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Gopinath Mohanty (1914–1991), winner of the prestigious Jnanpith award, and the first ever winner of the National Sahitya Akademi Award in 1955 - for his novel, Amrutara Santana - was a preeminent and prolific Odia writer of the mid-twentieth century. He is widely regarded as the greatest Odia writer after Fakir Mohan Senapati.
Gopinath Mohanty at Home in Bhubaneswar in 80s
20 April 1914|
|Died||20 August 1991(aged 77)|
|Alma mater||Ravenshaw College
Early life and educationEdit
He and his older brother, Kahnu Charan Mohanty, along with his nephew Guru Prasad Mohanty exercised tremendous influence on Odia literature for about three decades. Born at Nagabali (a small village on the bank of River Mahanadi which can boast of producing some of the trendsetters in Odia literature be it Gopinath himself, Kahnu Charan Mohanty and Guru Prasad Mohanty) in Cuttack district on 20 April 1914, Mohanty received his higher education at Ravenshaw College. He earned his M.A. degree from Patna University in 1936.
He joined the Odisha Administrative Service in 1938. Most of his career, while in service, was spent among the poor tribals of the undivided Koraput district. He retired from government service in 1969. He was the University Grants Commission, UGC Distinguished Visiting Professor and Writer-in-Residence for two years at the English Department, Utkal University in the late 1970s, invited by Professor Prabhat Nalini Das, Founder-Professor and Head of the English Department, Utkal University. In 1986, he joined San Jose State University in the United States as an Adjunct Professor of Social Sciences. He died at San Jose, California on 20 August 1991.
Gopinath burst on the literary scene during the Post Independence Age in India. The vibrant life of the people of Odisha - rural, as well as tribal - found expression in the works of post-independent writers. In his fiction, Gopinath Mohanty explores all aspects of Odishan life - both in the plains and in the remote hills. His prose style is lyrical and inimitable, and interspersed with words and phrases from the day-to-day speech of ordinary men and women, as well as the rare tribal communities he lived in and wrote about.
Gopinath’s first novel, Mana Gahirara Chasa, was published in 1940, which was followed by Dadi Budha (1944), Paraja (1945) and Amrutara Santana (1947). His literary output was prolific. He wrote twenty-four novels, ten collections of short stories, three plays, two biographies, two volumes of critical essays, and five books on the languages of the Kandha, Gadaba and Saora tribes of Odisha. He translated Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Yuddh O Shanti), in three volumes, 1985–86), and Rabindranath Tagore’s Jogajog, (1965), into Odia.
Although Gopinath tried his hand at various literary forms, it is for his novels that he is immortal. “Fiction, I realized, would best suit my purpose," he once said in an interview to the Indian Literary Review. He uses the novel to portray and interpret several dimensions of human existence. He draws the material for his writing from his rich, first hand experience and imaginatively transforms it into a powerful portrayal of human existence.
Among his novels, Dadi Budha, Paraja, Amrutara Santana and Aphanca, are remarkable for their portrayal of tribal life in the densely wooded hills and forests of the Eastern Ghats. The Kandhas and the Parajas are two colourful and proud tribal communities, living in tiny clusters of hamlets in the southern part of Odisha. The members of these primitive communities have been viciously and unethically exploited by moneylenders and petty government officials for many years. They have felt in their bodies and bones that exploitation is as old as the hills and the forest surrounding them. Yet, they celebrate the joys of life; they drink and dance and sing; they find joy in nature, in buds and flowers, in green leaves, in the chirping of birds, in the swift-flowing streams and in the mist- covered hills. They find life constantly renewing itself in the quick-fading and slow-blooming buds of the forest.
Dadi Budha (1944) is one of Gopinath Mohanty's shorter novels. It has the distinction of being his first novel based on tribal life. The novels tells the moving story of the disintegration of a tribal community under the impact of modern civilisation. Dadi Budha is an ancient date palm tree representing the eternal ancestor; it stands for the cultural heritage of the tribal people manifest in their rituals and costumes. The tree stands as a silent witness to the joys and sorrows of the tribal folk; it dominated the drama of their existence. Close to Dadi Budha stands a termite mound called Hunka Budha, yet another symbol of the primitive and innocent faith of tribal people. Thenga Jani, the son of Ram Chandra Muduli, the headmen of Lulla village, is betrothed to a beautiful girl, Saria Daan, the only daughter of the same village. But he comes under the spell of Sanotsh Kumari, a Christian Domb girl. Thenga and Santosh are deeply in love and reject the constraints of tribal society. They decide to run away to Assam to work on a tea estate; they plan to build their dream home in a town where the rules of the tribal society do not prevail.
Gopinath visualizes the life of the tribal community against a cosmic background. The despair of Ram Muduli, the plight of Thenga's mother after her only son slopes and leaves the village with a Domb, the declaration of the Disari that Thenga and Santosh were evil dumas'", the terror caused by the tiger, and the rise of a village at another site are all signifiers of the seamless progression of life.
Paraja (1945) tells us a different story based on the life of the same community. It is the tale of one’s attachment to land, the soil of one’s ancestors. Sitakant Mahapatra describes the novel as " the story of shattered dreams". In Dadi Budha , the old order changes the yielding place to the new; in Paraja the intrusion of brutality in the guise of civilised law generates resentment and violence. Amrutara Santana (1947), the first Indian novel to receive the first prestigious Central Sahitya Akademi Award (1955), is centred round the life of the Kandhas, another tribe in the southern parts of Odisha. The novel, which is epic in its dimensions, depicts the grandeur of diurnal living and the intensity of suffering of the tribal people. Gopinath Mohanty has himself said that his most important work is Amrutara Santana.
Gopinath's fictional world is not confined to the tribal people. He has also written about the people living in the coastal plains. Even when he shifts his focus from the hills to the plains, he retains his deep concern for the oppressed and underprivileged. His novel, Harijan (1948), deals with untouchables living in slums and their brutal exploitation by the rich. Danapani (1955) presents the grey world of a colourless middle class, petty and mean, and steeped in gossip and rumour. Laya Bilaya (1961) explores the psychological complexity of the inner lives of three members of a family from Calcutta who are on a short vacation to Puri. Matimatala (1964), another novel of epic dimensions, based on life in rural Odisha, celebrates the eternity of love. In this novel, Mohanty successfully brings about a fusion of two worlds: the private world of lovers, and the public world of social workers. Gopinath’s language is remarkable for its subtlety and its poetic quality. Characters and landscapes come vividly to life in his novels through nuance and evocative description. His language has a unique, powerful and sustained lyrical grace.
In the Post-Independence Era Odia fiction assumed a new direction. The trend which Fakir Mohan Senapati has started actually developed more after the 1950s. Gopinath Mohanty, Surendra Mohanty and Manoj Das are considered as the three jewels of this time. They are pioneers of a new trend, that of developing or projecting the "individual as protagonist" in Odia fiction. Eminent Feminist writer and critics Sarojini Sahoo believes that it was not Gopinath, but Surendra Mohanty whose "Ruti O Chandra" has to be considered as the first story with individualistic approach rather than the story "Dan" by Gopinth, which was formerly known as the first story with an "individualistic attitude". In his short stories Gopinath Mohanty explores all aspects of Odishan life: life, both in the plains and in the hills. He evolves a unique prose style, lyrical in style, choosing worlds and phrases from the day-to-day speech of ordinary men and women.
Gopinath’s novels in EnglishEdit
Five of Gopinath’s novels, Paraja, Danapani, Laya Bilaya, Amrutara Santana, and Dadi Budha, have been translated into English. The first three have been translated by Bikram K. Das, the fourth by Professor Bidhu Bhusan Das, Professor Prabhat Nalini Das and Professor Oopali Operajita; and the last, by Arun Kumar Mohanty. The English version of Paraja was published by Faber and Faber (UK) and Oxford University Press (India) in 1987. The Survivor, the English translation of Danapani, was published by Macmillan India Limited in 1995. "Amrutara Santana - The Dynasty of The Immortals," has been published by the Central Sahitya Akademi in 2016. The translation of Laya Bilaya which bears the title, High Tide, Ebb Tide, has been published by Lark Books. The Ancestor, the translation of Gopinath’s Dadi Budha, has been brought out by the Sahitya Akademi. Besides, a number of short stories of Gopinath have also been translated. It is extremely difficult to render in English the nuances of Gopinath Mohanty’s language. However, translators have attempted to convey the richness and complexity of the original texts to readers unfamiliar with Odia.
Tribal life in Gopinath’s novelsEdit
In his portrayal of tribal life, Gopinath Mohanty invites comparison with the Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe. At one level, their vision is almost identical: they visualize the disintegration of a "primitive" community under the impact of a new faith or an alien value-system. But to see the disintegration of Lulla village (in the novel, Dadi Budha) and the tribal community in Umuofia in (Things Fall Apart) as parts of the same process of change, is to play down the role of colonialism as an agent of disruption. Achebe’s allusion to W.B. Yeats is not a gesture of submission; it interrogates its cosmic, universalist vision of change. Although Gopinath does not directly refer to Yeats, he also focuses on the traumatic expression of colonialism in his work.
He received the Visuva Milan citation in 1950. He won the central Sahitya Akademi Award in 1955 for his novel, Amrutara Santana.The Jnanpith Award was conferred on him in 1973 for his epic-prose Mati Matala (The Fertile Soil). He was awarded the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1970, for his Odia Translation of Gorky's work, the D. Litt. Degree by Sambalpur University in 1976 and a Fellowship for Creative Writing in Odia by the U.G.C. in 1979. In 1981, the government of India conferred on him Padma Bhushan in recognition of his distinguished contribution to literature. He was an Emeritus Fellow of Government of India for creative writing. He was conferred with:
- Padma Bhushan in recognition of his distinguished contribution to literature by Government of India, 1981
- Jnanpith Award, 1973
- Sahitya Akademi Award, 1955,
- Orissa Sahitya Academy Award, 1993,
- Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1970,
- Fellowship for Creative Writing in Oriya by the U.G.C. in 1979 and
- D. Litt. Degree by Sambalpur University in 1976