'Naveen babu should try to learn Odia'

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  • Published 3.08.13

Hot seat - Mohapatra Nilamani Sahoo,

The Utkal Ratna award this year is the latest addition to your list of prestigious awards for your contribution to Odia literature. But you have also missed a few awards. What do you think is the reason?

I don’t think much about awards. I write for my readers and when they appreciate it, that is the highest recognition for me. I don’t hanker after awards. But when I get one, I feel happy.

What do you feel about certain writers refusing to accept awards?

I have not refused any award and, so, cannot comment. Refusing awards would mean insulting the legends in whose names they are instituted.

Literary awards often generate a lot of controversy with writers debating over the credibility and capability of an award winner. Why?

Have you ever seen me question anybody’s selection for an award? None of my contemporaries or eminent writers such have done that either. Genuine litterateurs never indulge in cheap politicking. They only concentrate on writing

Odia is expected to earn the classical language status soon. Do you think that tag would help revive Odia literature?

I am surprised that it took us so late to realise that Odia is a classical language. The movement for the status started only two years ago. Dr Debi Prasanna Pattanayak, a distinguished linguist, is pursuing the case. But it is unfortunate that we have to prove the classical nature of our mother tongue, which is so old. Sarala Das wrote Mahabharata in Odia in the 14th century, Jagannath Das penned Bhagabat in the 15th century while Upendra Bhanja produced some excellent literary works two centuries later. Most people have an inferiority complex about conversing in Odia. Though I am not against people speaking in Hindi or English, they should be proud of their mother tongue.

What would say about chief minister Naveen Patnaik not being able to speak Odia even after being in power for 15 years?

Very unfortunate that Naveen babu doesn’t know Odia. There is no place in the world where the head of the state does not know the local language. Naveen babu is a nice human being but it amazes me that he has been able to rule for three terms without knowing Odia.

What would be your advice to Naveen?

Naveen babu is a great leader. But he must realise that he is the son of the legendary Biju Patnaik, who was eloquent in both English and Odia, and was proud to be an Odia. He had a good knowledge on the history of Odia. Naveen babu should try to learn Odia.

You were an Odia lecturer for 40 years. How long should it ideally take for someone to learn the language?

It would take three to four months for a north Indian to learn Odia and a little longer for a south Indian. If Naveen babu makes an honest attempt, he will surely pick it up because there is not much difference between Hindi and Odia. However, the problem is when he utters a couple of Odia words, people find it amusing and cheer for him. Instead of doing that, they should help Naveen babu learn Odia.

You shared good relations with chief ministers of different eras — Harekrushna Mahatab, Biju Patnaik, Nandini Satpathy and J.B. Patnaik. Who has contributed the most for development of Odia literature?

Harekrushna Mahatab and Biju babu. To some extent, J.B. Patnaik, too. He is a knowledgeable person.

What is your opinion on the quality of Odia literature in the computer era?

Every era has its own set of aspirations and frustrations, hope and desperation. Many people wish to become writers without understanding what literature is. Anyone can write anything but being acknowledged for it is a challenge. Pursuing literature is a dedicated pursuit. I know exactly where I stand in comparison to great writers such as Rabindranath Tagore and Leo Tolstoy.

Why is the standard of education in Odia medium schools deteriorating?

You must not blame the schools but our mindset. We have an inferiority complex. Great writers such as Ramakant Rath, Sitakant Mohapatra, Manoj Das and J.B. Patnaik are products of Odia schools. But they know much better English than those passing out of English medium schools. Has the latter read Tolstoy, Shakespeare or George Bernard Shaw? When they don’t read, how can our standard of education improve? That is why we have not been able to master either English or Odia.

You have translated Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri and written several short stories and novels. What is source of inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is God. Currently, I am actively involved in several literary activities, raising awareness on Sri Aurobindo’s integral education system and deliver talks on his works and that of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda.

From librarian to writer

Mohapatra Nilamani Sahoo, 86, is a former president of the Odisha Sahitya Akademi

Born into a zamindar family in Niali village of Cuttack district, he completed matriculation from the Binjharpur High School after which he went on to do graduation and post graduation in Odia from Ravenshaw College

He joined Sambalpur University as a librarian when Mayadhar Mansingh, a renowned poet, was the principal

Two years later, he was posted as lecturer at Bhadrak College and then joined the
Paralakhemundi Government College in Ganjam. He has also held the position of vice-principal and principal of BJB Evening College, Bhubaneswar. He has teaching
experience of nearly four decades and retired in 1985

Sahoo, who was also the editor of Utkal Prasang and Orissa Review, has received prestigious awards such as Sahitya Bharati and Jatiya Bhasha Parishad

He was conferred Odisha Sahitya Akademi award in 1979 for Akasha Patala
lAnother story, Abhisapta Gandharva, earned him the Sarala Samman in 1983 and Kendra Sahitya Akademi in 1984. He has also translated many books, including Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri


I would have been a pala or daskathia (narrative folk ballad) artiste.

I like to express myself in creative, overt ways. At one point of time, I was involved with jatra and acted in many plays.

But I started using writing as a medium because I have a weakness for literature.

But had writing not materialised, I would have definitely wanted to express my feelings through the popular medium of pala and daskathia.

I don’t know how viable that would have been for me in economic terms, but I was keen on it.