Ratnottama Sengupta translates Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Bijoya Doushami(the last day of the festival of Durga Puja when the Goddess is supposed to return to her own home from her visit to her parents). This poem is a lament of Durga’s mother, who addresses her daughter as ‘Sati’ in the poem.
Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873) was a poet and dramatist who was a prominent precursor to Rabindranath Tagore. In his youth, he converted to Christianity (1843) and wrote in English and later turned to writing in Bengali. A product of Western education and the Bengal renaissance, he challenged the traditional literary systems and with his multilingual knowledge in several Indian and European languages including Bengali, Tamil, Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. MeghnadbadhKavya (1861) was his most important composition, an epic on the Ramayana theme and a tribute to Milton’s Paradise Lost. His repertoire includes Sarmistha (1858), based on an episode of the ancient Mahabharta, Brajangana (1861), a cycle of lyrics on the Radha- Krishna theme; and Birangana (1862), a set of 21 epistolary poems on the model of Ovid’s Heroides and much more.
“Do not, O Night sky! leave
tonight, with your lot of stars --
Once you go, Blissful Night!
So will my Heartbeat!
Once Merciless Sun is up
in the East,
The apple of my eye will lose her shine!
“Full twelve months Sati shed tears
before Uma came home. What a balm!
In mere three days, tell me
can one have a fill
The golden glow of brass lamps
has driven afar darkness
within and without.
Words, the sweetest of creation!
have circled my ears.
“Darkness twice as thick, I know
will engulf this homestead
once you blow out this lamp...”
Entreated Sachi, the Queen of Girish,
at the close of the Ninth Night...
Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
“The 19th century Oriya novelist Fakir Mohan Senapati was a most oblique writer — he hardly said or meant anything in a straightforward manner. Much of his work is ironical and satirical, and of course irony and satire work through indirection, by way of the meaningful glance rather than the plainspoken word. Yet irony, while aiming to surprise, can sometimes be applied too predictably, and then it becomes as unsubtle as the more homespun narrative mode it disdains. Thankfully, this is not the case with Senapati: he worked with a very light and delicate hand.“
Father of modern Odia literature, Fakir Mohan Senapati’s birth anniversary is around the festival of Makar Sankranti (mid-January) every year. There are a bevy of festivals by various names celebrated across India during this period.
As a novelist, short story writer, poet, philosopher, social reformer and forerunner of Odia nationalism, Senapati (1843-1918) played a foremost role in establishing the distinct Odia identity. But for his sweat over a lifetime, Odia — which is today India’s sixth Classical language — wouldn’t have survived the onslaught by adjoining vernaculars. The life of Fakir Mohan is undeniably the story of the “resurgence” in Odia literature. He protected the Odia language from near extinction.
Mallikashpur village of Balasore district neighbouring West Bengal is where Senapati began his formal education — when he was nine years old. Since he could not pay for his tutoring, he is said to have even worked at his teacher’s house to pay the fee. Balasore’s Mission School was his Alma Mater, and he went to become a teacher where he served until 1871. Still later, he rose to become the headteacher. Around this time, he started teaching Odia to the Balasore Collector John Beames.
Fakir Mohan learnt English all by himself with the help of a dictionary. He readto read several famous classics — Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, the English Bible, and Bengal Peasant Life by Lal Behari De — he started learning English at twenty-three. Fakir Mohan’s instinctive wisdom was recognised even by foreigners.
The early life of Fakir Mohan was one of courage and dexterity. His accomplishments were amazing. A multi-tasker, Fakir Mohan, even worked as a labourer in a port. He ventured into the wood and paper business having worked in a press only to become an editor. Besides being a teacher, Fakir Mohan became a dewan of Athagarh and later of Tekkali in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.
In the second phase of his life, Fakir Mohan worked as administrator in the princely states of Nilgiri, Dampada, Dhenkanal, Daspalla, Pallahara and Keonjhar. As a manager, Fakir Mohan was very efficient and successful. During Keonjhar Praja Meli (people’s agitation against the feudal lord), he escaped cleverly writing a symbolic letter to the king.
Mayadhar Mansingh, another celebrated, Odia called Fakir Mohan the ‘Thomas Hardy of Odisha’. He had the ability and expertise in whatever arena he laid his hand on. These prodigious abilities were reflected in his later-day writings as well. Although Senapati translated from Sanskrit, wrote poetry, and tried numerous forms of literature, he is known primarily as the father of modern Odia fiction. His four novels, written between 1897 and 1915, mirror the socio-cultural conditions of Odisha during the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries.
The time in which Fakir Mohan lived was the darkest period in the history of modern Odisha. The infamous ‘Naanka’ Famine of 1866 — which one third of the region’s population — hurt the economic and social condition of Odisha beyond recovery. The deprivation during this period has been documented in many of his stories and novels. In course of time, he emerged as a novelist of rare caliber not only in Odia but also in a pan-Indian setting.
Senapati’s Rebati (1898) – recently translated into thirty-six Indian and foreign languages — is widely recognised as the first Odia short story. It is the tale of a young innocent girl ‘Rebati’ whose desire for education in the context of a backward conservative society went beyond the ordinary. The village where the protagonist lived was hit by the killer epidemic, cholera. Rebati’s grandmother – the last survivor — believed that it was the craving for education that brought misfortune to the family. In fact, ‘Rebati’ was one of the earliest stories in the realm of world pandemic literature.
‘Randipua Ananta’is a story of a very notorious, errant youth who in the end transforms himself. While the flood water entered the village through a hole of the river-embankment, Ananta pulled the wooden door of his house and covered the hole standing as the supporting pillar and asked villagers to pile soil onto it. Gradually, his body heaped-up up and at last he was buried. Ananta dedicated his life to the welfare of the village and was a rare character in the Odia short story genre.
‘Dak Munshi‘(The PostMaster), ‘Sabhya Zamindar‘ (The Educated Feudal Lord), ‘Patent Medicine’, ‘Adharma Bitta‘ (The Ill-gotten Money) are the other famous stories for which Senapati is known far and wide. But, it is the three novels — Chha Mana Atha Guntha (Six and a third Acres,1902), Mamu (Maternal Uncle, 1913)and Prayaschita (Penance, 1915) — which have made Senapati immortal because they explored the realities of community life in its manifold dimensions.
Chha Mana Atha Guntha is the first Indian novel to deal with the exploitation of landless peasantry by the feudal system. The importance of this novel is that it was written much before the October revolution and even before the emergence of Marxist ideas in India. Set in Orissa in the 1830s, it is about village politics, caste oppression, social malpractices, and land-grabbing under the zamindari system in colonial Odisha. Both a literary work and a historical document this novel provided a unique ‘view from below’ of Indian village life under colonial rule. Ten years after this novel came Mamu.
Prayaschita was the last of Fakir Mohan Senapati’s ‘trilogy of crime and justice’ novels — to use the epithet coined by the eminent Senapati scholar John Boulton. It was published just three years before the death of Fakir Mohan. The novel is unique because it sheds light on Senapati’s increasingly dark and tragic perception of colonialism. The novel was a defender of the traditional values and the Hindu way of life which the writer saw was gravely threatened by an alien value system of the British which had made huge inroads into Indian society.
Lachhama is another novel by Senapati dealing with the anarchic conditions of Odisha in the wake of Maratha invasions during the eighteenth century. It narrates the historical romance of Rajput lady Lachhama and her husband Badal Singh, in the backdrop of the political disturbances between the Mughals and Marathas to gain supremacy in Odisha. The story is set in a period of early advent of the British in India during which Nawab Alivardi Khan was Governor of Bengal. The depiction of love, honor, courage and revenge of the woman protagonist Lachamma is significant.
Fakir Mohan also wrote the first-ever autobiography in Odia – Atma Jeevan Charita. It gives a socio-cultural account of Odisha along with the novelist’s own life spanning over half a century and makes for prodigious reading.
Senapati wrote a long poem, Utkal Bhramanam, in 1892. Literally meaning Tour of Odisha, this poem is not a travelogue but a commentary on the state of affairs of that time, written satirically. He has also translated the Mahabharata, the Gita, the Ramayana and Boudhavatar Kavya into simple Odia verse.
Fakir Mohan’s innovative technique, ineradicable characters, humour, imaginativeness, and the insights into the rural milieu had few parallels. His contribution to Odia language and its revival was immense.
Senapati was a great genius, a versatile personality and an ardent literary artist who breathed his last on June 14, 1918, when Odisha hadn’t become a separate province for which Senapati fought relentlessly. He is unsurpassed and commands great respect among the authors. In the words of Dr. J.V. Boulton, Fakir Mohan is the Gorky of Odisha. The Dhammapada estate conferred on him the enviable title Saraswati. He was also endowed with the title of Katha Samrat (Emperor of Fiction) and is rightly called Vyasakavi.
His fiction and short stories reflected the theme of social realism, societal reform, and preservation of cultural values. Fakir Mohan dedicated his whole life to the development of the native language in the late 19th and changed the course of Odia literature.
Fakir Mohan is to Odia what Prem Chand is to Hindi and Rabindranath Tagore is to Bengali literature.
Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of Unbiased, No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
A riot of colours starts the day
with happiness, vibrancy and hope,
dispelling the winter of discontent
with whispers of new lores…
Devi (The Goddess) is a 1960 Satyajit Ray film, based on a story by a writer called Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, that showcases nineteenth century India, where the silence of a young girl who is deified, wreaks havoc in her home, village and life. In an interview, Satyajit Ray contended that the film was to make people rethink ‘messiahdom’. The exact words he used to state this was that the film was against ‘religious dogmatism’ as the film and story literally dealt with the deification of a young bride. Tagore had similarly questioned blind deification in a number of his poems and plays. These (as Ray spelt out in his interview) did not address religion per se but malpractices, among them, the tendency to worship an idol to a point where flaws are justified, accepted and emulated. Satyajit Ray and Tagore were both Brahmos — which can be seen as a reform movement. These two were not criticising religion but talking of rising above gawky hero worship to think logically and arrive at logical conclusions. When we talk of characters from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, other mythologies or substitute the adulated with stars, writers, politicians and businessmen who run huge concerns, we tend to idolise them. But these were and are all characters with flaws, whether fictitious or real. We can well learn from their mistakes, rather than deify and worship them to justify bad behaviour by quoting instances from lives of past legends or prominent persons in the current world.
Akbar Barakzai, a poet exiled from Balochistan, talks in a similar vein in his interview. You can see it in his poetry too — some of which can be found translated by Fazal Baloch in our pages. Barakzai talks of transcending barriers we draw for ourselves in the real world, of writing with honesty and sincerity. He has shared vignettes of his life as he changed countries to continue his work. Baloch has also brought to us another excellent poet in translation, Munir Momin. A major poem by Nazrul (the ‘bidrohi kobi’), ‘Bidrohi or Rebel’ has wound its way to our pages translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. We are honoured and grateful that Prof Alam chose to share this excellent translation with us. We have more translations: Jibonananda’s ‘Motorcar’(1934) by Rakibul Hasan Khan, a Korean translation by Ihlwha Choi, another short story from Nepal and Tagore’s powerful poem, ‘Morichika or Mirage’, which is a wake-up call for the inert affluent who hold themselves aloof from common masses. We have also interviewed a major prose translator of Tagore, Professor Somdatta Mandal. With much to share on Santiniketan, Nabanita Deb Sen and many interesting anecdotes, Mandal talks of her extensive work with her translations spanning many more writers from the past.
We have a colourful ensemble this time almost as vibrant as the autumnal colours that have invaded nature in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Michael R Burch has given us beautiful poems on autumn, including the autumn of life. We have a poem in a similar vein by George Freek whose work continues influenced by Liu Yong (1719-1805), an influential minister and calligrapher in the Qing Dynasty. Ryan Quinn Flanagan touches on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in his poetry. Rhys Hughes has given us humour in both his poetry and his column. Our other humorist, Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us darker, more caustic black humour in his narrative. We have lovely photographs from Penny Wilkes with her verses in Nature’s Musings. It is amazing the way she photographs birds in flight. Stories from Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and America add to the richness of our oeuvre. Sunil Sharma has given us an avant-garde telling of Odysseus’s voyage in the modern world, transcending the borders of time and ethnicity.
A well-known senior journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta, has also travelled through time to give us a recall of her experience at the 35th Cairo Film Festival one November, nine years ago. Her narrative about the time that the Shariat law was adopted by Egypt reminds me of the way things moved in Afghanistan few months ago and what is even more stunning is the way in which organisations dubbed extremists earlier are allowed to run countries now. Is it really not yet time to get rid of messiahs and look for one world?
Do pause by and find many more authors who dot our November edition. As usual, naming each one will keep you away from our delectable reads for longer. We thank all our readers for their continued patronage, and I would like to thank my fabulous team who are now even providing visuals to brighten our pages. A huge thanks to Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious, who write as well as they paint. Thanks to all our wonderful contributors for making Borderless a reality.