Dr.Kalipada Pradhan

Manoj Das: A Study of his life and Satiric Art

Manoj Das is an internationally popular short story writer born (1934) in a remote village of “Shankhari” of Balasore district of Orissa in India. He belongs to a middle class family. He initially wrote in Oriya in his early stages and later on switched over to English. In this context, in an exclusive interview held on behalf of the British Council’s Literature Alive( June 1986), he said:

“At one stage I felt inspired to write in English because I was haunted by a feeling if I do not sound presumptuous- that much of the Indo- Anglian fiction that claimed to project India did not do justice to the claim. I was born in a village before independence and lived through the transition at an impressionable age. Hence I thought I could present through English a chunk of genuine India. Well, right or wrong, one is entitled to one’s faith in oneself!”

Thus, Manoj Das entered into the galaxy of Indo- English writers. Post- Independent India writing in English saw a group of eminent writers, such as Bhabani Chatterjee, Khuswant Singh, Nayantara Saigal, Kamala Markandeya, Anita Desai, Ved Mehta, Bharati Mukhergee, Salmon Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Manohar Malgonkar, Arun Joshi, N Daruwala, Ruskin Bond and Manoj Das. Their concern for Indian society and its enrichment was marked by the proliferation of humor and satire in their writings. India was undergoing a phase of transition in the initial years of independence. It was the ear of recovery and reconstruction when Manoj Das entered into the arena of Indian English literature. Coming out from the shackles of foreign domination, this young nation was trying to find out a foothold to establish its identity. This transitional phase was a fertile ground for writers like Manoj Das. This is more so evident in the exploitation of social eccentricities and its urge to cling to sudden values and ideas in such writings. The study seeks to establish this sensitivity of Manoj Das in his satirical portraiture of this transitional Indian society.

Das is widely known as the best-loved and serious among the Indian writers writing in English. He is also the living legend of Oriya literature. Affluent writer of a quaint charm, Das is an astonishingly prolific writer. He has a lot of creative writings-more than eighty books in Oriya and English to his credit that earned for him international celebrity. Manoj Das grew up in the midst of loving rural folks and extraordinary natural beauty. Das’s early life had been as picturesque as his writings. He has his Marxist leanings during his early of life and took an active role in politics. As a student leader, he has courted jail for his inflammatory speeches against the authority. But his sudden transformation from Marxism to Mysticism on being inspired from within, basically being a votary of Sri Autobindo’s mystical teachings has been a turn or natural transition due to his mental upheaval caused by Stalin’s fall from grace since 1956.After that historic event, during destalinisation era especially, his natural quest for the meaning of life enriched by a new awareness led him to mysticism. Describing his transformation as a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, Das says, “ His exposition of Man as a transitory , evolving being, and my quest into the nature of suffering and the meaning of life drew me to the Mother at the Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry in 1963” ( The Sunday Statemman,24 June,2001). He took to short story writing since his early teens, winning rapid recognition and found his main vocation in it.

The writerly career of Manoj Das spans over decades along with the numerous accolades including the Sahitya Akademi Fellowhip given to him for his relative writings and appreciation given by many critics of India and abroad in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the Post-Independent Indian English literature. As a short-story writer of international repute, Manoj Das is now acknowledged as one of the foremost forces in current literature especially his widely populated short stories which are our main preoccupation with several collections of stories in English and in Oriya, in particular , in addition to his novels, collections of poems, travelogues and belles-letters. He has also, to his credit authoritative treat uses on Sri Autobindo, besides writing a regular column for sever national dailies, including The Statesman. He is now one of the ablest interpreters of Indian’s literary and cultural heritage. As a student of mysticism he has now been delving deep into the philosophies and yogic literature of India.

The Indian English short story writer and novelist Manoj Das is usually thought of as a satirist in the sense that Chaucher was a satirist, Shakespeare and Dickens were satirists. There are few stories of Das in which the organizing principle is the attempt to diminish a subject by ridicule and satire is the main consideration. On the other hand, he has a good mummer of stories, the over-all form of which is not satiric but satire occurs as an incidental element in a certain character, situation or interpolated passage or ironic commentary on some aspect of human condition and contemporary millieu. Das wants to reform this transitional society of mystery and hardship, complex false values and urban vices, of the reign of superstition and the decadence of moral values through satire. With regard to this philosophy of reforming, Manoj Das was highly influenced by the philosophy of Mahayogi Sri Aurobindo. He understands that man is an evolutionary being immensely capable of self-development. Das does not believe in any ‘ism’. For him, the aim of literature while picturing life is to search for something greater than life itself. So he maintains that principle earnestly in all his literary pursuits through satire. Das is highly praised and appreciated by his reders. In this context, Das is a humble was, says:

“I have never consciously written satire for satire’s sake. Still critics point out that satire is a natural and inalienable element of my stories. Whenever I have realized that they are right. I have felt very low about myself… How can this writer with numerous flaws in him have the right to satire? However , to my good fortune, my readers and critics have taken up my so-called satire not as mere satire but asa means of some profound message.”( Das Manoj in his ‘Preface’ to The Abooman and Other Stories, Published in Oriya, Grantha Mandir, Cuttack,1975. This quotation is the English version of Das’s Oriya Statement.)

Das has succeeded in using the concept of satire in his literary works through numerous creative devices. Das’s creativity, which is quite modern in form and sensibility achieves universal appeal and the quantum of timelessness with his subtle satire on contemporary social vices and individual follies. Satire is a lonely and introspective occupation. Nobody can describe a fool to the life without much patient self-inspection. Das justifies his stories in that direction based on purely social observations, circumspection, little ironies and funny situations encountered by him particularly with much loftiness and serenity. His stories have generally a genial and humorous structure, but inherent in them, there is a subtle ironical attitude against lies and hypocrisy which have become an essential part of our character in everyday life. Though apparently entertaining, the stories have a sharp point of view and also constitute serious contemplations about life. Das’s satire is effective and impressive. He never offends others while exposing their shortcomings. He says in this connection. “I always remember what Jonthan Swift said: ‘Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders generally discover everyone’s face but their own’. But I never forget to try to behold my own face in that mirror’. ( The Hitavada, Nagpur: Sunday, June 15, 1980).

Manoj Das is a conscious creative artist and a social critic of the first order. He admits that his “ Stories are written out of creative inspiration, some are written out of simple creative joy. Some are out of a commitment to society”( Bhavan’s Journal, April 1970). He further says, “ In aspirations from high ranges of creativity are not a continuous experience; but one keeps on writing to meet different demands”(“Preface” to Bulldozers and Fables and fantasies for Adults.)The author appears to have perfected a creative technique peculiarly responsive to various levels of readership. As a satirist, Das adopts different strategies in his stories in order to expose the follies and foibles of the individuals and vicious sores of the society. Das takes up the short story, fable and fantasy form to give vent to his satirical impulses quite effectively. He makes the sustained use of humor and ironies, symbol and allegory together with his powerful and innovative use of language as his literary devices, while settling down to writing satire in his stories. He is humorous in sensibility and humanitarian in outlook. His satire, on the whole is mellow and mild, good-humoured and benign. Das belongs to the Indian Satirical Short Story tradition and it has an immense impact on his creative story literature. His satiric vision based on genuine love for humanity coupled with awareness of moral sense and robust optimism. His world is an all-inclusive unique world presented with various shades and colours. It is a world of satire, humour and irony, Das is a subtle satirist. His satire is through a unique menas-stories. Das has a keen sense of observation and humanistic vision. His attitude to human life and its predicaments due to this change from one stage of life to another has obviously been exhibited in his short stories. “When I see a lotus blossoming out of as filthy a stuff as mud, with the intervention of sunlight, I don’t see why a godly race can’t emerge out of the present muddy humanity” ( The Statesman Festival.2003.27) constitutes Das’s changed vision. Das presents in the satiric design his futuristic vision for a better society through spiritual life. His thinks that imperfection of human nature and evils can be eradicated from society by following a spiritual path in life.

Finally Das’s stories are comments on the conduct of mice and men of the present time. Das is primarily a seeker-an ever-evolving personality who has never ceased to grow. As an unparalleled master of narrative literature and passionate advocated of transcendence, his observations concern the eternal values and purpose of human of life, which has relevance to the present society. He continues with his realism but explores its deeper, wider and higher planes through his creative strategies. The satirical approach to his works makes the discerning reader conscious of the shortcomings and follies of mice and men. Satire is not expected to bring about much change in the people, in general but plays its role in the life of the receptive reader. It also enriches his/her perception of things. So Das is a good-humoured satirist of Horatian spirit whose satire is always mild and shining mingled with sympathy.

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About Manoj Das

For thousands of men, women and children of the past two or three generations, Manoj Das has been the very synonym of light and delight, whose writings in Odia and English inspire in his countless readers faith in the purpose of life and also open up concealed horizons of confidence and compassion in humanity a dire need today.