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A Journey in the Cultural Space

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A Journey in the Cultural Space
  Recommended Citation:Mund, Subhendu. “A Journey in the Cultural Space: Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Utkala Bhramanam (1892)”.  Indian Travel Narratives. Ed. Somdutta Mandal. Jaipur:Rawat Publications, 2010. 228-38. A Journey in the Cultural Space:Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Utkala Bhramanam (1892) Dr Subhendu MundI Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918), a versatile literary genius of the late nineteenth andearly twentieth centuries is considered the Father of Odia prose fiction. He is the pioneer of many western art forms in Odia literature: he is the first major Oriya novelist, the writer of the first Odia short story (‘Rebati’, 1898) and the first autobiography(  Atmajeevanacharita/Atmacharita , 1915, 1927) in Odia. Besides poetry and fiction, he hasalso written textbooks; translated the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and a few Upanishadsfrom Sanskrit, as well as stray works of Bangla literature. His short stories are compiled intwo volumes of  Galpasalpa. He wrote four novels:  Lachhama (1901), Chha Mana AthaGuntha (1902),  Mamu (1913), and  Prayaschitta (1915).   Besides being hailed as an iconicfigure in Odia literature, he is looked upon by the Odia people as a grand patriarch of thelinguistic and cultural movement for Odia identity (late 1860s-1936). This movement owesgreatly to the inspiration and leadership of Senapati, who, besides being the most popular writer of his times, was also the harbinger of new ideas and technology to Orissa.Senapati’s Utkala Bhramanam (1892), the first specimen of travel writing in Odia, remainsunique in its concept as well as context. Its uniqueness lies in its not  being a travelogue. Neither did Senapati go on a physical tour of Orissa, nor was he visited an exotic place. Itmay sound unbelievable, but most of the text was written while he was riding an elephantduring his journey from Keonjhar to Anandpur and the book was written and published intwo days. He informs in  Atmajeevanacharita :On my return journey to Anandpur my mind was seethed with a variety of anxieties. It suddenly occurred to me that the names of all the important men of letters and the famous people of Orissa should be recorded properly. Later I feltthat a mere catalogue of names would not interest people. I wanted to writedown their achievements as well. I was then sitting on an elephant. I took outmy note-book and pencil from my pocket and started writing verses. I had donenearly half of the writing when I reached Anandpur. There I sent for thecompositor. After a short rest I resumed writing. As I would finish one piece of writing, the compositor would come and collect it. The writing was finished at  about ten o’ clock at night. There were only two days before the King wouldarrive and I would leave. The book had to be printed by then. The compositor was well aware of this. I was after him as well. By the evening of the secondday printing was completed. This was the first edition of my Utkala Bhramana [  sic ] (A Tour of Orissa). ( Story of My Life 104)Although Senapati   had already tried his hand at translation and sundry writing, Utkala Bhramanam was his earliest srcinal work to be published. The first edition of  Utkala Bhramanam was published anonymously, though readers must have identified the text withSenapati. In his  A History of Oriya Literature Dr Mayadhar Mansinha describes Utkala Bhramanam as the first “srcinal poem” of Senapati (163). However, Senapati himself informs that he had published a short story – his first srcinal work -- ‘Lachhamania’, inthe  Bodhadayni , a periodical edited and published by himself    in the 1860s (Preface  MyTimes and I  iii and Story of My Life 119). Unfortunately, what could have been credited asthe first short story in an Indian language was lost. According to Dr Mansinha:It [ Utkala Bhramanam ] is not a travel-book really but an unusually unorthodoxand humorous survey of the contemporary personalities in Orissa’s public life,with praise, admiration, satire and condemnation distributed duly to each. It waswritten at a stretch while the poet was travelling on elephant back on an official journey and, when published soon after, took Orissa by storm. The authorshipwas kept anonymous at the beginning but discerning readers easily discoveredwho the author was. … it still remains as entertaining as it was to contemporaryreaders. (163-64)Senapati’s Utkala Bhramanam is looked upon as an important text in the context of thereconstruction of the Odia identity. In this project Senapati strives to connect the various parts of the segmented Orissa through his journey in the Odia cultural space. It may beimportant to mention here that he had not actually seen some of the places and persons hementions in his book. Besides, he does not as much describe places as persons. In all, hediscusses nearly ninety persons of eminence of contemporary Odia life in Utkala Bhramanam . It seems he added some more portraits in his later editions because we findthe mention of personalities like Gopabandhu Das (1877-1928), Godavarish Mishra, Nilakantha Das, Krupasindhu Mishra and many other persons in the texts available now.For example, at the time of the first publication of  Utkala Bhramanam in 1892,Gopabandhu (1877-1928) was hardly 15 years old and Satyabadi movement had not startedtill the early twentieth century. II Utkala Bhramanam begins with a simulation of the traditional style of invocation of Goddess Sarala, who is supposed to inspire creativity, and Sarala Das, the first major Odia poet believed that he was blessed with creativity because of Her grace. It was the common practice of traditional poets to invoke upon the mercy of gods/goddesses for the completionof their writing project. What is important here is that Senapati ridicules the conventional   practice with a unique sense of humour. The following is a literal translation of the openinglines of the travelogue:I pay my obeisance to you, Mother Sarala, who dwells in JhankadThe veena playing goddess, who bestows intellect.Your seat is the storehouse of knowledgeWherefrom come out hordes of teachers.Please, O Mother, sit on my head for a whileI will write poems which people of Utkal will sing.You have the habit of sitting on the throat of poetsPlease don’t inflict such torture on meMy voice would become hoarse if you sat on my throatThen how can I write my poem?Please sit gently on my head, O Mother,So that my head doesn’t bow down under your weight.Mother Sarala, as I have no knowledge in my stomachI might crumble under your weight;If your hands and legs break O Dark-hued One! Don’t blame me then!Senapati’s ‘invocation’ is nothing but a satire on the traditional poets who believed that onecould write poetry only when Goddess Sarala would be pleaded to descend on their “throat” and dictate them the lines. During Senapati’s times, most of the chatsali teachers(also called  Matibansha Abadhan ) who served in various parts of coastal Orissa camemostly from the area close to Jhankad in Cuttack district. In his  Atmajeevanaharita (1915,1927) Senapati gives a vivid description of this class of ‘teachers’ who provided earlyeducation to the children 1 .Besides being a critique on the traditional style of writing poetry, Utkala Bhramanam alsocleverly satirises the practice of using chaste, sanskritised Odia by eminent poets of thetime. As if in revolt against such practice, Senapati uses racy, colloquial Odia, generouslysprinkled with Bangla, Hindi, Telugu and English words and phrases, even sentences for his work. Nevertheless, he makes use of the traditional fourteen-syllable rhymed metrerather freely. It is the metre which was popularly used in most of the Odia  puranas and kavyas . The language is typical of Senapati: at once humorous and blasphemous, with freeuse of English, Bangla, Urdu, Telugu and Hindi words and phrases, even lines. Thetravelogue appends a dedication in verse to the poet’s second wife Krishna KumariRight after the ‘invocation’ the poet goes head on to his subnationalist project. He begins by enumerating the greatness of the land of Odisha. He describes Utkal (the ancient nameof Odisha) as a sacred place in Bharata (i.e. India) inhabited by pious people. Innumerable pilgrims throng this place to see this place of pilgrimage. It is popularly known in thevarious parts of India as the gateway to heaven; its scenic beauty is incomparable; its artand architecture could not be erased by time; and so on. He further refers to the popularly believed statement of Chhatrapati Shivaji during his visit to Bhubaneswar: “This place isnot for human beings; it is fit to be the abode of gods.” It is interesting to note here that  Shivaji was already appropriated by the nationalists by this time as a source of inspirationand motivation of masses. Significantly, the Indian National Congress was already foundedand Senapati kept himself informed of the developments at the national level. After sixyears he would attend the Madras conference of Indian National Congress (1898) as adelegate where he would meet Bal Gangadhar Tilak ( Story of My Life 115).Senapati takes Sivaji as a reference point and wonders, “If Shivaji was to come again toUtkal, he would like to see whether it is in tact as before”. Then the poet laments, “Thatholy land is now in pieces; its pristine beauty is vandalised. The  Kamas ( read  Telugus)have taken possession of the South; the North has become home to the Bengalis; and lesssaid the better about the West: the West is under the Marathas.” Senapati makes an obliquereference to the role played by colonial administrator Mr Woodburn in placing westernOrissa under Nagpur Presidency. He comments here that Woodburn’s name will be writtenin red letters in the history because of this act of his. However, the poet concedes that theEnglish administrator has been very popular in Bengal for his good work but he has“chopped off the hands of Odia language” and “destroyed everything” here in Odisha. Thishas obvious reference to the official decision to withdraw Odia from schools and introduceBangla in its place as the medium of instruction. Besides Mr Woodburn, Senapati mentionsa few other colonial administrators and Englishmen for their respective roles played in thecontext of Odia language and culture. Quite surprisingly, Senapati devotes only four linesto John Beames, his mentor, about whom he has written so much in his autobiography( Story of My Life 22-23, 47, 66), but eulogises Mr T. E. Ravenshaw, the arch rival of Beames (45-46), by writing twenty lines on him. It may be mentioned here that in hisautobiography, Senapati had pointed out that the Great Famine of Odisha, known as  Na’anka Durbhikha (1866) was the result of Ravenshaw’s failure in grasping the groundrealities 2 . Was it because Beames had already left Odisha and was no more useful to either the Odias or to the poet? But Ravenshaw had also left Odisha by the 1890s.After paying his ‘tribute’ to Mr Woodburn, Senapati proceeds to say how trade andcommerce in Odisha has been monopolised by non-Odia people: “Marwari, Kapodia,Bhojpuri, Mudi”, and how all the officers and officials are non-Odias and even a postalclerk is not a native of Odisha. He refers to the Permanent Settlement which would takeaway whatever power the zemindars enjoyed. Thus, Odias have only to curse their destinyand it is useless now to speak about anything on the matter. He would rather talk about the mahajana (great individuals) of Odisha in his poem.It is significant to note that Senapati begins his praise with Maharaja RamachandraBhanjadeo, the ruler of Mayurbhanj, who had not only financed a number of educationalinstitutions but also patronised Utkal Sammilani. Senapati then mentions such kings,zemindars and rulers like Boikunthanath De Raja Bahadur (Baleshwar), Radhashyam Narendra (Kendrapada), et al. III One question which keeps popping up is why did Senapati write and publish the poem insuch a hurry? What was so urgent? I presume, he wrote Utkala Bhramanam with desperateurgency because of two reasons. First, the act of writing the poem was an escape of sorts  for him. He had almost lost his life in the hands of the Bhuiyan rebels and had a miraculousescape; but he was sure to lose his job because the king did not trust him any more and theBhuiyans had seen through his trickery. That was the time when he was passing through a bad patch in his life. He had lost his elder brother’s son, Nityananda during his pilgrimagein Ayodhya. His widow, on return from the pilgrimage wanted “to break away from the joint family”; another cousin and Senapati’s nephew “also decided to go their own ways”;their “ancestral property was split up” ( Story of My Life 106); the homestead was dividedand once again he felt lonely and depressed. He had already lost his first wife and hisgrandmother under whose care he had grown. Needless to say, he was in an emotionalturmoil. He writes in his autobiography, “On my return journey to Anandpur [when hewrote Utkala Bhramanam ] my mind was seethed with a variety of anxieties” ( Story of My Life 104). Elsewhere in his autobiography, he informs how he would write poetry “to getover” his “grief”. He informs: “Most of my poems were written in times of extreme pain,danger and mental stress” ( Story of My Life 109).There could be another reason which prompted Senapati to write and publish Utkala Bhramanam in such urgency. Senapati had been out of the mainstream of Odia cultural and political life owing to his jobs in various  garjats and states. Although he kept himself abreast of all activities and contributed his might to the cause, he was probably concernedover the lull in the subnationalist movement which had picked up a good momentumduring the 1860s and 1870s. Utkal Sammilani was yet to take birth and the colonialgovernment was bent upon segregating Odia tracts and placing them under various rules 3 .Senapati might have felt that that there was the need to remind the Odias that they were aculturally unified people no matter under what administration they were placed at themoment and they all belonged to the imagined cultural Odisha. According to Bina KumariSarma, “This book [ Utkala Bhramanam ]   created a sense of unity among the Oriyas for thecreation of a separate province of Orissa. Describing the dismembered condition of Utkal,he [Senapati] pointed out that as long as the outlying tracts were not amalgamated, all our efforts would be in vain” (99). Thus, Utkala Bhramanam occupies a significant place in the literary career of Senapati. Italso happens to be one of the earliest ‘travelogues’ in Indian literature and the first in Odialiterature. As suggested before, it is a very interesting text on many counts. It is not atravelogue in the true sense of the term, because it does not narrate any travel experience of the author. Secondly, it is written in verse, and thirdly, it was written during a journey (onthe back of an elephant and then in a rest house) and published in less than two days. Mostimportantly, like his  Atmajeevanacharita , Utkala Bhramanam can be read as a document of the sociopolitical history of the disintegrated Orissa under the colonial rule.It is necessary to inform here that Senapati lived and wrote when Orissa was in fragmentsand was under either direct or indirect colonial administration. The integral parts of culturalOrissa were under various kinds of administration: East India Company (later on, British)Government, individual ‘zemindars/kings/Ruling Chiefs’ of the  garjats , and the rest under Bengal, Nagpur and Madras presidencies. Thus, Odias of that time had to cope withmultiple colonialities. They had lost their identity in their own land because everythingconcerning Odia life was decided and controlled by non-Odias, with the tactful
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