Forgotten Madhu babu - Odisha turns 76, pioneer's village lies in neglect

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By SHILPI SAMPAD AND NAMITA PANDA
  • Published 1.04.12
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Satyabhamapur (Cuttack), March 31: The footprints of Madhusudan Das on the very road he had repaired as a school boy after slipping on it seem to be vanishing. Most children who tread the path to Mahasinghpur High School — the Odia leader’s alma mater — are unaware of his contribution to the state of Odisha, which became a separate province on April 1, 1936.

Even children belonging to his birthplace, Satyabhamapur village near Cuttack, do not know much about the freedom fighter and poet, Madhu babu, who played a pioneering role in carving Odisha as a separate state.

Rojalin Pradhan, a Plus Two first-year student of the village, said she knew April 1 was celebrated as Utkal Divas but faltered when asked to say a few words on the leader. “I know April 1 is celebrated as Utkal Divas. Madhu babu did a lot for us. That’s all I know about him” was all that she could manage before being rebuked by another villager.

“Our youths barely know anything about Madhu babu though he was born on this very soil,” sighed the man, who identified himself as Manmohan Samal, 40, a farmer by profession. He prodded a dozen other youngsters he had rallied to speak to The Telegraph, dropping hints for them off and on. But they could hardly say any more than Rojalin and admitted that they did not know much about him.

Defending them, Samal said: “The village youths organise big programmes to observe Madhu babu’s birth anniversary on April 28 while the government has done nothing to preserve his memories at his birthplace. Every year, a torch is brought from his tomb in Cuttack to Satyabhamapur in a marathon run by the youths of the village.”

Madhu babu’s ancestral property and the house, which he had built after his father disowned him for becoming a Christian, are being maintained by the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust for the past 67 years.

“The government has not even installed a statue of him here. He was the first graduate from the state but it is ironical that even after 76 years of Odisha’s birth, Satyabhamapur does not have a single high school. He had set up a lower primary school (now a minor school, up to Class VII) here, but at night, you will find goats and cows tied inside the classrooms,” Samal said.

Keshab Chandra Dash, a teacher of Mahasinghpur High School, located 2km from the village, agreed. “Though some of Madhu babu’s dreams for Odisha have been fulfilled, his birth place has been neglected. It ought to be declared a place of national importance,” he said.

Octogenarian Anam Chandra Samal, who had been headmaster of the school founded by Madhu babu for 22 years, said the ailing freedom fighter had last visited his village four years before he passed away in Cuttack on February 4, 1934. “Three months after his death, Gandhiji had come to Satyabhamapur and spent the night on Madhu babu’s terrace. Great men have been here but the government does not care,” he said.

Anam Chandra, who had seen the leader as a six-year-old, reminisces: “Madhu babu was a charismatic leader and a dedicated social reformer. He wanted girls to be educated and so, had set up the lower primary school. Today, they have a pension scheme named after him but nothing more. None of his houses here have been taken care of by the state government. Nor has been anything done to highlight the village. Gandhiji had come to our village after his death and spent the night on Madhu babu's terrace. Great men have been here but the government does not seem to care about it.”

Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust member Shyamali Pati said: “Madhu babu’s niece, Rama Devi, who was an eminent freedom fighter, set up the trust here and her daughter Annapurna Moharana, now 95 and ailing in Cuttack, worked for the village. Her two sons, a scientist and a doctor, live outside Odisha but come here regularly and finance the trust.”

Local residents said the village faces numerous problems such as inconsistent water supply, lack of electricity connection, streetlighting and health facilities. “The village is suffering from acute water shortage. Electric poles that were erected five years ago are lying defunct. The health care centre has neither a doctor nor an ambulance. There is not even a college within 10km. These problems in Madhu babu’s village have never attracted the attention of the government,” said Laxman Jena, defence worker and a local resident.

Villagers even alleged that of all chief ministers, only Naveen Patnaik has never cared to pay a visit to the village whereas his father Biju Patnaik had even worshipped the soil outside Madhu babu’s house.