'Literary guardian' of Odisha

Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, popularly known as JB to both admirers and critics, was a literary guardian of Odisha, feels popular writer and columnist Bibhuti Patnaik.

By SUBRAT DAS in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 22.04.15
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Bhubaneswar, April 21: Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, popularly known as JB to both admirers and critics, was a literary guardian of Odisha, feels popular writer and columnist Bibhuti Patnaik.

Reminiscing his long association with JB since his student days in the fifties, the veteran novelist said: "Janaki babu had encouraged several budding writers like me from our student days when he was editor of the Odia daily Prajatantra Odia daily and English weekly Eastern Times."

"He continued to encourage and inspire us and others till his death," he told The Telegraph from Mumbai.

Describing JB as a "scholar-politician", Bibhuti Patnaik said he was fluent in five languages (Sanskrit, Hindi, English and Bengali apart from his mother tongue Odia). He had received a Sahitya Akademi award for translating all the novels of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee from Bengali to Odia.

JB also promoted the bond between Odia and Assamese folk culture during his tenure as governor of Assam, he recollected.

He was the chancellor of Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth till his death, which drew him to Tirupati to attend its convocation that was scheduled for today.

Graduating in Sanskrit from Utkal University in 1947, JB received his masters degree from Benaras Hindu University in 1949. Then, he joined journalism and became the editor of popular Odia daily Prajatantra, founded by Harekrishna Mahtab. He was also the founder-editor of the Paurusha monthly magazine, which regularly published till date.

An erudite scholar, JB had retold Ramayan, Mahabharat and Srimad Bhagbad Gita in Odia. He had also translated the three "Shatakas" ( Shrungar Shataka, Bairgaya Shataka and Niti Shatak) of Sanskrit scholar Bhartruhari. His translation of Bairagya Shataka won him the Odisha Sahitya Akademi award.

"Such a literary genius is rare," said Odisha Sahitya Akademi president Satakadi Hota.

His book on Gautam Buddha was his maiden literary work followed by a short story collection Masanira Phula O Ananya Galpa. He has also penned a collection of poems called Sindhu Upatyaka.

His speeches as the chief minister of Odisha have been collaged as Swapna O Sankalpa (Dreams and Resolves) and speeches in the state Assembly as Leader Of Opposition have been published under the title Bachaspati Mahoday (Speaker Sir).

However, his autobiography (unnamed) remained incomplete, said Bibhuti Patnaik.

JB's love for Sankrit had prompted him to found Sri Jagannath Sanskrit University in Puri and he had deep knowledge of the Jagannath Cult and Odia literature and culture.

He was the second chief minister of the state after Nabakrushna Choudhury (he had enacted the Official Language Act in 1956) to enforce Odia as the official language of Odisha, said Hota.

JB had introduced Odia typewriters in government offices and made the use of Odia mandatory in official files and correspondents. "Unfortunately, his efforts have not been accomplished fully," he said.

Odisha Lekhak Samukhya functionaries recalled how JB had encouraged them to organise literary functions in the Odia-speaking outlying areas in other states and also organise book fairs.

Bhubaneswar book fair committee president Barendra Krishna Dhal said JB, when he was chief minister, had encouraged them to organise the event in the city in 1985 "to bring Odia books closer to readers."

"He had made budgetary provisions to buy Odia books for schools and colleges" he added.