Nationality: Indian. Born: Cuttack, Orissa, 16 January 1951. Education: Christ College, Cuttack, 1965–66; Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, 1966–71, B.A. (honors) in English 1969, M.A. 1971; Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, D.Litt. 1991. Family: Married Minakshi Rath in 1976; two sons. Career: Lecturer in English, Regional College of Education, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, 1972–74, Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, Orissa, 1974–81, and BJB College, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, 1981–85; senior lecturer in English, Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, Orissa, 1985–92. Since 1992 reader in English, SCS College, Puri, Orissa. Awards: Orbis Readers' award, 1985, 1989. Agent: Gerald Pollinger, Laurence Pollinger Ltd., 18 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London W1R OEU, England. Address: College Square, Cuttack 753003, Orissa, India.
Guide to the Temple. New Delhi, Indus Publishing Company, 1988.
A Wound Elsewhere. New Delhi, Rupa/Harper Collins, 1992.
Lines from a Legend. Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Books, 1993.
Painting the House. New Delhi, Orient Longman, 1999.
D.H. Lawrence: Modes of Fictional Style. Troy, New York, Whitston, 1989.
Indian Philosophy and Religion: A Reader's Guide, with Minakshi Padhi. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London, England, McFarland and Co., 1990.
Translator, A Morning of Rain and Other Poems: Selected Poems of Sitakant Mahapatra. New Delhi, Vikas, 1992.*
Critical Study: By Elgin W. Mellown, in D.H. Lawrence Review, 22(3), fall 1990.
Bibhu Padhi comments:
I think I wrote my first poem in 1968, when I was an undergraduate at Ravenshaw College. Like all first poems, it was a love poem. The literary inspiration came from the Elizabethan sonneteers, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings! I wrote my first "serious" poem in 1975, "From the Extra Medical Ward." The theme was death and how it affected my youngish vision of the world. Other themes have followed—personal relationships, ancestral friendships, my own cultural identity, birds, beasts, the feeling of depression, isolation and poverty in the midst of having almost everything … materially speaking.
I have been influenced by all the poets I have loved and admired. The senior Indian poet, Jayanta Mahapatra, then Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, William Stafford, James Merrill, Raymond Carver, Cesare Pavese, Quasimodo, Ungaretti, Seferis, Lorca, Rilke, Popa Neruda (and several other European and Latin American poets), and the Oriya poet Bhima Bhoi. I love poetry that is not deliberately "difficult" and has something to say. And by that I do not mean anything "moral"; what I have in mind is not something that is merely "intelligent." I hate intelligent poetry—the poetry that is purely cerebral. For me poetry must come from the heart—yes, I mean it; otherwise, you are only hastening the death of poetry. As such, the printed word is something fast dying, so why hasten that process? I think nearly 90 percent of what is being written and published today in the name of poetry comes nowhere near my idea of a good/great poem—its honesty, its overall lyrical appeal, its disarming simplicity.
Personally, I do not sit down every day to write something. I just wait for the first line to appear and stay in me for at least a day before I sit down to begin and end a poem. Normally I do not leave a poem half-finished, but then if I do, I soon return to it. And I do not believe in too much revision. I think the poem comes in its near complete form—that is, if the medium, the poet, is sincere. Poetry is not playing with words. I let the words play on me once they have "chosen" me to be their instrument. I just try to clean myself from time to time. There have been quite a few lean periods in my career. No regrets for these whatsoever.* * *
In Bibhu Padhi's India little happens, and what does happen takes place slowly. Padhi occasionally admits that the main road in Cuttack is noisily crowded with cars, but otherwise he shuts out modern phenomena except, as with power failures, to indicate the unchanging, hopeless nature of his life and of that of the community. What might have been the subject matter for a novel—"Our small town has been filled with / rural migrants in search of small jobs"—is rapidly passed over for a litany of "rheumatism and migraine. / The cycle starts all over again."
Jayanta Mahapatra has also created a poetry of boredom about Orissa state, one in which he is an outsider watching the world of believers with their customs and rituals. In Mahapatra's poetry the nationalists' eternal India becomes highly localized, and it is seen through the eyes of a misplaced modern who wishes that he were one of the faithful but who instead writes poems about the difficulty of expressing perceptions and yearnings. Padhi, however, is not Mahapatra, and the Mahapatra-style lyrics of waiting and watching are not his strength. Padhi is not an outsider; he is a Brahman, an insider.
But Padhi has learned from Mahapatra how to make a poetry of waiting, of silence, of monotony, of place: "It is raining in Cuttack once again. / The rain that arrives so gently / that it can scarcely be heard." Padhi's is a poetry of the interior life, in which little is said, there is little communication between people, and much of what is felt is barely articulated, as it is somehow beyond the reach of the words that are being used to locate and define it: "Words are sometimes faintly heard, / or just remembered from a distant year / when I was small. Modest words." This is a highly subjective poetry, stripped of the pleasures of lyricism: "I write this line / I could've written another line." The manner, voice, and tone and the treatment of the subject are flat, uncolored. In Padhi's verse English is used without much change in stress or pitch, while accents fall regularly in equal time: "I could've kept my line / invisible, secret … I admit though that such lines / do appear on the page, but only when / / I am not writing, or only planning / to remember the missing line."
In Padhi's world life drones on from day to day. This can be as bad a fate as the chaos and fears of urbanization. In the title poem of A Wound Elsewhere, a poem with more flare-ups of excitement than most, he addresses himself as if he were another, someone who could not understand what he feels:
Not here, not here, not this, not here.
It is one of so many things that
you've failed to locate this year.
You face questions about your
declining health, from anxious lips;
the answers remain ordinary, familiar.
Not this, not here, not this, not here.
The manner is distinctive, with its contrast between the poetic (the end rhymes, the old-fashioned diction of "anxious lips," and the repetitions) and the flat clichés ("one of so many things," "failed to locate," "declining health"). There are similar contrasts between the specificity of what is denied as the subject of the poem and the vagueness of what is: "It isn't the migraine that you get … nor the wish to lie / in bed, face in the pillow … It isn't because …" The poem concludes with a triumphal hopelessness: "No one knows, no one need know. / It is always some other place— / the hurt stealing into the night from there."
If Padhi's poems can at times appear to be a parody of his manner, so can those of any poet with a strong characteristic style and a body of work that often, and sometimes foolishly, repeats itself: "No one comes, and you celebrate / the loss of a day, every following / day, with a mere look on your face." A friend tells him, "You who live in Cuttack / will never see the world. Even if you leave / for another town or choose a wife from another place." Someone from Cuttack will return to the crowds, filth, flies, and mosquitoes. Padhi does not reply, but he thinks,
...I've been here since the time
I was born a good thirty-five years ago,
in this town encircled by three rivers
and with the superstitious clouds
of my town's forefathers
still hanging about my eyes in a loving stupor.
A Wound Elsewhere and Lines from a Legend reveal a small, narrow society of close yet often strained and impoverished relationships that is almost novelistic. It is a provincial society in which the annual rise of the river, another power failure, or the coming of the rainy season is an event. A father dies, is remembered, becomes almost a ghost haunting the poet. There are memories of Padhi's grandmother, a child is born, and there are Brahman rituals. Padhi feels that he seldom speaks with his wife the way he did in the past; a friend's son moves away. He wonders why he continues to live in his father's house; he then has another house built, and they move in. Padhi and Mahapatra grow apart as Mahapatra retreats into some mood, and Padhi recalls a time when they could speak without being falsely polite. It is this society of births, deaths, anniversaries, illness, misunderstandings, wounded friendships, and the children of friends, all within the small world of Orissa, that eventually emerges from Padhi's poems and that makes his poetic world different than Mahapatra's.
Padhi has created poetry about the provinces, the places where there are no single career women and from which one's best friends and their children depart for higher education and better jobs elsewhere. It is a lower-middle-class perspective of those who stay at home and teach at the local college and for whom nothing changes, or changes slowly, while others move on to the problems of life in the big cities or abroad. As with any poet, there are the hours of waiting for the poem to come, but here the waiting for inspiration and a subject becomes analogous to life itself.