Intellectual Scenario of Odisha: Some Comments

Radhakanta Barik

Odisha had a strong traditional intelligentsia who created a plebian thinking in their creative world. Medieval literature reflects these currents. They carried the tradition left by the Buddhists where knowledge as power. Intellectual had a role to play in a society by articulating aspirations and problems of a society with a clearer language where common people could search for solution with the help of knowledge. This continued for centuries. Their creativity grew because of their openness. For instance traditional intelligentsia opened their minds to ideas from Chaitan Deva. Their interaction helped them to create a school of thinking which was an eclectic and egalitarian in nature.  They were popularly known as the panchasakha with five people who wrote profusely. Their poetic creation created a renaissance in Odiya thinking as Jagannatha Das as the leader of the team spoke of ‘individual conscience’ as sovereign. Stressing individuality and giving autonomy to an individual is the basis of western renai ssance. This happened in cities of Cuttack and Puri but spreaded to rural hinterland as known as movement for Bhagvat Tungis in the villages. This functioned as a community hall and a sacred place in a village outside the temple.  Others were allowed to listen to the poetic versions of these purans and spiritual discourses. It created a strong ethical and moral order where liquor was not accepted by anybody. Everyday life got guided by moral values of these texts. These texts were interpreted by each in its own way.  The flexibility of the textual interpretation helped individuality of each. Domination of community got further eroded.   This movement encouraged literacy movement where people started sending their children to chahali or schools.  It attempted to create an inclusive society to some extent. For instance Fakirmohan Senapati wrote in his autobiography regarding the class rooms of these schools where children belonging to all castes were allowed to study by sitting on the floor as Dalits used to sit by maintaining the gap.  Social space provided by the schools played a decisive role in reconstruction of a society. The yardstick for measuring the level of literacy got fixed in a scholastic manner. That those who could read the text by Jagannatha Das got defined as a literate person. Knowledge of reading and numeracy became the standard of literacy.

The traditional intellectuals  took the challenge thrown by the colonial rule and western education. Many of them started entering into that world of learning unknowingly. When they confronted the reality of deaths and destruction of a society by the 1866 famine they rose to the occasion and published a mouthpiece Utkal Deepika and started analyzing the problems of hunger and entitlement.  That journal provided a platform for all including the modern intellectuals to work together. This brought a new phase of renaissance as the intellectuals or artists like Fakirmohan Senapati and Ramshankar Roy and Gauri Shankar Roy all joined the progressive movement known as the Brahmo Samaj who worked for enlistment of women and abolition of untouchability.  These traditional intelligentsia got influenced by the reforms movement launched in Calcutta as they established their links through the printed words. They were encouraged by the environment of debates and discussions which sustained strong writers.  They published novels and plays which gave a foundation to modern Odiya literature. This trend got a push up by the Kar’s  Journal Utkal Sahity which functioned as a platform for progressive thinking. Here writers like Kalindi Panigrahi and Mayadhar Manasingh both published their works in this journal. This functioned as an independent platform for social regeneration and radical consciousness.  Mayadhar Mansingh wrote of Utkal Sahity in his book the History of Odiya literature that this journal dominated the literary scene for a half century. All the major writers wrote in the journal. Kar established an enlightened environment for discussing the new ideas and new literary trends.  In the last decade of the nineteenth century,  Nanda started discussing the socialist ideas in this journal.

 This movement resulted in a demand for separate cultural identity of Odisha State.  Political platforms such Utkal Sammilani and Congress Party both supported the movement for a separate state of Odisha. A group of independent and progressive thinking brought a unity of traditional intelligentsia and modern intellectuals. This unity got broken after independence as politics started dominating cultural world.  One group led by Radhanatha Rath editor of the Samaj and another group led by H K Mahtab, the editor and owner of the Prajatantra. The printed media started dominating the intellectual environment.  Intellectuals sided with one group or the other. Both started harassing independent thinking in Odisha.  Free thinking got discouraged by these two groups of people.  Around these news medias the Conservative thinking started growing but it could not crystalize into an intellectual trend.

 After the 1866 famine the construction of Taladanda- Machanga canal created a sustainable of agriculture. Those rich and high caste people invested in educating their children. As Sreeram Das's village at the end of the canal and his village Machanga which helped him to be educated. His father had land and land in the local market which used to help his family to earn an  additional income. This belt produced the first generation of educated people belonging to Brahmin- Karan castes. These people came to the Cuttack town and got education. This area located next to the sea shore popularly known as the Talghati. Their local language is ridden with vulgarity which got inherited by Das. As he could not get into civil service but tried to teach in Ravenshaw college in Economics. But his shrewdness helped him to get his Ph. D in political science. He competed with an outstanding scholar K B Rao whose book on Indian constitution is taken as a classic whereas Das's book is hardly being used. His cunning behavior could replace Rao and became Professor in Utkal university. Rao moved to BHU as Professor and continued his scholarly works. Das has written two books one is about his visit to Berlin and another about Gopabandhu Das which is published by the Samaj establishment. I used this book while I wrote my paper on Gopabandhu Das published in Social Scientist. In his book he said that Gopabandhu was born in 'Kulin Brahmin family'. His sociological imagination was being borrowed from the Northern India as there is no 'Kulin' or aristocracy in Odisha Brahmin tradition. This invention he learnt while he studied in Patna and thought to work out high caste and kulin in his sociological imagination. As Odisha caste system has no similarity with the North or Bengal he felt embarrassed regarding his position in urban landscape. His house is on the same lane of Kalindi Panigrahi who came to Cuttack town as there was no caste in the town.  As there is a popular proverb regarding the city of Cuttack that there is no caste in Cuttack and no night in Puri. Prof Das reinvented caste in the town where caste identity was not there. He used his vulgar language like Sala, while constructing the other such as Sala Karan or Sala Chasa but tragedy is this he used to use this word against the working people like Sala Telenga as the rickshaw pullers belonged to Telugu community. His vulgarity and pompous behaviour was very much supported by his students who got into civil in those days. Odisha's elite accepted him as an intellectual and dada giri style got exposed by Arun Patnaik a student leader of our times. His telephonic conversation with him is below standard but let me write here below: Arun: Sala tote mu gandhi maribi Das: Mu gandhi kholi kari padhichi .......... This was the dialogue between a student leader and Prof Das. In his book on foreign visit he claimed that he had not eaten non veg and touched a drop of liquor. But his village name Machanga stands for Macha or fish and consumption of liquor was not being done under the influence of the Chaitna Dev movement during 17th century.

Nabakrishna Chaudhir, a chief minister of Odisha left the chair to Mahtab being characterised by many as rishi Or sanyasi but odiya middle class is hypocritical to their own position. A cunning and shrewd class according to British officials who love power but lacked integrity are showing their true character by telling a timid politician and scared of drama around power as saint, a great joke of the present century. Their poor material position fearing of hard work enjoying laziness with their intelligence created a dead class whose leader was Chaudhir a joke on themselves. H K Mahtab in his autobiography Sadhanar Pathe writes that they were three friends studying together. Naba Krishna Chaudhuri and Mahapatra decided to form a study circle and built a library in Cuttack town in the early 1920s. They were part of the Congress Party. Naba babu became a socialist and Mahapatra and Mahtab became conservatives within the Congress. They turned active in the national movement which resulted in creating Odisha a separate state and the provincial Congress Party decided to nominate Chaudhuri as the Chief Minister where as the central government decided to nominate Mahtab to be the minister of commerce of the central government. There were some controversy around his ministry and he went as the governor of Bombay. While he was working as governor he used to come to Odisha and worked out his plans to over throw the cabinet headed by Chaudhuri. As he was piloting the Zamindari abolition bill. Most of the ministers resigned from the cabinet which forced Chaudhuri to resign from the chiefministership and went to his ashram in Anugul and he decided to retire from active politics. But Mahtab abandoned his friendship with him.

Mahtab had a durbar in Prajatantra office wheres scholars and politicians used to meet and discuss many issues according to Prof Mishra and Janaki Patnaik. Janaki Patnaik told me in an interview that he as the chief minister used to take care of Mahtab's needs. He used to send a vehicle and his monthly expenditure to him. He was so powerful because of his conspiracy style of functioning. He succeeded to create all Odisha students movement in 1964 and created slogans "Biju Biren jeuthi and Mada botal seithi" . This slogan made the Congress unpopular as the liquor consumption was virtually non existent. It seems that Biju Biren were close supporters of Mahtab to create ruckus against his political opponents in 1946 general election. He floated the Jan Congress and later he joined back the Congress led by Indira Gandhi with a hope he would be chief minister. On his birthday today some of his close supporters should write his biography to show his conspiratorial mind. His greed nature remained with him as the Prajatantra was a trust but clauses were framed in such a manner that his son Bratruhari Mahtab has acquired Prajatantra as private property and destroyed the paper and journal jankar. Public has right to know the legal position of Prajatantra which can satisfy the public interest of Odiya people. There was another establishment the Prajatantra headed by H K  Mahtab whose association with intellectuals and politicians made them successful. In an interview with Prof Mishra who became Professor of OUAT at young age because of this link. While conducting research on JB Patnaik , the chief minister of Odisha for three terms I could realize the importance of his association with the Prajatantra. Those who remained outside these two establishments then their life turned into hell. In an autobiography by ShivRaman the ICS , an outstanding civil servant wrote regarding fake news against him got  published in Prajatantra owned  by Mahtab. Those intellectuals who could not maintain links with these two establishments then turned into rebels. The best example is Prof Mayadhar Mansingh whose book on History of Odiya literature got published and Mahtab encouraged Rabi Singh to write a book titled Odiya Sahityar Dharsan to defame him. The same thing happened to Nandini Satpathy , the chief minister of Odisha in whose name these people brought out a book without any author's name. Intellectual and political history of Odisha remained claustrophobic which resulted in destroying powerful politicians and intellectuals I was interviewing Prof Baidyanatha Mishra, at the age of 97 and an active person told me that he was a member of the Mahtab's Durbar. He started his career as a lecturer in Ravenshaw University for some years. Because of Mahtab's blessing he became Professor in OUAT and then Professor in Utkal and became the Vice chancellor. He became the Director and Chairman of the Nabakrisna Chaudhuri Institute whose voice matters today in decision making process. He along with JB Patnaik were active members of the Durbar who campaigned against many intellectuals and politicians. They enjoyed power and glory in Odisha public life.

Political class and intellectual elite of Odisha had a close association with the Samaj establishment whose editor Radhanatha Rath was mediating between them  Rath was a political leader and became the Minister in cabinet of Odisha. Many politicians had no social base or links with their constituencies but because of links with Rath they could give press statements and could represent the assemblies. As I know some of my friends spent their life time in Cuttack or Bhubaneswar but because of their links with Rath they could get party tickets and won their seats. Another group working in Indian academics have not published articles in professional journals recognized by the experts belonging to their disciplines, became recognized intellectuals because of their association with Rath. This group was headed by Sriram Das who used to publish occasionally in the Samaj. After reading the daily Samaj he would come to the Department of Utkal University and used to give lectures by starting from the Samaj.

Prof Sreeram Das belongs to our locality, Balikuda where a strong bhaichara tradition prevails . People do not use their caste while calling anybody. They call by name not by caste like Bengalees do. From his village we used to have friends studying in Alanahat High School, a  reputed school where no teacher used to address students by any caste including his village boys even some of his relatives have used to study in the same school. I have never heard his relatives studying in our school have used caste identities while in conversation with the others. While staying with a well-known Sanskrit scholar  Gobinda Mishra from the nearby village Bhatpada where Das’s  sister got  married. Interaction with his sister have left an imprint of a non caste style of life though she belongs to a conservative Brahmin family. As a student in Ravenshaw I went to meet Prof Das where he was conversing with another teacher of mine Bhaskar Das and found shocked to hear the caste slang, "You are being opposed by the karan leaders in the syndicate" These words still reverberate in my ears. As a sociologist I understand his language by staying in Delhi. But in Odisha this is not  a part of our tradition. How a scholar like Prof Sreeram Das invented a new tradition in the light of Northern India where caste identity is a part of daily use by people here. How such a scholar became oblivious of a local bhaichara tradition where he has spent his childhood and his parents lived in that village till 1970s. He has land and house in that village. His reinvention of a new tradition in urban Odisha has failed because of Odisha is beyond his imagination.

Prof Sreeram Das lived in a big bunglow but his every day politics was managed from a small room where he used to spend most of his time. His vision was like the size of the room.  He as the Professor used to see the examination papers and  used to talk  to visitors. As he told me that he was earning of Rs 20000 per month by seeing the examination papers. There was a photograph of Satysai Baba behind his chair. Odisha elite got divided into two lines marked by these Babas one Satyasai Baba and another Ankul Bab. Their bhajans and sankritans were organised in different towns. These baba followers worked like gangs. Most of the civil servants and politicians were a part of this gang. These groups helped in grabing land and provided a network to get things done at the office level. Even the contracts were fixed by these powerful groups.  In the heart of the capital city of Odisha they acquired  public land  for constructing these temples   Prof Das's students working in different colleges and universities used to spend more time in doing puja to Satysai Baba than spending their time reading books. The day they got the job they started functioning without reading the books. Teaching got defined by them ' From my notebook to your note book without any mind." This class of teachers lived in a thoughtless zone as they did not get engaged their minds with learning and reading yes they use to teach. Lack of achievement made them maroons but Prof Das was an intelligent enough to read The Samaj and Statesman where as others did not do that. Their evening got spent with their group activities in some body's house. This darbari culture developed in Prof Das ‘s house.  His supporters came  for a darshan  they did plan to whom to sponsor for what posts or whom they want to trouble  by putting them in a network of troubles from which they could not come out. Many brilliant minds in every field could not go up in their career as they pushed out of their plots organized by these people. It can be called as Dadagiri in academic world. The best example is Prof K C Panigrahi  a renowned scholar in history he was forced to retire as a lecturer . There was a leading scholar Prof K C Mishra whose book on The Cult of Jagannath made him a known scholar but it took years to get due recognition.  

There were few as this group was a Mayadhar Mansingh with Kalindi Panigrahi was the two best writers of 1920s. Mansingh became a close friend of his brother Bhagvati Panigrahi a communist but remained as a liberal scholar. He was a self made person as he made his choice in his life time. As he was a college student his marriage was fixed by their kinship with an illiterate girl. He refused to go for an arranged marriage. Moreover he went with his friend Panigrahi to see his would be wife in Baripada as she was staying with her parents. That time she was a middle school student. She went to the high school in Cuttack town and he started writing his love letters which got published as Hemasashya. This is a major romantic work after his Dhupa. All his poems carry an urban sensibility although he belonged to the most rural hinterland. His poems on Cuttack, Sambalpur and Berhmapur are the first lot regarding cities of Odisha. These poems carry a high level of urban sensibility with images from urban society. As an intellectual stalwart got harassed by his contemporaries as Odisha had a small elite but were highly jealous of him. They saw him that he could not get his due in both academic and administrative world. That might be the reason for pushing his children to take up civil service jobs. Odisha elite overlapping with the political elite of that time specifically Mahtab who could strangulate any body with a dissident intellectual outlook. As an intellectual giant he could not live in Hindu hierarchy and changed his religion to a progressive Buddhism, it seems that a gang sent by a political leader to his residence to abuse him. His dead body was not carried by his fellow citizens. Odish intellectual environment still remains claustrophobic and any dissident can be harassed in any field. He translated one of the major plays of Shakespeare and after the seven decades the level remained at the same point. They are always small in number who could not have an academic space in  the academic map of Odisha.

 As the capital town got shifted from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar, they started moving from Cuttack  town to the capital. The capital got dominated by clerks whose life style dominated by collecting their vegetables from the market. They lived in awe of the civil servants.  They got dominated by the civil servants who used to live in big bungalow with servants paid by the state. They used to keep cows in their houses managed by these servants. For four decades they had no intellectual life as the teachers from Vanibihar used to go to their bunglows and spent time in gossips and adas. Then Bhubaneswar clubs came up for consuming liquor rather than discussion or debates over various issues. The capital town does not have library, theatre house for staging plays, they do not have painting show and music functions.

Bhubaneswar felt jealous of the artists and writers of Cuttack who used to work in the field of literature. At one time the number of literary people of the capital town  were less than the small town such as Kendrapara, Jajpur or Balesore and Sambalpur and Rourkela. Bhubaneswar grew without cultural world of their own. This gave a chance to the civil servants to monopolize the awards in the literary world including the Sahity Academy award and they used to sponsor some members of the academia. Once in an interview with Prof Mohapatra from English Department  of Sambalpur University who wrote an article on Ramakanta Rath's Sreeradha before it got published he defended it by telling " I wrote one article in English then one in Odiya". This is a shameless slavish behaviour of some of the members of academia who started as the Bhatas of these writers cum civil servants. They became a part of this group and their conspiracies against each other. Their network got extended to the villages who functioned as the tauts working against the interests of common people. They started functioning as the 'brokers' between political leaders , parties and masses. They started controlling the block headquarter where they started sharing the loot with the civil servants. Sreeram Das was the best of these people who could speak in   English and Odiya with a sense of humour. He was supporter of the Swatantra party of the Rajas and Ranis under the leadership of Rajgopalchari. He wrote an article in Odiya on him as a conservative thinker. Odisha did not have any conservative thinking or which never got developed into a strong intellectual trend.

Prof Sreeram Das had a flamboyant personality which got sustained by network of rumour mongers. Most of the rumour mongers belonged to his wider kinship network. They used to carry stories related to him without any substance to wider world. For instance his cousin was studying in Our school who used to say about Sreeram Babu on a regular basis. His sister used to spend a quite lot of time every day speaking about him. All other distant relatives carried the stories about him. Sometimes some students and some civil servants used to talk of him. This is the way he carried an inflated position in Odisha as rural society preferred to listen to rumours and exaggerated version of the story. This has got a vivid description in Fakir Mohan Senapati's six acres and a half novel. “As story passes from one mouth to another mouth which carries a new version with an additional information without any basis.” The same thing happened to Sreeram Babu which added to his colourful personality and also created problems for him. As Bhubaneswar was a small town and the stories related to big personalities  and his animosities against an important personality like Nandini Satpathy reached her. He had the Brahminical  patriarchy which  created problems for him. Such a personality had some involvement in inflated TA bills which usually many administrators get involved. The university got a chance to take action against him. He lost his job. His personality revolved around the job. After losing the job he cried loudly perhaps for the first time in his life. He had a small child to whom he had to educate and his young second wife required money for their maintenance for which he started as a lawyer as he had a law degree. He never pursued professional scholarship which he could have continued with.  His intellectual output virtually zero and but he was recognized as t a big intellectual of Odisha. His mischief created problems for Department of Political science in Odisha where he had never gave a thinking to build a center of excellence for which surely he had intelligence but lack of planning and effort made him a great zero in intellectual history of Odisha. Urban society had hardly any autonomy from rural society.

Cuttack town had a rich  intellectual and artistic life. They did not carry that lineage for which the city got declined at faster rate.  Rural society is being dominated by minds with conspiracies. One conspires against the other. It reflects within a sahi means gyanti or kinship network revolves around a totem. This is very vicious against one faction against the other. It never comes against one caste vs the other. This is the peculiarity of rural anthropology. Sreeram Das got shifted to Cuttack town carrying that culture of conspiracy which he applied against his teaching colleagues. If you sit for one hour he would speak against any teacher who was going with whom even their  girlfriends. This mind of conspiracies carried to Utkal University where he applied his narrow vision against each other. In the process there was no neutral space within the campus. Either one belongs to one group or the other. As Das as a member of Senate and Syndicate he had more influence over the other group. He wanted to build a group around his caste but it did not work as intellectual and ideological trends were dominating the campus. Many people belonging to his caste refused to join his group.

This conspiring mind works within the Department and he created one group vs the other. This factionalism prevailed among students. His time got consumed like gossips and planning conspiracies against the other that he had no time to read or doing research. Utkal University turned into sahi politics of rural Odisha. His reading never went beyond Sabine's Political Theory. He used to teach political theory as he had read this book cover to cover that brought him a popular class room teacher. While teaching on Indian constitution he used to have gossips extended to class room. This went against the top political leaders of Odisha. This created a lot of bad feeling against him. He praised Biswanath Das when he took over as the chief minister of Odisha of the coalition of Swatantra and Jana Congress. As Biswanath Das was the chief minister of Odisha during the 1937-39 and this was the second chance he got it for which he wrote an article in Samaj as History repeats itself. He was a great communicator of his gossips and conspiring mind he was in heavy demand by various college unions as the speaker where he used to speak such nonsense to satisfy the non-achievement oriented teachers of the colleges. In most of the colleges his students used to teach who carried his world view which was conservative and conspiring. Most of the college teachers hailed from the upper caste specifically Brahmins and Karans who supported his mind. Their mental world view used to be extension of their sahi politics.

Teaching job never became a productive job and created an intellectual vacuum in intellectual history of Odisha. Odisha is having a network of colleges and schools but has not succeeded to create modern intelligentsia. There are individuals who have got their excellence in some fields. Research out puts have not got professional quality.  Conservatives started with a big bang but some how their style has not got a distinct identity. Progressives or liberals do not have a separate existence. Odisha being a aspirational society but not achievement oriented society. As I got a chance to give lectures in a refressor course in Sambalpur University where more than 20 of my contemporaries having a good career attended it. But after interviewing them I realized that most of them have not read any book or article for last twenty years.  Most of them do not read news papers. Whatever they teach they do from their old notebooks to notebooks of the students. Many of them have got UGC salary but somehow they are scared of hard work for producing knowledge. They are unable to strengthen the intellectual trend started by the renaissance movement which stopped around the independence.   Most of them are involved in conspiracies like Sreeram Das the founder of this movement which has got a momentum. Partly political and administrative culture is cooperating with this lethargic social group.

Prof. Radhakanta Barik, Retired Professor in Political science and a story writer in Odiya.

Dec 13, 2018

Prof Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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