Kailash Chandra Dash
Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918) was a significant literary figure in Odisha in the 19th century. He was a remarkable votary of Odia language, literature and culture. From the period of his teaching at Balasore Mission School, he was determined for the progress of Odia literature. He spent the best part of his life in the construction and articulation of Odia’s identity. There has been considerable scholarly works on Fakir Mohan in Odia as well as in English during and after his death. Though he spent a significant part of his life as Dewan in several Garjat states of Odisha and was surrounded by controversies and debates in the 19th century he had at the same time presented his extra-ordinary administrative ability in their management. His grand poem UtkalaBhramanawhich was serialized for the first time in SambalpurHiteisini in March 1892 articulated his deeper admiration for the past of Odisha as well as his appreciation and critique on Odias in Odisha of his time. His speeches in UtkalaSammilani express his views on Odia identity and his eagerness for the development of Odisha. In his autobiography, he has described in detail his early efforts to preserve Oriya language and literature from the domination and control of the powerful neighbors- particularly the Bengalees. His novels and short stories also give considerable emphasis on the progress of Odia society in the colonial phase. In this article, I like to emphasize on some significant aspects of the literary and cultural activities of Fakir Mohan Senapati on the basis of a reinterpretation of archival and literary documents.
A lasting work of Senapati for the preservation of Oriya Language and literature was the establishment of BalasoreUtkal Printing Press. Fakir Mohan himself has described in some detail the beginning of the press for multifarious literary activities in Balasore in the1870s in his Autobiography. There is however important archival information which supplements the autobiographical narration and provides additional knowledge about it. The documentary evidence was related to the correspondences between Fakir Mohan and thecolonial masters in the 19th century. (Board of revenue Loose Documents of Orissa State Archives, Bhubaneswar, Bundle No.440,S.No.8266) On the basis of this documentary evidence an attempt has been made here to present the effort of Fakir Mohan in 1860s and 1870s for the establishment of a press for the improvement of vernacular language in Odisha.
The Cuttack Printing Company situated at Durogha Bazar at Cuttack was the most important medium for the improvement of vernacular language in Odisha and it was next to the Missionary effort for printing in Odisha. The role of this press for publishing the UtkalDipika under the editorship of Gauri Shankar Ray had been appreciated by the Odias in the 19th century. The BalasoreUtkal Press was an important endeavour in this respect. The correspondences of Fakir Mohan with John Beames, Collector of Balasore relating to BalasoreUtkal Press provide first information about Fakir Mohan’s earnest efforts for the preservation of Odia language and literature in the 19th century after the establishment of the press. The press was established in January 1868. It began its work under several inauspicious circumstances which have been hinted in the autobiography. Especially for the want of competent workmen its work was carried on with very little progress for the first two years. But since 1870 it had remarkable progress. It was not in the beginning conducted by a suitable staff of officers, but it was superintended by Fakir Mohan and his associates. The capital with which it was set up was not sufficient. They had incurred a large debt during the first two years. However, they were able to clear off the most part of the debt by 1871.
Fakir Mohan in a letter to John Beames, the Magistrate and Collector of Balasore of 30th September 1869 intimated the difficulties of the printing press. (Ibid) In that letter he stated that some of the officers legally prohibited from engaging in any sort of speculation should take an active part in the management of the institution and subscribe towards the expenses. He further requested that the Collector should grant permission to such officials taking shares in the business and lending their assistance in its management. In this respect he stated the example of Cuttack Printing Company for which the commissioner had earlier granted the privilege. The officiating Commissioner, Orissa Division, E.Molany in a letter to the Secretary to the Government of Bengal, General Department of 2nd December 1869 made it clear that there was no objection to Government officers holding shares in the Company. He supported the view of Fakir Mohan and his associates for a relaxation of the rules prohibiting public servants for taking an active part in the management of public companies in favor of the institution. He also made it clear that similar privilege granted to the Cuttack Printing Company did not create any inconvenience. At the same time, he clearly stated that the share holders should take no active part in the management.
The principal motive which actuated Fakir Mohan Senapati and his associates in establishing the press was to contribute to the improvement of the Odia language (by publishing the existing original works in Odia as well as translation from either Bengalee or English into Odia). But for the want of sufficient funds at the disposal of Fakir Mohan and his associates they were unable to accomplish the object. They had reduced the rate of publication in 1870 as a result of which they had received more books for publication. In 1870 they had printed and published several books which had already been introduced into the schools of Odisha and had proved valuable additions to the Odia literature. In 1871 they had also already undertaken to publish at their own responsibility the old manuscript books which constituted the literature of the country more than a century back. This was a very difficult task in as much as they cost them a great deal of labour because of their having successively undergone several alterations in the hands of ignorant copyists who had not only committed prodigious orthographical and grammatical mistakes, but had so complicated the original text by substituting original words and phrases coined by their fancy that in many instances it was difficult to make out the true import of the author.
The principal zamindars of Balasore were not sensible of the benefit from the press. As a matter of course Fakir Mohan and his associates had got no encouragement from them generally. In 1870 they had persuaded some of them to use printed forms of Pautis andBisadhans and to their great satisfaction, they had some thousands of these printed at the press. Fakir Mohan had hoped that some other Zamindars might soon follow their examples and he assumed that should they use printed forms, the number of cases originating from counterfeit pautis would soon decrease. The printing of the office forms was the only means whereby they had derived any profit and it kept the press in constant work. It should have been prematurely ceased to exist, but for the office work. Its rise and fall depended much upon this particular work. Fakir Mohan and his associates punctually executed the orders which they got from several officers. They were happy to be able to say that ever since they had undertaken the work, they had never put any office into inconvenience on account of their unnecessary delays. The types they had in their possession formerly were not good and they were quite unfit for the purpose. They had in 1871 procured a new press with a supply of better type though at a higher cost. Thus the inconveniences did not exist.
Fakir Mohan and his associates conducted and published a newspaper named BODHADAINI O BALESVARA SAMBADABAHIKA due to this press. In the beginning, it was a monthly periodical, but in February 1871 it was a bi-monthly one. Fakir Mohan had intended to increase its size and to publish it weekly. The amount of subscription in 1871 was not at all encouraging to make it a weekly paper. The paper had not at all proved lucrative to them, and the amount they had received from the muffusil subscribers was scarcely sufficient to meet the expenses. They had also incurred on that account debt, nevertheless they were glad to see thatBodhadaini had amply rewarded them in their endeavor to promote literary activities in Odisha. BaleswarBodhadainiwas smaller in size and less frequently published than the UtkalDipika. (Board of Revenue Loose Documents,Orissa State Archives Bhubaneswar, Bundle No. 463, Acc. 37996) The annual subscription for the Baleswar paper was 1/8 while that for the UtkalaDipika was Rs 5-a considerable difference. (Ibid.,No 766)
Both, T. Ravenshaw, the Commissioner of the province and J. Beames, the Collector and Magistrate of the District of Balasore took great interest in the improvement of the BaleswarUtkal Press. The prosperity of the press in 1871 was due for the most part to the kind notice which these honorable gentlemen had taken on its behalf. In his last tour of inspection before February 1871 T. Ravenshaw accompanied by Beames had kindly honored this Press with a visit and had given Fakir Mohan and his associates great encouragement. Beames had sent all forms and statements used in his office to be printed at Baleswar Press and had taken notice of their proceedings. Fakir Mohan had expected that should their press ever reach its flourishing point, he and his associates would gratefully attribute it to the kind care which the much esteemed Commissioner and the Magistrate had vouchsafed on its behalf.
Several text books were printed at the Baleswar Press. Fakir Mohan’s Bharatavarsha’sItihasa, Ist Part and 2nd Part (1869and1870) were printed in this press. The BalasoreUtkala Press had considerable progress from 1868 to 1871 when it printed and published many other manuscripts for the improvement of the vernacular language in Odisha. It was later on purchased by BaikunthanathDey of Balsore and then it was called Dey’sUtkala Press. In the 1860s and 1870s Fakir Mohan before his official work as Dewan of Nilagiri State had an imperishable contribution in the preservation of Odia language and literature by the establishment of the Utkal Press. The publication of the monthly periodical Bodhadainiand BaleswarSambadvahika during this phase by the Utkal Press was definitely a major turning point in the history of Odia identity. The remarkable articles in the said periodical and the publication of school textbooks in Odia led to the most important phase of Odia’s cultural regeneration.
Fakir Mohan`s major literary work was ChhamanaAthaguntha(Six Acres and A Third) which was a milestone in the history of Odia literature and was a significant aspect of modern Indian prose literature.There has been considerable focus on this novel as it was related to the socio-economic condition of Odisha in the early part of the 19th century. Literary critics have pointed out the influence of BengaliBishabrukshya, BangadesherKrushakand LalBehariDey`s Bengal Peasant Life in the making of ChhamanaAthaguntha; but in fact they are not conscious of the influence of Neel Darpan(1860-61) of DinabandhuMitra in the making of this novel.(Dash, GaganendraNath, ‘ Rediscovering RamachandraMangaraj and Historicizing Senapati`s Critique of Colonialism’, in Colonialism, Modernity and Literature, A View from India, ed.SatyaP.Mohanty, Orient Black Swan, New Delhi, 2011, p.187-206)Neel Darpanwas published by the SomPrakash group and this SomPrakash group also published Bengali SomPrakash whose issues of 1862 focused the problems of Neel Cultivators. Fakir Mohan used to read SomPrakash of 1862-63 and he also published Bengali poems there(in psydo name). (Dash, Debendra Kumar, ed. Fakir Mohan Granthavali, Vol.III, Cuttack, 2008/2012, p.7) So it is very clear that Fakir Mohan was conscious of this Neel Darpanwhich described the plight of the Neel cultivators and the oppression of the moneylending class. Most likely he came to know about this oppressive moneylending class from SomPrakash which highlighted this aspect in the issues of 1862’ but this was not used by him at once because then he was not mature to be a writer. Later on he became dewan of several Garjats of Odisha and came in contact with this landlords and moneylenders, particularly during his dewanship twice in Dompara. He wrote this first novel ChhamanaAthaguntha which was serialized inUtkalSahitya from 1897when his deanship in Dompara was over. Most likely by October 1897 when his prose fictionChhamanaAthaguntha was serialized in UtkalSahitya he became conscious of the topics in Neel Darpan where the moneylending business was vividly portrayed and tried to use it in the Odisha context. Moreover, the characters and sites described in ChhamanaAthaguntha are from Dompara where we found the character Ramachandra Mangaraj of ChhamanaAthaguntha. On 4th March, 1905 there is a letter of one RamachandraMangaraj of Dompara in SambalpurHiteisini. (Dash, Kailash Chandra, ‘ChhamanaAthaguntha:EkaDrustipata’, Sanchar, Odia daily, Bhubaneswar, 12th June, 2016) RamachandraMangaraj of DomparaKilla, Pathapur sent this letter on 16th January, 1905 to the editor of SambalpurHiteisini in which he described the period of BrajendraMansinghBhramarbar Ray, the chief of Dompara and stated that the people during his absence for his prolonged illness were oppressed by the manager as he was in control of the administration. The letter also states that in 1903 the state came under the Court of Wards after the death of the chief and it was managed by another person named Raghabananda Das who was helpful to the subjects. There he also pointed out that the chief was in debt which was responsible for a declining phase in Dompara. Besides this character RamachandraMangaraj we have some sites in this zone like TalaPathapur, ChhamanaAthaguntha, Nandi BhagiaDiha of TalaPathapur and Asuradighi whose pictures have been presented in a magazine called Banajyotsna(of Banki College) given by one IndramaniSahu of TalaPathapur.(Dash, Kailash Chandra, 2016). It seems Fakir Mohan was aware of the sites of Dompara which were given in the novel ChhamanaAthaguntha along with the main character RamachandraMangaraj. It was his frist novel because he came to know about this plot at first from Neel Darpan and Somprakash of 1862. His novelLachhma which was also serialized in UtkalSahitya in the name of Apurba Milan though dealt with the Maratha phase in Odisha was published later because he came to know about this story of the Maratha phase during the dewanship of Nilgiri in the 1870s when he came to know about the famous Raibania fort which figured prominently in Lachhama. Hence his first two novels were composed according to the date of his first awareness of the plot-first in 1862-63 from SomPrakash and .then in the 1870s as dewan of Nilagiri. The main emphasis of ChhamanaAthagunthawas the socio-economic situation in India in the wake of the Great Revolt of 1857. David Hardimanin course of his discourse on the peasant resistance in India had given an example of the peasant revolt against moneylenders in Maharashtra as early as 1875. (Hardiman, David, Peasant Resistance in india, Oxford University Press, Delhi, p.26-28, 1993) In ChhamanaAthaguntha we find this situation presented as early as 1897 and Fakir Mohan`s main emphasis was to present this oppressive moneylender in the character of Mangaraj. Seen from this perspective as was presented by GaganendraNath Dash in his essay Fakir Mohan`s novel ChhamanaAthaguntha represented this protest of the peasants against moneylenders and landlords which affected Indian society in the post-Great Revolt phase.
A fine reader of Fakir Mohan Senapati was Lakshmikanta Chaudhury, professor of Sanskrit of Ravenshaw College. In fact he was the grandson of Fakir Mohan because the daughter of Fakir Mohan from his first wife married to RaghunathChaudhury whose was LakshmikantaChaudhury.(I am grateful to DrNibeditaMohanty, an eminent historian and who was also related to Fakir Mohan from the side of her grandmother, Sarojini, a daughter of Fakir Mohan for this information). He had the first assessment of Fakir Mohan and his literary world as early as 1927. His critical assessment of Fakir Mohan`s literary realm was published in the famous Sir AsutoshMookerjee Silver Jubilee Volume(III) which was published by the Calcutta University. In that interesting article Chaudhuri stated about the personality and his literary contributions in a brilliant manner. Fakir Mohan wrote poetry when he was young, butwhen he had reached old age he took up prose. An estimate of his work would not be final if one does not take into consideration his translation of Mahabharata over which he was engaged for nearly twenty years. One the one hand Fakir Mohan has been extolled as the “VyasaKavi”-a sage poet, rivaling Vyasa, in literary dignity and power of sustained narrative, and on the other hand he has been hailed as the father of Odia prose fiction. Of course he was by no means such an outstanding genius as would startle the world. He never attempted to expound the mysteries of existence. He had no universal panacea to suggest for worldly pains and he had but little consolation to offer to the man bowed down by the sorrows and miseries. But there was one thing which was at the very root of all his activities and serves as the keynote to all his writings-his patriotism. He only amused himself with literature and had no deep passion which must burst forth into song but whenever he took up his pen he tried to instil into the minds of his countrymen that love for Odisha and that readiness to sacrifice the self for the benefit of the motherland. From a study of his literary activities, it is clear that even though he had a mastery over the short swinging metre of the Bhagabata and a command over the rhyming couplet, the very ease and facility with which he composed his poems in this artless metre of the people, shows that he was inspired by a patriotism which longed to develop the folk literature of Odisha. There was the craze for following the footsteps of Radhanath when he began his literary career and thus he took up poetry as the medium of his expression. At a later stage when he felt that Odisha lacked novels he began writing stories and rose to eminence in this new venture. It was his patriotism which made him sympathize with the defects of his countrymen. It was this patriotism indeed which made his personality so very appealing to the people of Odisha. He had an instinctive love for literature and a genius for literary art. Patriotism only fanned this genius and made it burn higher and brighter than it might have otherwise done. He had an artless simplicity of diction, that absolute abhorrence of all affectation either in thought or in language that marks him out as the poet of the people-the masses. He passed calmly through all the vicissitudes of his life, he had drunk of life`s cup to the dregs, his career at many stages was that of an adventurer. These experiences had a great effect in making him sympathize with the aspirations and daily miseries of the common man; they left him confirmed in that commonsence view of life and that robust natural humanity. He posed as an ordinary man, and like an ordinary man he pointed out those abnormal features which make actions appear ludicrous. His genius lay mainly in sarcasm which was the only characteristic predominating over his whole personality. He excels as a caricaturist and procures for his victims the contempt of the reader whenever he portrays them in his own subtle fashion. This sarcasm animates all his novels and short stories and though it is rather suppressed in his poems it appears unexpectedly and at unexpected places. The quaint inherent humour of his sketches of individual character was unmatched in the whole range of Odia literature and delights the readers by its delicate geniality or boisterous fancy.
He was not the father of the Odia novel, for there existed at least two novels before Fakir Mohan wrote his ChhamanaAthaguntha. But he was the first Odia novelist who attempted to delineate the inner life of the true Odia home. He was perhaps the first man who raised to a literary dignity the daily speech of the ordinary Odiaworksman. According to Chaudhuri, in his novels, there are very often those admirable sketches of individuals which are masterpieces in their way, but as sustained narratives, his novels leave much to be desired. Lastly, he was one of the great authors of Odisha. He used homely phrases, he expressed his thought in the plainest and the most ordinary speech and yet his prose style has a lucidity and grace, dignity and quiet beauty of expression and with it dry humour, all of which just combine to make it very charming. In his writings, the psychology of the characters is clearly revealed and the persons whom he depicts become real flesh-and-blood, men and women we daily encounter. The style of Fakir Mohan is extremely graphic and vivid and it is its main charm.
The memory of Fakir Mohan was at first perpetuated after his death as early as in October 1919 in BalasoreZilla School by the Headmaster Upendra Narayan Datta Gupta who proposed to place in the hands of trustees a sum of Rs. 500 standing at his credit in the Cooperative Bank for the purpose of founding one or two prizes for the encouragement of the study of Odia literature among the boys of the Balasore Zilla School and the students of the intermediate classes of the Ravenshaw College as he wanted the prizes or medals would be named as Fakir Mohan Prizes and Medals. He stated that the cost of the prizes or medals would be met from the annual interest paid by the Bank, the amount of interest in 1920 is Rs.40. The Government of Bihar and Odisha also approved this proposal in November 1919 stating that the Fakir Mohan Prize or Medal Fund would be a permanent endowment that should not be sold or transferred without the orders of the Local Government. It was also decided that the interest at the fund would be spent in awarding one annual prize or medal in the BalasoreZilla School at the discretion of the trustees after consulting the marks obtained in Odia literature by the pupils of BalasoreZilla School at the Matriculation and the School Leaving Certificate Examinations. It indicates growing respect for Fakir Mohan for his literary endeavor even after his death. (Bihar and Odisha Documents, Acc. No.1109 of 1920, Odisha State Archives, Bhubaneswar)