Prof. Dinabandhu Dey

Prof. Dinabandhu Dey

To muse over an immortal genius like Manoj Das is to commune with the Divine. And to peep into his creation is to be anointed with the blissful touch and grace of creativity. The immortal artist is perpetually designed to “Wash the feet to humanity, not to crucify it”. Every time he speaks, he sounds new, refreshing and amazing, for he promises food for thought and delight for feeling through his art. Realm of gold be­comes a veritable wonderland for those who commit themselves to the angelic beauty of art and the vibrant message of the genius. “A work of art, to be of enduring value, must teach man humility, tolerance, wisdom and magnanimity”, said Somerset Maugham. A creative artist of sublime order won’t allow his art, aesthetic taste and appreciative values to degrade at any point of time. He is a surrendered soul, meant to lift the readers of all age-groups and of all walks of life to a lofty height of conscious­ness, help them grow in spirit and enable them to explore the mysterious forces that come into play with existence. A true artist is first and last, a blissful soul who is more humane, more sensitive, more cohesive, more soulful than the average humanity or else he will fail to project life in its totality. It is in this sense that Camus said, “Art is the activity that exalts. Great style has never had a formal value it is invisible stylization or rather stylization incarnate.” This is a tribute to the great works of inspiration and spon­taneity in which theme determines style and not reversely. Manoj Das, the superb yarn-spinner of the contemporary times, has scaled the heights of perfections in many genres of literature and in many aspects of life, making of genius.

Manoj Das (1934-) is the product of the tense period around independence. At a very tender age he learnt to study life and situation. The young Manoj experienced the impact of transition. Deeply touched by the social upheavals involved in the making of new India, the boy Manoj recorded the unchanging phenomenon without let-up. The feudal society was breaking up. Values of the bygone days clashed with those of the new epoch. Distress of the rural India moved him profoundly. As a keen observer of the misery of the human family, Manoj came forward to portray the anguish and plight of the down-trodden, pitched against the tricks and intrigues of the so-called higher-ups. The devastating cyclone that struck North Balasore and the adjoining Midnapore in Bengal, followed by the terrible famine, plunged the areas into pitiable ruins. There was the shadow of death everywhere; all around there were cries of helplessness and despair. Born in the most affluent family, the boy Manoj was compassionate enough to respond to the cries and crises outside. The plight of man, the grim struggle for sheer physical existence, the pale faces showing resignation to fate posed him serious question. What is it that sustains man through travails and torments of life? Can man be ever happy in the true sense of the term ?

His earliest publication of collections of poems came out in the forms of ‘Satabdira Artanda1 and ‘Biplabi Fakir Mohan’. He tried to answer the haunting question in poetry. Poverty was the resounding theme that shaped his poetic being -the poverty that bred hunger and helplessness and the poverty in human thinking and feeling. Poverty of both the hues conspired to shake the social foundation. The first type of poverty needed economic solution. The second’s solution remained a mystery to him. And the mystery of existence inspired the young Manoj to write poetry and short stories ceaselessly. Along with his hectic life, his creative genius continued to blossom and take on ever greater dimensions. He did not forget to ponder and ponder over the basic themes of existence. That ever-stretching pursuit led to the birth of hundreds of scintillating and absorbing short stories. The man and the artist combined and inter­acted with each other for the development of life and art. It is only the divine grace that could juxtapose art and heart, imagination and reality, literature and life. On the basis of Marxist ideals his experiment went in for higher goals and touched the corridors of spiritual world. In the process, the creativity evolved into a transcendental state. Consequently each individual story became a super hit. His harmonious personality has been reflected in his quest for a symphony of answers to the varied queries and riddles. An integrated approach to life is the most absorbing secret of his fictional execution for which he is indebted to spiritual vision of the great Seer Sri Aurobindo. Right from the short story, “The Hungry sea” to the latest novel ‘Amruta phala’ his world of fiction has enchanted the readers and made them restless pilgrims in quest of enlightenment and liberation.

Mystrey-Rapture in art is worthless unless it strengthens the character and renders man more capable of right action, said Somerset Maugham. Endowed with the keenest perception of and the deepest insight into the human life, Manoj Das has drawn an immensely bewildering range of characters. Those characters are all true and faithful projections of life. Gentle humour, subtle irony, prudent criticism, profound commentary on human follies and intutive sympathy for fools and knaves have made him an authentic story teller. A prolific writer and consummate artist. Manoj Das cannot limit himself to a given genre of literature. Like any other creative genius, the transi­tional soul of Manoj Das progressively grows in vision and art. The inner world of sensibility in which he lives effulges with aesthetic appeal, moral sense and robust optimism. Consequently, the creative world smacks of neatness of purpose, clarity of vision, sense of dignity and decency and commitment to upholding lasting values. His literature aims at building a golden bridge between art and life, imagination and reality, matter and spirit. Readers conversant with his creations will readily trace the elements of realism coated with mysticism, of the tragic ingrained in the comics, of the satiric transformed into the gentle. He is a realist but his realities are inward and spiritual. Like many of his contemporaries, Manoj Das is acutely conscious of the spiritual empti­ness. The artist is not a moral teacher. The mysticism we witness in the stories is employed to defend the works from being bitter and melodramic. Moreover, it ex­tends horizon for smooth accommodation of the facts and fathoms the layers of reality. The subtle mechanism is the magic that elevates and renders his stories so majestic with color and splendour, winning universal acceptance by the young and the old.

With the abundance of rich materials at hand, the artist Das has exquisitely delineated the characters and situations. He is the lone artist who, with the gift of essemplastic imagination and creative fecundity, has recast the folktale and folktale into excellent works of art.

From his wonderful fantasies, we can take” He who Rode the Tiger” and “Man who lifted the Mountain” which deal graphically with the consequences of vanity and ambitiousness; how irrationality leads to extreme end results. “Old folks of the Northern Valley” and A Tale of the Northern Valley” depict remote hamlets whose candid people spin tall tales and love benign rumours. In “Bulldozers” the writer touchingly describes how the aspirations of RavJ. a smalltown librarian, come to nought despite his earnest work. The novella is framed almost in the vein of R. K.-Narayan, the moods of sadness and joys alternately surface and ultimately mingle into deep seated mystery.

“The Submerged Valley and Other Stories” is a rich volume of Indian Village. The majority of the stories including the title story are set in remote village and provin­cial towns. The pressing problems are posed by the encroachment of modernity. The background is rural India, the changing yet changeless Indian village with all the salient points of the traditional society. The forgetful Bholagrandpa, the retired General Valla, the elusive yet ubiquitous Abolkara, the transitional village, tree, Kunja and his kite, the intriguing owl, the well beloved local ghost, the faded heroine of the local myth about the crocodile bridegroom, the obsessed avenger are not of Orissa alone but of all India. The transition has been an excruciating experience.

“The Dusky Horizon and Other Stories” is an anthology which is marked by realistic sympathies. It is an enriched realism reflective of the narrative framework of experience. The title story involves complex interplay of memory, fable and coincidence. It is narrated by an old man who is in the process of reading a fairy-tale. We are brought back to the content of the fairy tale at various stages of the story. It serves mainly as a point of entrance to the past, having rekindled memories of childhood in the mind of the narrator. Foremost among these is the memory of the Lily, a strangely dignified and self possessed young girl, who accompanies the narrator and his friends to Pea­cock Hill, in search of ghosts who are supposed to live there. But the expendition is a tragic one. A storm blows up, Lily falls down a precipice and is killed. The narrator is so deeply affected by the fairy tale that he seeks out its author, who happens to be Navin, a companion on the trip to Peacok Hill, all those years ago. Each in his own way, has spent all his life in search of a salve for a painful recollection.

The collection of stories is known for an urge to retrieve what has been lost. Sun and darkness follow each other. The characters tend to look back to a past in which things were better for them. In” sunset Over the Valley”, Brij Singh, a virtual cripple, has pathetic dreams of his present life. But he is helpless. “Miss Moberty’s Targets” pictures an eccentric woman who is confined to a nursing home. Her targets are a group of dogs, named after her past lovers, to whom and at whom she throws biscuit crumbs. The dogs, which sit outside her windows and beg for food, are comic semblance of the one true target of her life: happy marriage. Manoj Das never loses his ironic touch or unfailing sense of humour. The story” The Bull of Babulpur” is a gentle treatment of the conflict between village and urban culture. The writer depicts a criminal lawyer who, seized by a whim, decides to drive back the bull to the village of its birth. His passage is blocked by a bull-symbol of the free, immortal invincible and universal soul” – standing serenely in the middle of the road. Traditional culture fights back as the timeless witness of irony.

Contradictions of modern India have been artistically drawn. There is no at­tempt for moralizing. Besides, he disdains sentimentality. He has explored characters tnrough psychological realism. Manoj Das serves up an enjoyable mix of comedy and serous social comment, fashioned by a pen which knows its craft perfectly.

Manoj Das left writing poetry in favour of fiction and non-fiction. But poetry has not yet left him. The flavour never fades in his literature, no matter whether it is poetic or philosophical fictional or non-fictional. He emits an aura that is sure to touch and trans­port the readers to a new height.

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.