfully lured his father away from the poet and his family giving the promise of Vaikuntha; but without a complete assurance.