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Unraveling Odisha

Book Review by Bijaya Kumar Mohanty

Title: No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha

Author: Bhaskar Parichha

In No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha, Bhaskar Parichha brings together some of his earlier published essays, primarily written for The Political and Business Daily and other newspapers. The well-known journalist and author begins with a preface in which he quotes Oscar Wilde: “Journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.” I would rather begin by inserting a slight modification to Wilde’s quotation, ‘Journalism is certainly readable and literature is not widely read’. I have inserted this modification, keeping Philip L. Graham’s quote in mind. He states: “Journalism is the first rough draft of history”.

Parichcha’s book ably presents the author’s long bilingual career in the field of journalism. He primarily writes in Odia and English. The wide variety of essays in the book is intended to create a yearning to know more on the subject. This book would attract all those who are interested in a brief understanding of modern Odisha in general and post-millennial political narratives in particular. It fills a void in the field of political economy of contemporary Odisha.

The book is divided into four parts: ‘Portraits’, ‘Politics and Beyond’, ‘Conflict Zone’ and ‘Odds and Ends’. And concludes with a postscript on “what to expect from Naveen Patnaik’s fifth term as Odisha Chief Minister”.

‘Portraits’ consists of six essays. It starts with Madhusudan das aka Madhubabu, the architect of modern Odisha as ‘the global Indian’.  In Odisha, when children are first introduced to the world of education, they get to learn a widely popular Odia rhyme:

Patha Padhibi, Okila Hebi,

Kalia Ghoda re Chadhibi,

Madhu Babu sange Ladhibi…

A rough translation of the popular memory is: ‘I will study with all the commitment, will achieve all the success and will fight for the nation like Madhubabu’. Madhubabu was one of the earlier institutional builders in the context of colonial inter-region specific cultural and economic conflicts. As rightly concluded by the author, Madhubabu “had a practical sense of realism and fought fearlessly against the ‘mental’ darkness of early twentieth century Odisha”. 

The other five essays are on the maverick Biju Patnaik; the legendary Harish Chandra Bakshipatra; the arrival of astute Naveen Patniak along with two cultural icons of post-colonial Odisha, Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi and the noted film scholar/maker Nirad Mohapatra and his world of Maya Miriga.

This section concluded with Nirad Mohaptra’s Maya Miriga (The Mirage). This was one of the few new wave regional films ever produced in India, as observed by C.S. Venkiteswaran, the noted Kerala based film critic, academic, documentary film-maker, who contended: “There are two kinds of film-makers — those who create an oeuvre of their own and leave a personal imprint on their field, and those who not only want to explore the medium and create a body of work, but also want to communicate and connect with society of their time”. Nirad Mohapatra belonged to the latter kind, by quoting Mohapatra’s words, the author argues that “the making of Maya Miriga was an exciting experience of improvisation within the broad framework of a written story”.

The beauty of Maya Miriga lay in shooting almost the entire film in a single house, which was renovated beforehand by the filmmaker to portray the characters as realistically as possible. To Parichha, Nirad Mohapatra’s kind of cinema truly “sought after truth, didn’t obey convention, and certainly didn’t become subservient to common notions of what was good and palatable”.

The second part, is called ‘Politics and Beyond’. This part accommodates sixteen essays written on issues related to the rise of BJD ( Biju Janata Dal). The strength of these essays revolves around the BJD’s immediate rivalry with parties in context of everyday governance and its electoral prospects in the state.

The third part of the book has some exciting pieces on the issues titled under the sub-section name: ‘Conflict Zone’. Essays written in the context of ‘Polavaram Tangle’ and ‘Make in Odisha Conclave 2016’ are impressive. These have comparative analysis with neighbouring states, like Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, or with richer states, like Gujarat, for attracting foreign direct investments. They even address issues of rehabilitating displaced people as a result of Andhra Pradesh’s unilateral actions with regard to Polavaram Project.

Finally, the last part of the book, has 16 essays titled ‘Odds and Ends’. This section hosts governance issues that range from chit fund scams to a news item on the terror attack in the state capital, Puri; safety issues in the world of Odisha’s industrial corridors; the big confusion around the so-called – India’s single-largest foreign direct investment by the POSCO (Korea) and the aftermath issues of Phailin (a book on Odisha without touching the issues of natural disasters is indeed an incomplete one).

 In ‘Is Odisha a litigant State’, Parichha justifiably contends: “It is high time the Odisha government comes up with a litigation policy on the lines of the Haryana government in order to bring about a visible, qualitative and quantitative improvement in the manner in which litigations are pursued and managed by the state.” ‘How healthy is Odisha?’ brings out the dismal state of public health care as well as private health sector. He urges for an increase in the outlay for public health expenditure from the annual budget.

In ‘Baina, Itishree and Nirbhayas’, Parichha highlights the issues of widespread domestic violence, discrimination against women at the workplace etc. Towards end of the essay, he mentions the introduction of Gender Inequality index (GII) in 2010 as a result of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) report. The quality of having such an index, according to the author, can be put to use by the public sectors to address the existing anomalies of “poor distribution of resources and opportunities amongst male and female”. He rightly says, “Acknowledging the presence of a problem will lead to solutions sooner or later”.

Parichha’s book is an open ended one. The author’s wide array of interest on the issues related to Odisha would be of interest to both lay persons and researchers.

 

Mr. Bijaya Kumar Mohanty, teaches Development Process and Social Movements. He is an Assistant Professor in Political Science, Ramjas College, University of Delhi. Email Id: bijaya@ramjas.du.ac.in

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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