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Fakir Mohan Senapati's Discovery from Below

Unlike his contemporary Oriya writers, Fakir Mohan Senapati played a major role in constructing an Oriya identity in literature, shunning Bengali influence. He came to know where the real differences between the Bengali and Oriya languages lie and also what kind of Oriya, free of any Bengali influence, he would have to adopt in his future literary endeavours. He decided to use the living speech of the men and women belonging to agrarian rural society.

Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Discovery from Below Decolonisation and the Search for Linguistic Authenticity

Unlike his contemporary Oriya writers, Fakir Mohan Senapati played a major role in constructing an Oriya identity in literature, shunning Bengali influence. He came to know where the real differences between the Bengali and Oriya languages lie and also what kind of Oriya, free of any Bengali influence, he would have to adopt in his future literary endeavours. He decided to use the living speech of the men and women belonging to agrarian rural society.


nlike his contemporary Oriya (and Indian) writers, Fakir Mohan Senapati wrote his novels and short stories in the colloquial speech – the living language – of the common people. But why and how Fakir Mohan came to draw on this language – using mostly ‘desaja’ and ‘tadbhava’ words – while his contemporary Oriya writers were using mainly ‘tatsama’ words, Sanskrit words borrowed into Oriya language, has never been explained satisfactorily.1

In order to understand why and how Fakir Mohan adopted such a prose style, we need to go back more than a quarter-century earlier than 1897 – the year he started writing prose fiction – and examine a set of significant historical events as well as the forces and counter-forces that operated in the context of the Oriya Language Agitation (hereafter OLA), a socio-political movement that occurred, in three successive phases, from early 1868 to mid-1870.

In the modern age, characterised by the construction of competing and contesting social identities, the role of language, especially because of its capacity to determine a group’s identity, became crucial. Because of the increasing mass readership, itself a result of the introduction of the printing press, the spread of education and the government jobs (a source of prosperity, prestige and power)2 mass education created, the political role of language became clear and battles over linguistic authenticity were being waged all over the world. Two of the competing and contesting identities in eastern India, the Bengali and the Oriya – themselves engaged in claims and counter-claims in the context of the OLA

– provided indirect impetus for Fakir Mohan to seek a model of linguistic authenticity.

Decolonising Process

The OLA was the first concrete step towards a “decolonising” process in the Oriya-speaking tracts. Let me explain this in some detail here. It does not suffice to state that in the 19th century the people in the Oriya-speaking tracts were under colonial rule. The situation was much more complex. It may not be entirely wrong to state that the Oriya-speaking tracts were at that time divided into three “smaller colonies” inside a larger British colony. The Oriya speakers in these smaller colonies, in the Bengal and Madras presidencies and the central provinces,3 felt dominated, looked down upon, cheated and unjustly treated by the Bengali, Telugu and Hindi-speakers, who outnumbered them in each of these administrative units and who were also the middle-ranking officials of the colonial government.4 Whenever a government position fell vacant, some of these officials saw to it that one of their own fellow speakers, preferably one of their relatives or friends, secured the job.5 Taking advantage of the sunset-law, some Bengalis acquired many ‘zamindaris’ in Orissa at throwaway prices.6 The Oriya speakers, speaking a language different from the languages these middle-ranking officials spoke, felt that they were at the receiving end simply because they were outnumbered, the result of being divided into different administrative units. As Oriyas were considered the “other” by their neighbours, the Bengali, the Telugu and the Hindi speakers, they felt the need to construct an imagined community of Oriya speakers7 and in turn to view those Bengali, Telugu and Hindi speakers as the political “others”. This feeling found an expression in the organised manner in the form of the OLA in coastal Orissa, comprising the Cuttack, Puri and Balasore districts under the Bengal presidency (which was the only area that was identified as Orissa under British rule). That is how the first major step in the construction of language-based Oriya identity was taken.8 The colonial administrators such as T E Ravenshaw, the commissioner of Orissa, and John Beames, the collector of Balasore, played direct and/or indirect roles in the OLA and through it in the construction of a modern Oriya identity.

The primary goal of the OLA9 was to oppose the imposition of Bengali in the Orissan schools.10 R L Mitra11 and Kantichandra Bhattacharya, representing Bengali and with the intention of replacing Oriya with Bengali in the schools of Orissa, advanced the self-interested ideological claim that Oriya was not an independent language, but a mere dialect of Bengali because of the great similarities between the two. Gourishankar Ray and Jagamohan Ray – both Orissans of Bengali origin – John Beames (the colonial administrator and philologist), Bhudev Mukhopadhyaya, the respected Bengali intellectual and educationist and Rangalal Bandyopadhyay, the Bengali poet12 (and many others, including Fakir Mohan Senapati) disputed that claim, representing the interests of Oriya speakers.

The imposition of Bengali in Orissan schools would have meant the strengthening or the perpetuation of the “colonising” process. It was intended to ensure that Bengalis would continue to secure the government jobs. After the British occupation, which coincided with the advent of the modern period in the history of Orissa, government jobs had become a secure source of income, nay of

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006 prosperity, prestige and even power.13 Furthermore, the imposition of Bengali would have augmented the income of the writers of Bengali textbooks through the sale of these books in Orissa. R L Mitra argued for the imposition of a Bengali identity on Oriya speakers as the ultimate goal: “the Uriyas…would be united with a race of 30 millions with which they have so many things in common”. This goal, he stated, was not only desirable, but also easily achievable through bureaucratic fiat:

Nor is the fusion of their language into ours at all impracticable. The experiment has already been tried and found to be completely successful. Some 20 years ago when the district of Midnapur was transferred from the commissionership of Cuttack to that of Burdwan, the language of the courts there and of the people was Uriya. The new commissioner, for the sake of uniformity in all his districts or some other cause, suppressed Uriya, and introduced Bengali language, and nearly the whole of Midnapur has now become a Bengali-speaking district, and men there often feel offended if they are called Uriyas. That similar measures in Balasore, Cuttack and Puri would effect a similar change, I have no reason to doubt.14

But beneath such lofty rhetoric, Mitra’s selfish motive was at work because he himself was a writer of Bengali language school textbooks, drawing income from their sales. That may explain why he was at the forefront of the efforts to get Oriya replaced by Bengali in the schools of Orissa.15 The OLA may be interpreted as the beginning of a “decolonising”16 process, and the efforts to free Oriya language from the influence of foreign elements, especially of Bengali, was also another aspect of the same process.

Second Phase of Agitation

In that context, one particularly important incident was the publication of volume I of The History of India, which Fakir Mohan wrote in Oriya as a textbook. It was published in March/ April 1869. The atmosphere was already tense due to R L Mitra’s aggressive, but unprovoked assertion in a speech in Cuttack, in December 1868, that the people of Orissa are only inflicting injury on themselves because of “their attachment to a provincial patois [i e, Oriya language] which they wish to exalt into a distinct language” [Beames 1870, p 201]. He also added that, “the true well-wishers of Orissa must, first of all, try to get Oriya replaced by Bengali because otherwise the development of Orissa would be impossible” (reported in Utkala Dipika, March 13, 1869; author’s translation). This declaration and the ensuing controversy in fact started the second phase of the Oriya Language Agitation. Oriyas – led by Gourishankar Ray, the editor of the weekly periodical Utkala Dipika and a prominent figure in the language agitation – made vehement protests. Fakir Mohan’s just published history book added fuel to the fire as the language of the book, although Oriya, was, to some extent, influenced by contemporary upper caste Bengali. Gourishankar wrote a damaging review of the book in Utkala Dipika.17 Calling Fakir Mohan a “false friend”, he called the book a “poisonous sweet” and expressed the apprehension that the author perhaps wanted the extinction of the Oriya language. Gourishankar, who otherwise held Fakir Mohan in high esteem especially because of Fakir Mohan’s love for Oriya language and literature, was provoked to make such harsh comments because of the tense cultural atmosphere that prevailed. It is quite likely that Fakir Mohan, who played an active role in the construction of the language-based modern Oriya identity, was naturally very sensitive to such criticism. It appears that this criticism made a deep impression on Fakir Mohan and also made him determined to write only in “genuine” or “authentic” Oriya in the future. His quest for linguistic authenticity – to discover the genuine or authentic Oriya, which could be made the “national print language”18 – had begun.

It may be mentioned in that connection that earlier in 1866 Fakir Mohan had published a book, Jibanacharita, (later edited by Sudarsana Acharya in 1993, published by Taratarini Pustakalaya, Berhampur) which is an Oriya translation of a Bengali book with the same title by Ishwarachandra Vidyasagar. In March 1867, the language of this book was severely criticised anonymously in the Letters to the Editor column of Utkala Dipika.19 Citing instances of artificiality, Bengali influence, and the dialectal variation in the book, this anonymous person urged the writer of the book to discard the foreign elements found in the speech of the people of the city and to use instead the words found in the speech of the brahmans and karanas (the upper castes) in the Oriya villages. But compared to the lower castes, the upper castes like brahmans and karanas tend to use more tatsama words in their speech20 and even at times erroneously use artificially created “wrong” words, under the impression that they are tatsama words,21 consequently, making their speech artificial. Therefore, their speech can never be called genuine or authentic Oriya. As their speech, unlike the speech of the lower castes, was not dissimilar to the Bengali of the contemporary textbooks, full of tatsama words, the suggestion of the letter writer could not provide useful guidelines about writing Oriya prose free of Bengali influence. That is why Fakir Mohan continued to write Bengaliinflected Oriya prose even later in his 1869 history of India.

But if the tone of the criticism of the anonymous letter writer in 1867 was harsh, in 1869 the tone of Gourishankar Ray’s criticism was even harsher, mainly because of the prevailing tension arising out of the OLA. Fakir Mohan was, of course, an ardent Oriya nationalist and also very active in the construction of modern Oriya identity. So now in 1869, because of the OLA and the tense atmosphere arising out of it, he was in no position to ignore the severe stricture on his language by Gourishankar. On the contrary, he must have felt guilty and was determined to write a more genuine Oriya prose, free of artificiality and of Bengali inflections. However, Gourishankar’s criticism, in spite of its severity, failed to provide any positive or clear guidance and direction as to how to write genuine or authentic Oriya devoid of artifice or colonialist influence, far less how to adopt that in his literary pursuits. (At best his ideas, in this respect, were hazy.) Nevertheless the criticism made a deep impression on Fakir Mohan, setting him off on his quest for linguistic authenticity.

Then in January 1870, another event took place. That was again the publication of another book, this time in Bengali, named Uriya Swatantra Bhasa Nahe (Oriya Is Not an Independent Language) by Kantichandra Bhattacharya, the pandit of the government school, Balasore. Following R L Mitra closely, Bhattacharya argued that Oriya was merely a dialect of Bengali or even “corrupt Bengali”. In order to prove his point, Bhattacharya quoted what Fakir Mohan had stated in the preface to his Oriya translation of the Bengali language Jibanacharita, by Iswarachandra Vidyasagar, earlier in 1866 (perhaps without fully comprehending its implications) – that Bengali language automatically becomes Oriya when only the verb is changed. Besides, Bhattacharya quoted a passage from the Bengali work by Iswarachandra

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Vidyasagar and also the same passage rendered into Oriya by Fakir Mohan, purporting to show that both Oriya and Bengali languages are strikingly similar. The publication of this book caused a stir and created a great furore among the native Oriya speakers, especially in Balasore, and their sharp reaction ushered in the third phase of the OLA. Fakir Mohan, who was already quite sensitive to the issue, must have felt embarrassed about his earlier comments on the similarity between Oriya and Bengali. That perhaps prompted him even more to be at the forefront of the OLA in Balasore. Now he became determined, more than ever, to write in a more genuine or authentic Oriya. But his ideas on the nature of “true” or “authentic” literary Oriya, suitable for prose writing, were still far from clear or concrete.

Then an event occurred that immensely helped Fakir Mohan to define his ideas in much more concrete terms. John Beames of the Bengal Civil Service, the celebrated philologist, was then the collector of Balasore. The furore among the Oriya speakers attracted his attention and he was stimulated to write a paper challenging the contention of Bhattacharya’s book and present it at a meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta. While dismissing this Bengali book as “profoundly destitute of philological arguments” he pointed to “the fact that the Sanskrit words so largely employed by pandits of Bengal and Orissa, are not living words at all, (since) they are dead, dead ages ago and only now galvanised into the semblance of life; they form no part of the working stock of words of the language”. He continued,

When they died ages ago, their sons inherited their place, and now their grandsons or great-grandsons hold it. In plain English such Sanskrit words as were used by the Uriyas and the Bengalis 25 centuries ago, have since then undergone the usual fate of words, and have been corrupted, abraded, and distorted till they often bear no resemblance at all to the original word. And it is these corrupted, or as they are called ‘Tadbhava’ words, that are the real living words of the language, the words that have been worn into their present shape by long use in the mouths of the people. These words our fastidious writers reject, and when by going back to the Sanskrit for their words, they have composed a work to their taste, lo! They say Uriya and Bengali are one language; for proof, read such and such works. I would suggest rather, let them take a chasa of Dacca and a chasa of Gumsar, and see how much they understand of one another’s talk.22

It may be mentioned here that ‘chasa’ is the name of a caste or ‘jati’ of cultivators or peasants belonging to the lowest rung, i e, ‘sudra’ in the four ‘varna’ scale. Beames treated all the desaja words – which, most probably, were derived either from Dravidian or Austroasiatic/Munda languages – in Modern Indo-Aryan languages as ‘tadbhavas’. In other words, according to Beames not only the tadbhava words, but also the desaja words, found in Oriya and Bengali, are the real words of the languages. Thus Beames could convincingly argue that the so-called similarity between the Oriya and Bengali languages was artificial, resulting from the artificial and abundant use of the tatsama words or words borrowed from Sanskrit in both languages and only to be found in the newly written school textbooks – thus successfully refuting Bhattacharya’s thesis.

In 1872, the Volume I of Comparative Grammar of the Modern Aryan Languages of India by Beames was published. In it he went even to a greater length to explain his view. In short, according to him,

[Some users of Bengali and Oriya] … delight in Tatsama words, and the learned in those provinces are proud of having such words in their language, being or pretending to be under the impression that they have always been in use and have come down to the present day unaffected by the laws of development to which all languages are subject. This is an obvious error. If the Pandits’ idea were true, these languages would be…absolute linguistic monstrosities.23

He further opined, “The excessive number of tatsamas in Bengali and Oriya, far from indicating a high degree of preservation, points rather to great poverty in the language”.24 Finally, holding the colonial educational system entirely responsible for the artificial entry of a large number of tatsama words in the school textbooks, he pronounced,

the great brahmanical theory was, and among the orthodox still to a great extent is, that Sanskrit, a divine invention, is the only true and correct Indian language, and that all deviations from the Sanskrit observable in the conversation of the masses are corruptions arising from ignorance; and that to purify and improve the vernacular – Bengali for instance – every word should be restored to its original Sanskrit shape, and the stream be made to run upwards to its source.…So completely does this idea prevail, that the honest old Tadbhavas were entirely banished from books, and a host of Tatsama [were] dug up from their graves and resuscitated for daily use. …Orissa at a later date followed the lead of Bengali, and from the causes above mentioned it has resulted that in both provinces the national speech has been banished from books, and now lives only in the mouths of the people; and even they as soon as they get a little learning, begin to ape their betters and come out with the Tatsamas with which both languages are now completely flooded.25

It may be mentioned that the books referred to by Beames were mostly written by people belonging to the upper castes. No wonder the books were tatsama-ridden.

These pronouncements by Beames – especially about the difference between the speech of “a chasa of Gumsar” and “a chasa of Dacca” (Beames’ emphases) must have made a profound impression on Fakir Mohan’s mind. Whether or not Fakir Mohan actually read the above works by Beames, he must have been quite familiar with his (Beames’) views, since the two men had close intellectual contact: Fakir Mohan was a frequent visitor to Beames and assisted him in writing his ‘Comparative Grammar’. It may be mentioned that Beames was not merely a well wisher of Fakir Mohan, but was also responsible for his worldly success. Fakir Mohan was never shy of admitting Beames’ help. Indeed, he mentioned that with great enthusiasm and fervour in his autobiography. Fakir Mohan, who at times assisted Beames in his intellectual endeavours, had great respect for Beames’ learning, knowledge and opinion. His emotional feelings for Beames were so strong that he even went so far as to call this colonial administrator a great saint or a ‘mahatma’ (great soul). Therefore, Beames’ pronouncement on the nature of artificiality in the language of the Bengali and Oriya books of the period

– the abundance of tatsama words in them – and the profound impression that must have made on Fakir Mohan’s mind may be considered in the context of Fakir Mohan’s both emotional and intellectual attachment to Beames.

Beames’ views clearly suggested an answer to the question about linguistic authenticity with which Fakir Mohan had been preoccupied. He now seemed to have discovered where the independence and authenticity of Oriya language (or, for that matter, any modern language) lies. Beames opened before him a route to a new world. It was not just the discovery of a language

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006 or medium, it led him to study and analyse the agrarian society of Orissa in depth. He was as it were freed from the linguistic net of both Sanskrit and upper caste Bengali. He was now determined to use the language of the cultivators, the sudras, belonging to the lowest rung of the social hierarchy, the people who lived below the world of tatsama.. In other words he decided to use the living speech of the common people of Orissa, men and women belonging to the agrarian rural society.

In contrast to Beames’ emphasis on the speech of chasa, a jati of sudras as the “genuine” or “authentic” Oriya, the anonymous letter writer of the Utkala Dipika in 1867 had made the suggestion to go to the upper castes, the brahmans and karans, of the villages seeking the genuine or authentic Oriya. Further, unlike the letter writer of 1867, Beames never suggested that words from Sanskrit be borrowed. Fakir Mohan’s goal was now to discover the desaja and tadbhava world that lay below the tatsama world.

Fakir Mohan came to know where the real differences between the Bengali and Oriya languages lie and also what kind of Oriya, free of any Bengali influence, he would have to adopt in his future literary endeavours. His quest had come to a successful end. It will certainly be the speech of the chasas of Orissa, if not exactly a chasa of Gumsar. He was determined to use the speech of the cultivators or a language that was as close to it as possible. In other words, he decided to use the living speech of the men and women belonging to the agrarian rural society.

It may further be pointed out here that E C B Hallam, a Christian missionary, then stationed at Balasore, published his Oriya Grammar for English Students in 1874. From the preface of this grammar, it appears that he more or less subscribed to Beames’ views on genuine or authentic Oriya. From the same preface it is known that he also had a close scholarly contact with Beames and with Fakir Mohan. Beames had “kindly aided very materially in the work by carefully criticising almost every page”.26 Therefore, he might have come under Beames’ influence regarding the notion of a genuine or authentic Oriya. Alternatively, he might have formed the same conclusion on the basis of his own experience as a missionary who came in close contact with the common people belonging to the agrarian rural society of Orissa. Hallam’s views might also have reinforced and strengthened the profound impression Beames’ views had already made on Fakir Mohan’s mind.27

Therefore, when Fakir Mohan started writing his novels and short stories later, his prior decision, nay determination, to write in genuine or authentic Oriya free of any upper caste Bengali influence led him to the speech of the cultivators or chasas of Orissa, or in other words, the speech of men and women of the agrarian rural society of Orissa. That compelled him to accept the real speakers, i e, cultivators – or in other words, men and women from the same agrarian rural society – as characters. That, in turn, determined the theme or the subject matter of his very first novel, Chha Mana Atha Guntha (hereafter Chha Mana) as he had to write on different aspects: the joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, hopes and frustrations, hatred and love, hypocrisies and sacrifices, customs and superstitions, and also the emotions and passions of the men and women of the agricultural/agrarian rural society of Orissa. And that led him to go the roots and analyse the nature of the problems of the chasas or peasants and understand the real causes of these problems, namely, the British land revenue, general administrative and judicial systems that had been imposed on Orissan society.28 Chha Mana became an anti-colonial text in spite of the fact that Fakir Mohan held such individual colonial administrators as Beames and Ravenshaw in high esteem – they were not only his benefactors, but also played important roles in retaining Oriya as the the medium of instruction in Orissan schools and thereby also in the construction of modern Oriya identity. That is, perhaps, how his first novel Chha Mana came to be conceived and how his search for the linguistic authenticity lay beneath both the naturalist and analytical realism29 one comes across in the novel. Further, because of this emphasis on the speech (and through it on the lives and the problems) of the common people of the agrarian rural society of Orissa, it also formed a part of the modern subaltern discourse in Orissa in its initial phase.

It is generally believed that a novelist first chooses his or her subject matter or theme, then constructs the plot and the characters which will best represent the subject matter or theme, and finally the subject matter and the characters of the novel determine its language and style. In other words, it is generally assumed that the subject matter and characters of a novel determine its language and style. But from the above discussion it appears that in the case of Chha Mana perhaps the opposite happened and it is the language discovered from below in a peculiar historical circumstance that determined the characters as well as the subject matter of the novel. Such priority and emphasis on language on Fakir Mohan’s part was quite natural and understandable, since he had been playing a very active role in the construction of languagebased Oriya identity.

While not exactly disputing the claim that “Senapati’s text builds on a pre-text, that is Bengal Peasant Life, and, does so, moreover, by rewriting and reworking…”30 (or as another critic will have it, “One of the key literary models Senapati has in mind is…Bengal Peasant Life…”),31 it may be convincingly argued that the interest, impulse and impetus for building the text of Chha Mana was most probably provided by the opinion and pronouncements of Beames and also his own determination to write in the language of the chasas or peasants of Orissa. Otherwise, it would be hard to explain why he did not choose to build this text on any of the other pre-texts available to him, such as Durgesh Nandini, Rajasimha, or even Bisabriksha by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, which he had also read, especially when at places the presentation and description of Chha Mana has come, at least to some extent, under the influence of



My point about Fakir Mohan’s decision to focus on the Oriya chasa is further substantiated by the very title of this novel, clearly indicating that it is a tale concerning land (farming and related issues). It is devoid of traditional romantic elements, involving conventional heroes and heroines, belonging to the upper caste and strata of the society – and this is unusual compared to the titles of contemporary Oriya (or for that matter Bengali) novels. As indicated by its title, it is as if a plot of land, rather than any individual human being, has become the protagonist of this novel.

Moreover, in this novel there are a good many number of words in Chha Mana that are either desaja or tadbhava. They are related to agriculture (chasa): different kinds of holding (‘lakhraji’, ‘bahel’, ‘bajyapti’, ‘debottara’, ‘brhmottara’, ‘jayagiri’, ‘khandayatimahal’), measurement of land (‘bati’, ‘mana’, ‘guntha’, ‘biswa’, ‘padika’, ‘nala’), measurement of paddy/corn (‘bharana’, ‘nauti’, ‘gauni’, ‘biswa’), different phases/stages and various operations in the cultivation of paddy (‘hala-jochiba’, ‘hala-phitiba’, ‘kadhana’, ‘doada’, ‘buna’, ‘rua’, ‘pota’, ‘dhana-kata’), types of agricultural implements (‘juali’, ‘langala’, ‘kodi’) and also some other words

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such as ‘tali’ (seedling), ‘pua’ (sapling), ‘simsa’ (ear of corn), ‘chasu’ (chaff), ‘hala’ (sheaf of corn), ‘rabana’ (a kind of paddy), ‘akhimuthi’ (sowing ceremony), ‘chaka’ (a compact area of land) ‘dipania balada’ (bullock under the yoke only for two years), ‘mulia’ and ‘halia’ (labourer) ‘baratana’ (annual salary/wages), ‘khala’ (barn), ‘amara’ (granary), ‘bhaga’ (sharecropping), ‘bakhara’ (sharecropping), ‘bila’ (field), ‘kalinda’ (fertile land), ‘dedhi’ (lending paddy/grain at 50 per cent interest), ‘karaja’ (loan), etc. It even describes how the title or ownership of land used to be transferred. In this respect Chha Mana is unique among other contemporary novels, none of which contain so many such words relating to agriculture.

Besides, one comes across a host of other words (again most of them are either desaja or tadbhava), expressions, proverbs and idioms (e g, ‘asudhana sukrabara hoinahin’, ‘ghadiru tela na saru’, ‘pua munda lukhura na rahu’, etc) relating to agrarian rural life and society almost in every chapter and even in every paragraph of the novel.

Of course, certain number of tatsama words (such as ‘brahmottara’, ‘debottara’, ‘purnnima’, ‘ekadasi’) and also words of Perso-Arabic origin (such as ‘khajana’, ‘asul’, ‘taluk’, ‘bandobasta’, ‘baradast’) and even English words are found in the novel. But most of these words were then used (and perhaps still are in use) either by the people themselves belonging to the agrarian rural society or in connection with the administration, or where the author either wants to create a situation or becomes philosophical and expresses which he believes to be eternal truths. But there is a subtler reason. Fakir Mohan, the author, as a narrator was engaging the emerging educated middle class, usually from the upper castes, who were his readers. It was a strategy to get his work – narrating the lives of the lower castes – acceptable to them. Thus there are two linguistic layers in the novel.

The shift in Fakir Mohan’s position from writing in a kind of Oriya in which the nearness to upper caste Bengali language was in some ways accepted without any hesitation (see the Preface to his Oriya rendering of Vidyasagar’s Jibanacharita), to completely shunning Bengali influence, indicates how in the construction of Oriya identity, in which Fakir Mohan indeed played a major role, Bengali speakers were gradually and increasingly seen as the “political other”. In the medieval period such influence on Oriya language would have mattered little and would not have created any furore and controversy. But in the modern period, characterised by the construction of competing and contesting political interests and identities, the role of language became crucial. Thus Fakir Mohan unknowingly played a very significant role – after the 16th-century saint-poet Atibadi Jagannatha Das, who rendered the Sanskrit Bhagavata into Oriya – in standardising Oriya. And, Fakir Mohan’s involvement in the OLA was at the root of this. As we have seen, this involvement also profoundly influenced the language used in Chha Mana Atha Guntha as well as the novel’s thematic preoccupations.




[I am grateful to Rabi Shankar Mishra, who read an earlier draft and offered suggestions for improvement. This is based on author’s paper ‘Fakira Mohananka Gadyariti O’ Odia Bhasha-Suraksha Andolana’ published in the Oriya journal Jhankar (43/9), December 1991 and (43/10) January 1992.]

1 Natabara Samantaray’s explanation is that Fakir Mohan came in contact with various sections of people during his long administrative career, and this determined his language in the novel. Further, he argued that it was shaped by the time frame of action in his novels and short stories. I find this explanation unconvincing. Although Surendra Mohanty and J V Boulton, had almost stumbled upon the real reason they neither could comprehend it fully and nor did they, because of that, pursue and elaborate it and make any in-depth study. As a result they missed the point [for detailed information see Dash 1991-92].

2 This is another characteristic of the modern period that, with the emergence of modern state, the number of government jobs, especially those for the literates, which have always been a good source of income, increased dramatically. It was also a European phenomenon. To quote Hobsbawm: “the new form of government [was one] in which every adult (male) inhabitant, and indeed as a subject of administration every inhabitant irrespective of sex and age, was directly linked with state government ...We note in passing that in the respective countries it probably constituted the largest single body of employment requiring literacy” [Hobsbawm 1995: 81-82; see also Anderson 1991: 75-80].

3 That was precisely the case in 1862.

4 Some of the chief causes of the 1917 anti-colonial Paik rebellion in Orissa, according to W Ewer, who led the government investigation, were “exactions and injustice of the Bengali Amlas”; according to G Gouldsbury, the commissioner, they were “[the] machinations of the Bengali Amlas in oppressing and plundering the people and fraudulently dispossessing the Ooriah zamindars of their estates” [quoted in Mukherjee 1964: 139]. See below fn 13.

5 In 1837 commissioner Henry Ricketts observed, “Oriahs are admitted to the lowest situations, Bengalees held every office of emolument and trust in the province” [quoted in Samantarya 1979: 73]

6 R D Banerji, the well known Bengali historian has observed, “While British officers in Orissa were proposing the introduction of their own laws into the semi-independent states, the same laws administered by them and carried into effect by their Bengali subordinates were ruining the nobility of Orissa and impoverishing the richest people of the country [Banerji 1931: 278] and “So, in fact, Bengalis of a low type ruled Orissa for nearly half a century after the conquest. They became notorious for chicanery and dishonesty, while no protest could be raised against the camouflaged dishonesty of the early 19th century English officers, known as ‘Nabobs’, out of fear” (Ibid: 279). Further, of the middle-ranking Bengali officials Nivedita Mohanty, following P Mukherjee, says, “They could persuade the dishonest British officers of the day to sell out the defaulting estates through auction in Calcutta” and then on the basis of Trowers Report she reports, “Between the years 1806-1816, as many as 1011 estates out of the total of 2,340 were taken out of possession from Oriya zamindaras in this manner”, see Mohanty (1982) : p 10. See above fn no 4.

7 For some more information on the construction of Oriya identity, see Dash 1978.

8 Later towards the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, another such agitation took place in western Orissa, especially in Sambalpur. I discuss it in detail in a forthcoming article, ‘Changing One’s Own Identity’.

9 For more and detailed information on the OLA see Dash 1993.

10 To quote Hobsbawm again, “linguistic nationalism was and is essentially about the language of public education and official use. It is about ‘office and school’…” [Hosbawm 1995: 96].

11 For Mitra’s position see Beames 1870. For detail information see Dash 1993.

12 Rangalal Bandyopadhyay, who worked as a deputy magistrate at Cuttack, wrote a narrative poem entitled Kanchi-Kaberi (1879) in Bengali on the theme of the famous Orissan traditional account Kanch-Kaveri with nationalistic undertone/tinge and thereby became a pioneer in the construction of a national legend for the Oriyas and played a role in the construction of Oriya identity. For more information, see Dash 1978, pp 368-69 and 1979, pp 74-77 and 83-104.

13 In that connection H C B C Raban, the collector of Puri, who opposed the imposition of Bengali in Orissan schools, in his report to the commissioner T E Ravenshaw on January 25, 1868, observed, “There is a very strong clannish spirit among the Bengalee employees in different parts of India and the head of every public office in India knows how rapidly any influential man will fill the office with his own friends and countrymen. This cause has largely been at work in the educational

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

department; and to it I attribute the great proportion of Bengalees among teachers. The result of this large Bengalee element supervised by those to whom Ooriyah is unfamiliar is to introduce Bengalee into the teaching as less troublesome to teachers than Ooryah”. And further, “The result is that there is a certain preference for Bengalee subordinates, who have generally the merit of knowing better than Ooryahs how to understand and please the superiors…” Proceedings of the Hon’ble Lt Governor of Bengal, General Department, Education Branch, 1868 July, No 60, see also Dash 1993, pp 125-26.These observations are quite significant. Even two decades later Fakir Mohan in his Utkala Bramanam observed, “The officers and the lawyers are all foreigners, Not even the postal clerk is native”. See Dash 1978, p 365, fn 30.

14 See Beames, 1870, p 212; Mitra’s speech was printed as an appendix to Beames’ paper.

15 R L Mitra has written at least four school textbooks, besides a few books for general reader. For more information on the textbooks and other books written by him, see his biography in Bengali [Bandyopadhyaya, Brajendranath 1368: 16-20]. Further, in course of his debate with Beames, R L Mitra had argued, “I prepared a map of India in Bengali and it brought me a profit within one year of over Rs 6,000. The same map was subsequently translated into Uriya, but even the School Book Society could not venture to undertake it on their own account and the government at last had to advance, I think, some two or Rs 3,000 to help the publication. The map, however fell still born from the press and almost the whole edition is, I believe, now rotting in the godown of its publisher. Let the government introduce Bengali language in the schools of Orissa, and the Uriyas, instead of seeking grants-in-aid from government and private individuals for occasionally bringing out solitary new books, will have whole of our Bengali publications at their disposal without any cost” [in Beames 1870: 211-12]. All these not only indicate how textbooks were a major source of income to him, but also how he was guided by his inner motive to protect, nay enhance his income from the same source while trying, at the same time, to conceal his real motive behind his avowed goal of the spread of education in Orissa. For a detailed discussion see G N Dash 1993, pp 36-50.

16 It may be once again made clear that – as Orissa was a “colony of a colony”

– for the speakers of Oriya language the colonisation consisted of two layers or two levels: the British and the Bengali (or the Telugu or the Hindi). Therefore the displacement of Bengali from Oriya schools and also freeing Oriya language of Bengali influence/elements may be interpreted as steps towards primary layer/level of “decolonising” process (Satya P Mohanty in the Introduction to Six Acres and a Third, 2005, a translation of Chha Mana ...has used the term “linguistic colonialism”, see p 26). It may sound a little strange but it was a fact that in the primary layer/level of decolonisation colonial administrators such as T E Ravenshaw and John Beames played significant roles along with Oriya-speakers such as Gourishankar and Fakir Mohan. For more information see Dash 1993. Chha Mana… operates in both of the layers/levels of the decolonising process: written in a language free of Bengali influence, it operates in the primary layer/level, and with its subtle criticism – running like an undercurrent – of the British land revenue (including the sunset law introduced by the British), general administrative and judicial systems, etc, it also operates on the secondary layer/level of the “decolonising” process. Therefore, Chha Mana ...not only forms part of the anti-colonial discourse but also is one of the earliest such instances in Oriya language.

17 Utkala Dipika, April 10, 1869. 18 See Anderson Benedict for the concept, 1991, p 67. 19 Utkala Dipika, March 9, 1867. See Bansidhar Mohanty, 1989, pp 208-10. 20 Because of such linguistic orthodoxy when the Sanskrit ‘Puranic’ texts

like Mahabharata and Ramayana were rendered into Oriya, since the 15th century, the brahmans vehemently opposed that. Even the Bhagavata translated into Oriya, in the 16th century, by the saint-poet Atibadi Jagannath Das, a high caste learned brahman himself of the same Puri locality, although quite popular throughout the Oriya-speaking tracts, was denigrated as ‘teli’ Bhagavata (the oilmen’s Bhagabata) by the brahmans and could not get an entry into the 16 brahman-‘sasanas’ brahman villages) of the Puri region, the citadel of brahman orthodoxy, till the first decade of the 20th century (as is known from the autobiography of Pandit Nilakantha Das). Fakir Mohan, in his autobiography, humorously describes how, in his childhood days, a brahman teacher used to explain the ‘tadbhava’ and ‘desaja’ words in an Oriya textbook by supplying ‘tatsama’ synonyms for them while teaching. The description is humorous because instead of supplying tadbhava and desaja synonyms for the tatsama words, which are mostly unintelligible, the brahman teacher did just the opposite.

21 The process is technically known as hypercorrection or hyper-Sanskritisation. ‘Andhatkara’ is an instance of hyper-Sanskritisation.

22 Beames 1870, p 194 (emphasis added).

23 Beames 1966, Vol I, p 34.

24 Ibid, p 35.

25 Ibid, pp 37-38.

26 Hallam, ECB, 1874.

27 Fakir Mohan was quite familiar with Hallam. Hallam – who, according to Fakir Mohan, could speak Oriya like a native – as the secretary of the Balasore Mission School appointed Fakir Mohan as a teacher of that school and persuaded him to continue in that school on a higher salary even when he got an opportunity to work in the government schools. Further, Hallam acknowledged Fakir Mohan’s help in the preparation of his ‘Oriya Grammar for English Students’. See Hallam, ECB, Preface, vii.

28 This will be discussed in detail later in another paper, a sequel to this paper.

29 Satya P Mohanty, in the introduction to Six Acres and a Third, 2005, the most recent translation of Chha Mana, explains these two terms. See p 2.

30 H S Mohapatra and J K Nayak, 2004, p 105.

31 Satya P Mohanty in the introduction to Six Acres and a Third, 2005, p 216.

32 See K C Sahu 1959.


Anderson, Benedict (1991): Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London.

Bandyopadhyaya, Brajendranath (1368;1961): Rajendralal Mitra, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Calcutta, Fourth Edition.

Banerji, R D (1931): History of Orissa, Vol II, Calcutta.

Beames, John (1870): ‘On the Relation of Uriya to Other Modern Indian Languages’, proceedings of the Asiatic Society, Bengal, June, pp 192216, Calcutta.

– (1966): Comparative Languages of the Modern Aryan Languages of India, Vol I, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, Vols I, II and III in a single volume Vol I, First Edition 1872, Truebner and Co, London.

Bhattacharya, Kantichandra (1870): Uriya Swayantra Bhasa Nahe, Calcutta.

Dash, G N (1978): ‘Jagannatha and Oriya Nationalism’ in A Eschmann, H Kulke and G C Tripathi (eds), The Cult of Jagannatha and the Regional Tradition of Orissa, Manohar, New Delhi.

  • (1979): Janasruti Kanchi-Kaberi, Pustak Bhandar, Berhampur.
  • (1991-92): Fakira Mohananka Gadyariti O’ Odia Bhasa-Suraksha Andolana, Jhankar 43/9, December 1991 and Jhankar, 43/10, January 1992.
  • (1993): Odia Bhasa-Suraksha Andolana, Cuttack Students’ Store, Cuttack. Hallam, E C B (1874): Oriya Grammar for English Students, Calcutta School Book Society, Calcutta. Hobsbawm, E J (1995): Nations and Nationalism since 1780, second edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Mohanty, Bansidhar (1989): Odia Bhasa Andolana, Friends’ Publishers, Cuttack. Mohanty, Nivedita (1982): Oriya Nationalism: Quest for a United Orissa 1866-1936, Manohar, New Delhi.
  • Mohapatra, H S and J K Nayak (2004): ‘Writing Peasant Life in Colonial India: A Comparative Analysis of Rev Lal Beheri Day’s Bengal Peasant Life and Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Chha Mana Atha Guntha’ in J K Nayak (ed), Fakir Mohan Senapati; Perspectives on His Fiction, (Prafulla).

    Mukherjee, P (1964): Utkal University History of Orissa, Vol VI, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar. Sahu, K C (1959): ‘Bisabriksha O’ Chha Mana Atha Guntha’ in The Jhankar, 11/9. Samantaraya, Natabar (1979): Adhunika Odia Sahitya Bikashara Prusthabhumi, Bhubaneswar.

    Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

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