Orissa Whispers

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By (The author teaches English at Utkal University)
  • Published 7.03.11

Flattery works

Most policemen cringe at the thought of having to tackle a demonstration led by state Mahila Congress president, Aseema Mahanand. Not afraid of braving lathis, the fiery Congress leader is known to break police cordons with ease. But to the utter surprise of her colleagues Mahanand, while leading a demonstration recently, was forced to retreat by an unassuming police officer manning the barricades at the Mahatma Gandhi Marg.

The officer used flattery instead of lathis as a weapon against the Congress leader. As she challenged the police led by the officer to use lathis against the Congress workers she was leading, he went upto her and said with folded hands, “Ma’m how do you expect us to use lathis against a future minister. Please don’t embarrass us.” Madam Mahananda retreated gracefully.

DCP charms

Bhubaneswar DCP Himanshu Lal’s youthful charm seems to have earned him a big fan following among college-going girls. This was more than obvious during the annual function of the BJB College held earlier this month. Though chief minister Naveen Patnaik, the state’s most eligible bachelor, was the chief guest of the occasion, students, specially the girls, appeared to be more interested in Lal, who was there to oversee the security arrangements. The girls made a beeline to him seeking his autograph and he obliged happily. However, the DCP turned away from his fans when the shutterbugs tried to capture him signing autographs.

CM as Vishnu

The saffron-robed Bhubaneswar MP, Prasanna Kumar Patasani, laces his speeches with comparisons drawn from Hindu mythology. Addressing the gathering at the inauguration of the Entrepreneurs’ Week in the capital on March 5, he described chief minister, Naveen Patnaik as Chaturbhuj (the four-armed Vishnu).

The MP, who also claims to be a poet, said the quartet of ministers sitting on the dais, namely Prafulla Samal, Debi Prasad Mishra, Suryanarayan Patro and Raghunath Mohanty, constituted the four arms of the chief minister. The ministers looked suitably pleased while Naveen, who is by now used to Patasani’s flights of fancy on such occasions, smiled benignly.

Visionary Biju

As a chief minister, the late Biju Patnaik would often invoke Emperor Kharavela to remind the Oriyas of their proud past. But even he would not have imagined that one day the leaders of the party founded by his son Naveen Patnaik would try to put him on the same pedestal as the great monarch whose rock inscription draws hundreds of tourists daily to the Khandagiri caves on the outskirts of the capital.

As Biju Janata Dal leaders competed with each other in extolling the late chief minister on his 95th birth anniversary the other day, some compared him with Kharavela saying he had the same aura and vision as that of the ancient potentate who had conquered lands beyond Orissa. While one of them also sought to bracket Madhu Babu with Biju Patnaik and Kharavela, yet another felt that on the popularity scale the former chief minister would score much better than Gopbandhu Dash, an all time Oriya icon.

Save Naveen

For health minister Prasanna Acharya, chief minister Naveen Patnaik is like Mahabharat’s Abhimanyu under attack from the Opposition parties.

Speaking at the Biju Janata Dal office in the capital on the occasion of Biju Patnaik’s birth anniversary, Acharya called upon partymen to rise like Pandavas and come to the rescue of their Abhimanyu before his enemies succeed in their nefarious designs.

The comparison struck an immediate chord among party workers and leaders who said they would form a formidable defensive wall around the chief minister protecting him from any possible attack from his opponents.

“Besides, our Abhimanyu is a maharathi, quite capable of destroying his enemies on his own,” said one of them.

Cold war

Agriculture minister Dr Damodar Rout and Rajya Sabha member Pyari Mohan Mohapatra still do not appear to be on talking terms. At the birth anniversary function of Biju Patnaik at the Biju Janata Dal office, they just ignored each other. On the dais they were separated by health minister Prasanna Acharya, who was sitting discreetly between them. Party sources said their relations have never been on the mend after being soured in the wake of an acrimonious debate over the party's right to evaluate the performance of ministers. “Even the chief minister has tried to bring about a rapprochement but they remain foes,” said an insider.


Unsung Hero
Sarangadhar Das is one of the makers of modern Orissa

In 1911, The Modern Review, published from Calcutta and edited by Ramananda Chatterjee, carried a 9000-word article by a young Oriya studying at the University of California in USA. The long article bore the title ‘Why we must emigrate to the United States of America?’ In fact, it was written in response to an earlier article titled ‘Why emigrate’ written by one Shiv Narayen, which had been published in the Review in its November issue. The Oriya student goes to great lengths to exhort fellow-Indians, young men like him (he regrets that not many women could afford to undertake the long and arduous journey to the USA), to travel to America instead of Japan or Europe in pursuit of higher education. A passionate polemicist, the young student buttresses his argument with facts and anecdotes and documentary evidence and concludes emphatically: It is not by staying in India but by emigrating to foreign countries that “we will be able join our ranks and put our shoulders to the wheel.” So we must emigrate, and emigrate more to the United States than to any other country.

For Indian subjects of the British Empire, Britain, the country of their masters, was obviously a cherished destination. Affluent Indians, princes and professionals rarely missed an opportunity of visiting England or receiving education there. ‘England-returned’ conferred prestige on the colonised and invested him with glamour and rendered him an object of envy for fellow Indians. Accounts of travels to the enchanted land, written in English and the vernacular, found an eager and extremely receptive readership in colonial India. The first Oriya made a trip to England in 1897 and he was followed by many others later who went there to pursue higher education. In the first decade of the twentieth century Japan, especially after it inflicted a crushing defeat on Russia, emerged as another favoured destination for Asians. A resurgent Japan, rapidly transforming itself through science and technology, held great appeal for ambitious young men in India eager to beat the west at its own game.

In this context, therefore, the Oriya student urging other young men from India to choose America assumes special significance. Why should Indians choose America instead of Europe or Japan? What features of American society and its education system did recommend themselves to the young of a subject nation? The reasons advanced by the Oriya student deserve special attention: “In Japan we may receive a training good enough for industrial purposes, but in America, besides an efficient industrial training, the American universities train us to a virile manhood. Japan is still feudal in comparison with democratic America, where the opportunities of training and self-development are unlimited for ambitious and energetic young men. Here in America we have to undergo the hardest knockabouts and life is full of strenuous struggles which no one in India can have an adequate idea; but it has its recompense in the satisfaction of duty done. America gives to a young man that which is invaluable — self-confidence and the courage to fight against all odds — it is not akin to arrogance or an exaggerated self-importance, but born of a proper measure of one’s capabilities and coupled with an untiring energy and unflinching faith and things achieved.”

Even the racism which might shape the American response to Indian students is perceived to be a good thing for a very interesting reason: “This little bit of race-hatred knocks out all our caste, religious and provincial prejudices and reminds us our inhuman treatment of our ‘untouchables’ and pariahs. Whenever we suffer in any way owing to this prejudice, we at once remember that it is part of the expiation of our sin committed in any way of our outrageous behaviour towards our own fellow-beings at home. And last of all, we are more and more convinced that no nation or race on this earth will respect us unless we respect ourselves.”

The author of this article was Sarangadhar Das. Born in Dhenkanal district in 1887, he studied in Ravenshaw College and, with financial support of the King of Dhenkanal and a Calcutta-based organisation, he went to Japan in 1907 to pursue higher studies at a technical institute in Tokyo. Two years later he sailed to America, where he trained as a sugar technologist and worked for four years as the chief chemist at a sugar factory in Honolulu. Marriage to Frieda Hauswirth, a Swiss German painter and writer, dramatically changed the course of his life: she persuaded him to return to India and make use of his expertise to improve the lot of his impoverished fellow Indians.

But his attempt to set up a sugar factory in Orissa failed miserably and he realised that science and technology in themselves cannot transform a society steeped and crippled by feudal values.

He now led a movement against the tyranny of feudatory chiefs in Orissa and plunged himself in the freedom struggle. After independence, he played a prominent role as a member of the Constituent Assembly and as a member of Parliament. Disillusioned with the policies of the Congress, he joined the Socialist Party and remained a committed socialist until his death in 1957. In the midst of great personal suffering and disillusionment, his faith in an egalitarian social order and the liberating role science and technology could play in bringing it into being never wavered.

This bald summary does less than justice to the eventful life of a remarkable man like Sarangadhar Das. In spite of a few attempts to introduce him to the younger generation, he remains a distant figure and seems all but forgotten.

Glimpses of his life are offered by his wife’s memoir,

A Marriage to India. The autobiography he had dictated to a fellow-prisoner in the Berhampur jail in the 1940s is not traceable. His book on the development of sugar industry in India is not available either. The insightful columns he wrote under a pseudonym in a socialist magazine have not been collected yet.

Hundreds of acres of land he had donated for providing milk to mothers is involved in seemingly endless litigation and the memorial erected to commemorate him lies neglected. In the place of the hut where he used to stay in Baji Rout Chhatrabas in Angul, stands a guest house named after him. Now and then Sarangadhar emerges as a lonely, shadowy figure in narratives centred on some of his contemporaries.

One sincerely hopes that mists of oblivion do not completely engulf this extraordinary figure. As one of the makers of modern Orissa, Sarangadhar deserves richer and fuller tributes. Meticulously documenting his life will be a small but significant step towards painting a vivid portrait of this unsung hero.