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Shrota Swati : Unfinished work on unsung talents

- Birth centenary of Odia novelist Gopinath Mohanty to be celebrated today

His unfinished autobiography has been published in three volumes. It brings the story of his life only up to 1947. It is couched in his usual fictional style. It contains a vast wealth of details of his interaction with the common people at the ground level, his fellow officers, his superiors and political leaders. An officer with spotless integrity and complete dedication to work, he could never be a pliant officer, saying yes to his bosses on every occasion.

During his official career working in various parts of the state, he had a sharp eye to discover unknown talents, who were engaged in literary pursuit without any expectation of recognition. One such person was Khageswar Seth of Bijepur in Sambalpur district. When he was an officer at Bargarh, he heard about Seth, who purchased rice from the market, fried it at home into mudhi and sold it in the same market. That was how he earned his living, no doubt, a precarious living. But, he was told that Seth wrote excellent poetry. He met him at a local dak bungalow.

Seth was an old man wearing a small dhoti. Mohanty engaged him in long conversation and wanted to listen to some of his poems, which Seth had brought with him. During the conversation, Seth confided in him how, in addition to making and selling mudhi, he also collected firewood from local forests and sold it in the market.

Seth said his initial inspiration was the poetry of Gangadhar Meher, the great poet of Barpali not far from his village. Later, he went on to read Upendra Bhanja, Abhimanyu Samantsinghar and also a few Sanskrit epics.

He started composing his own poetry, and slowly, it became a passion with him. The local zamindars wanted that he composed songs dedicated to them, their lives, and in exchange, they were prepared to financially help him.

It was a virtual invitation to be somewhat like the court poets of earlier decades. Seth thought to himself that this was not the line he wanted to take for in his poetry he wrote about the common man and his personal God.

Mohanty not only encouraged him in his endeavour to write more poetry, but also did his best to bring it to the notice of poetry lovers. In due course, the Odisha Sahitya Akademi recognised this unknown talent as an important Odia poet. They brought out all his writings together in one volume titled Khageswar Granthabali.

Khageswar Seth expired before Mohanty, but we are all indebted to Mohanty for bringing him to the notice of poetry lovers. This is only one instance of Mohanty’s selfless efforts to promote the cause of writers, who were otherwise neglected.

It is a pity that he could not complete the remaining portions of his autobiography. Judging from the three volumes of Shrota Swati and the enormous diary entries that remain unused, one can only guess what shape the remaining part of the autobiography would have been taken.

(The author is an eminent litterateur)


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