Writer with a zeal to learn

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  • Published 1.07.11

Bhubaneswar, June 30: When Punyaprabha Devi was a 10-year-old girl in 1948 she had penned a poem on Gandhiji’s death. Today, the septuagenarian tickles children with her short stories while her novels are based on different genres and touch various aspects of life.

Winner of many national and state level awards for literature, she is currently working on a sci-fi novel situated on a merchant ship and another on Ramalinga Raju. Based out of Vishakapatnam, the Oriya author recently visited Bhubaneswar to attend a children’s literature function.

A class six dropout, Punyaprabha believes there is no age bar for someone possessing zeal to learn new things. “At 73, I learnt about the entire structure of a merchant ship, the engineering behind it and every minute detail of the people who travel in it from my son who is in merchant navy. It fascinated me so much, that I immediately planned a novel on it,” she said.

“What attracted me to the subject is the fact that even today very few novels in Oriya come out in the genre of scientific thriller,” added the author.

Despite no formal schooling, the passion to acquire knowledge helped Punyaprabha learn various languages on her own. An avid reader of the works of Mayadhar Mansingh, Sachi Routray, Radhamohan Gadanayak, she learnt Bengali at 14, she picked up the nuances of English at 24, Hindi at 36 and the idea of operating a desktop and Internet at 60.

“I love typing out my books on the computer,” said the lively veteran writer.

Inspired by her writer sister Bidyut Prabha Devi (winner of Sahitya Akademi awards), Punyaprabha had got her anthology of short stories for children, Tiki Raija published in 1957. Her collection of poems Kalia Balada Gala Gala, published in 1959 as a 21-year-old, went on to receive a national award by NCERT the next year. But lack of encouragement by publishers after that led to only one book by her from 1964 to 1989, Pilanka Meghaduta.

But Punyaprabha did not give up and finally the support of her husband and a great response from thousands of readers and top litterateurs gave her the confidence to carry on writing. Today, she is widely revered for her six novels and six anthologies of short stories. She has also produced 11 different books on children’s literature.

“I used to receive fan mails for my books from authors of the stature of Ramakant Rath, Tarunkanti Mishra. That helped me stick to writing as much as did the support of my husband Prahlad Mohanty (printer and writer),” said Punyaprabha. “I’m sure formal education would have helped me even more. But a writer should have an idea of almost everything. This needs interest and observation more than formal schooling,” added the recepient of Kendra Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for 2010.

Though worried about Oriya readership, she believes a revolution will definitely come. “The set-up is perfect for a revolution in Oriya readership. If it does not happen now, one can presume that our language will be lost forever,” she said.

The author wishes to translate Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist into Oriya and is currently working on translating Telugu litterateur Gurujada’s works.