July 23, 2023

Paragon of Odia's self - Respect : Fakir Mohan Senapati

 Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843 - 1918) made his entry into the literary scenario of Odisha when the province was reeling under the humiliation of an identity crisis. The administrative structure of Odisha was such that the land was disintegrated and was reduced to the three districts of Cuttack, Puri and Balasore. The Odia speaking tracts were scattered over the Bengal Presidency, the Madras Presidency and the Central Presidency. Owing to this peculiar administrative structure and the establishment of the Calcutta University the Bengalis were able to avail better educational opportunities and got posted as top rank officials in Odisha. The Odia people were harshly relegated to the background. Taking advantage of their privileged position a section of Bengalis tried and nearly succeeded in convincing the colonial rulers that Odia was not a separate language but a 'corrupt' version of Bengali. Consequently ,Odia was withdrawn from the educational institutions and Bengali was introduced in its place.

The Conspiracy of the Bengalis to replace Odia with Bengali in the educational institutions was evident from the remark made by the Bengali scholar Rajendralal Mitra in the Utkala Dipika of 13 March, 1869. Mitra wrote that whoever was a well-wisher of Utkala would try to substitute the language of Utkala with Bengali because as long as the Odia language was not abolished the development of Utkala was not possible.

There was sharp reaction among the intelligentsia and the cultural leaders of Odisha like Gouri Shankar Ray and Madhusudan Das, Maharaja Sri Ramachandra BhanjaDeo against this absurd and arbitrary decision of authorities. Soon it got wider and more intense and resulted in the language movement in the late sixties. With the appearance of the dynamic Fakir Mohan in the scene, the movement acquired a new and larger dimension of the socio - political sub - nationalist movement. He along with Gouri Shankar and others , spearheaded a courageous venture to regain the Odia race its identity. Fakir Mohan hence, besides being hailed as an iconic figure in Odia literature is looked upon as a grand patriarch of the Odia movement. He is appropriately called as the epoch maker who struggled dedicatedly to haul Odia language out of the abyss of ignominy. He had harbingered a new era in Odia literature through a redefining of the socio- cultural status of Odisha in the perspective of a linguistic regionalism.

A versatile literary genius Fakir Mohan tried his hand in almost all forms of writing , novel, short story essay, biography and poetry. He writes with a bold conviction and a genuineness that they flawlessly mirrors the virtues and vices of  the individuals and the society. The spontaneity of expression that displays a fine blending of witty yet blunt sarcasm and fluid humor makes his writings irresistible to the readers. His long poem Utkal Bhramanam , is the first specimen of travel writing in Odia. It is a unique piece of literary work because it is not a travelogue in the actual sense of the term.

 It does not recount the details of the poet's physical tour through Odisha/Utkal or the experiences of meeting the eminent people during a real visit to the places they lived in. It may appear unbelievable, but it is true that a large part of the text was written while he was riding an elephant during an official journey from Keonjhar to Ananadpur. Dr. Mayadhar Mansingh describes Utkala Bhramanam as the first 'original poem' of Fakir Mohan. According to Dr. Mansingh this long poem is not a travel book in reality but an unusually unorthodox and humorous survey of the contemporary personalities of Odisha. It is rather a literary journey across Odisha that happens in the poet's thought, but the places and people mentioned here are very much real and not the product of the poet's imagination.   

Utkala Bhramanam is a multilayered text that could be read as a satire, a historical account of the great achievers of Odisha, a biography, and a fun-exciting parody at the same time. It could also be read as a document that catalogues the names of important persons who made significant contribution to the retrieval and reshaping of the Odia identity that was facing a big risk of going out of existence. Fakir Mohan critics observe that the poem records the details of Senapati's hard struggle to connect the dismembered parts of Odisha through an imagined journey in its cultural space. This deceptively simple text actually has manifold contours of narrative ingeniousness that demands a serious and in- depth study. 

It begins with an invocation of Goddess Sharala ,the goddess who is believed be the inspirer of creativity.It was a traditional practice of poets to invoke the mercy and blessings  of gods or goddesses before starting to write. But Fakir Mohan's invocation has a distinctive quality about it because here instead of following the traditional pattern of invocation he ridicules the practice making it sound shallow and funny.  

A popular saying goes in the village

That some fellows have the habit

Of buying abuses;

I may be one such fellow

But I cannot help it,

That is the way you have made me O' Goddess

To buy censor is my happy habit;

This is followed by the poet's proud proclamation that his mother land Utkal is the holiest and loveliest place in Bharata/India. He sings of the spiritual glory of this sacred patch of land:

A sacred patch of land is Utkala

In this country Bharata

Virtuous people dwell here,

To catch a glimpse of the holy place

Pilgrims flock in from far and near;

Shortly after that he grieves 

Shortly after that he grieves the disintegration of Odisha :

But alas! The land is now disembarked

Its opulence is lost in oblivion

Its South the Kamma's and its north the Bengalis

Have grabbed as their own

He expresses his deep concern at the way the non-Odia provinces used to exploit the Odia people and reap the benefits of their hard work. 

The Marwaris, the Bhojpuris and  and the Gujaratis

Have monopolized

Odisha's commerce and trade,

The Odia people toil and till farmlands

The Gujaratis reap the benefits instead;

He is upset with the fact that men in all the offices are foreigners and even the clerk in a post office is not a native of Odisha. He refers to the permanent settlements which would take away whatever power the zamindars of Odisha enjoyed.

Judges and lawyers, all are foreigners

The clerk in the post office too

Is a man from the foreign land,

After the next settlement

The zamindars will see

Power going out of their hands;

He, at this point, seems to reconcile to the fact that the Odia race is destined to be humiliated by the non-Odias and the British. He decides, hence, instead of elaborating upon the pathetic plight of the Odias, to move on to write about the important figures of Odisha and their noteworthy achievements. He is vociferous about the noble services rendered by eminent characters like Madhusudana Das (Barrister of Law and the founder president of Utkal Sammilani), Pundit Gopabandhu Das(Founder of the Satyavadi open air school and the founder editor of the Odia daily Samaj) Swabhaba Kabi Gangadhar Mehar, Palli Kabi Nanda kishore Bal, novelist and playwright Ramshankar Roy, Nilamani Vidyaratnam (Writer, editor of Sambalpur Hitaishini) Maharaja Sudhal Dev (King of Bamanda) and many others.

He is never discriminating in acknowledging the contribution made by people for reconstructing the Odia identity and doesn't nourish a blind prejudice against non-Odias. The poem voices his frank admiration for people like Ram shankar Ray, Radhakant Ray, Gourishankar Ray, Narendra kumar Sarkar, Jogesh Chandra Ray (All of Bengali Origin), Jagannath Rao and Madhusudan Rao (of Maratha origin) and also a number of British administrators. Interestingly, Senapti not only writes about the 'mahajana' or the important individuals, but has equal regards for the ordinary and commonplace. People like Parvati Ma of Jajpur, Gandharva Tripathy, and Maguni Mishra the village physicians, all are given due importance in the poem. As has been said earlier the poet does not actually make tour through Odisha to gather the experiences but lives them  mostly in his thoughts. Instances are many where the poet seems to be drawing upon random memories of meeting or reading about people in a not -too-distant past and we see at this point his humorous sarcasm is tinted with a kind of nostalgia..

Often I see alone and reminisce

The occasions of my visit to Sambalpur

Oh! How those day I miss

How I wish to race off to the place

And lodge in the large building of Mishra

Where during my visits to Sambalpur 

I used to stay..

Oh! those were such beautiful days;

In the cold winter dawns we sipped

The steaming Lipton tea,

There were sweets and snacks to go with that

Unforgettable hospitality;

 There are also occasions where Fakir Mohan picks out names and incidents from his memory to deride people like Haridasa who adopt fraudulent means to get themselves appointed in government jobs.

Wait a minute, I remember now

Haridasa of Balasore

His name also needs mentioning

He got himself appointed

 In the second post of a teacher

Adopting unfair means;

The poem, therefore, is not only a homage to the great individuals but also a satire on the dishonest local people. It also lashes at the English educated youth who make themselves ludicrous by mindlessly copying the English manners.

The conduct of these learned baboos

Brings a thought to my mind,

What Darwin said during his visit to this country

Was not absurd or unkind;

The demeanour of these funny men

Had made himrightly guess,

That the so called learned baboos are

Possibly the descendants of the apes;

No less bitter is his assail on the greedy servitors, or the so called Pandas of the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri.

The Pandas here are too kind on the 

Devotees and the pilgrims

They could provide them a passport to heaven

By giving them a small pot

Of the Lord's food offerings;

In his introduction to the critique Vyasakavi  Fakir Mohan , prof. Natabara Samantray had pointed out that besides the first two segments of the poem, Pahila Gasta (The First Tour) published in March 1892 and Doosara Gasta (The Second Tour) published in July 1892, there is a third section, an extended version of the two, which was published in 1916. There were advertisements in the newspapers about this. Without mentioning the name of the poet Professor Samantray quotes from a poem by him that confirms the publication of this third edition:

O' learned men

Kindly take a look at this advertisement

The third edition of Utkal Bhramanam

Has come out, of late;

With a hard bound cover

And an attractive look

At the Utkal Sahitya Press for four annas only

You can get the book;

This translated version of Utkal Bhramanam has compiled all the three parts to present an English version of the complete text.

Translating a Odia text in English is as such challenging and is likely to pose a number of problems before the translator. In case of a text like Fakir Mohan's Utkal Bhramanam,which is mentioned earlier as a deceptively simple poem that reveals many contours of narrative innovativeness, the challenge is multiplied several times. Written in local vocabulary, the poem is generously sprinkled with different non-Odia words and phrasal words picked from Telugu, Bengali, Urdu, Bhojpuri and even English. The tone that is mainly satiric, is also interspersed with that of the elegiac where he mourns the loss of important figures like Pyari Acharya, Ravenshaw Saheb, Ramachandra Birabara, the ruler of Talcher, nostalgic when he sings wistfully about the good old days he spent at Sambalpur and is eulogizing when he showers praises on Poet NandaKishore Bala, Madhusudan Das, Godavarish Mishra, Gopabandhu Das, RamShankar Ray, Gouri Shankar Ray and many others for the selfless service they rendered to the cause of the Odia language. Such heterogeneity of language and the shifts in style and mood make the translator's task further tricky. But there is no denying of the fact that despite the difficulties and hurdles translating Fakir Mohan is a gripping and absorbing engagement. A positive response from the readers especially those who love Fakir Mohan literature will be rewarding enough.

--- Dr. Snehaprava Das (Bhubaneswar)