“Like GDP, IQ should not be regarded as a comprehensive measure” – GDP of human development and IQ of intellectualism. In the last 100 years the general IQ of humanity has increased almost 30 points, about 3 points every decade. Compared to 1920, we all are geniuses and our brain sizes have increased almost 3 times since bipedal apes, Australopithecus. Today our brains consume one-fifth of our calorie intake. So what?
In Odisha, group living, and group thinking has been in the upswing since the 90’s. Certainly, there is increasing cognitive demand due to the drastically changing social dynamics. For those in their 30’s, unprecedented spurt in educational institutes, increasing access to public services, exponential increase in disposable income, unbridled consumerism, and a virtually free ride in the technology highway has made information usable like never before.
But the usage of information hovers primarily around products and services with extremely short life utility. New product takes over, bringing with it a wave of new information which again dies before it fully lives. This is the constant ‘high’ of consumerism. The below 30’s are constantly hooked and occupied with trends. But we need original thinking and intellectualism. The future of Odisha should evolve as researchers, artists, technologists, and philosophers.
For half a century and more, Sachi Routray, Manoj Das, Ramakant Rath, Sitakant Mohapatra, Jagannath Prasad Das, Devdas Chotray, Haraprasad Das, Binapani Mohanty, Pratibha Ray continue to be the flag bearers of Odia literature. The style of Odia writing in general, remains unprovoked.
Have we stopped thinking? Akhil Patnaik, Nandini Devi tried to bring in short, crisp form of writing and translation with gusts of fresh air. Jagyanseni of Pratibha Ray does aself-portrait of Panchali, with new lens and has appealed nationally. Jayant Mahapatra is the lone reaper, in English poems. But Odia literature, not all but mostly, is regional, cocooned in its own tidings and perilously uninspiring and dated. Konark, the mast as well as the touchstone of our thoughts, writings &backdrops, needs respite to breathe, to stand on its own feet, and collect from collapsing.
Since 12th century, it has served & saved us. Non-filmy albums, or laghu sangeet, as we call, and puja releases have stopped after Khoka bhai. Barring Kadambini, all literary magazines, including the iconic Jhankara, are out of print or cease to exist or are reduced to lame mementos with token publications.“Why I stand for meetings” in college elections are now avoidable.
Once upon a time, they thundered with the manifestos of young leaders-in-the-making. Mock UN Assemblies are the leadership simulation programs available at only a few, high end schools, which is the privilege of a few, very few. The below 35’s are forming opinions, solely influenced by social media. No other media or source reaches them. They live in a world of their own. Elise Boulding, the famous sociologist once said something which is relevant to our current state. “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future,” Where is the imagining?
We are living in the best of times but if we cut that time into slices, we realise that in every slice the period is getting shorter. Short-termism is the new venom. The next generation is unable to look beyond this minute news cycle – a moment to -moment, temporal exhaustion. We, the seniors have to customise the legacy we want to leave behind. Only then it would serve its purpose to them and their future generations.
Intellectualism in Odisha has staggered, post 80’s. Have we stopped ideating?
Today Odisha has poetry portals, storytelling sessions, non-bureaucrats giving full time time to literature, hordes of celebrity writers and thinkers making frequent jaunts to the state, internet giving equal opportunities for Khariar and Bhubaneswar to be informed and above all about 5 or more people in every 10 using internet in Odisha.A few years ago, in places like Bolangir, Aska, Nilagiri, Bhawanipatna, Rayagada, Malkangiri, Bhandaripokhari, evening soirees (read khati) of prominent citizens (not necessarily the rich and well heeled only) included intense conversations on local stories, political dramas in the state, the local college politics, and brainstorming on development.
There are no citizen meetings now, except the likes of members’ meets on fixed days by Rotary or Lions. Even though we all are on social media, throughout the day watching mindless videos and postings, we never care to pause and think for ourselves. When was the last I had spent time thinking (anything for that matter except my immediate material needs)?
There are no central reference personalities that people can follow – some peer leaders, erudite celebrities who can promote ‘thinking’. Odisha has enviable soft skills. Odias often describe themselves as reticent, introvertish. This is a strength rather than a weakness. Our quiet nature empowers us to engage with the world – but on our own terms. I have spoken to a lot of super-successful Odias and they all started quiet, seemingly shy, and outwardly withdrawn. This unobtrusiveness is our strength. We are blessed because of our comity and we could use this as a strong mark. This strength does not come easily, anywhere in the world. Since that is our valuable genetic inheritance, can we describe it in an epithet like “Nirmaya Odia”.
Our divinity has dissuaded us from maya and hence the rat race is not for us. Our natural ability to intellectualise has been under utilised even with all the tools to wisdom are easily and equally available to all. When Odias go out they do well, is a catchphrase in every discussion on this this topic. If it is so, then why?
Because of the eco system they get outside to provide many lateral approaches to the inherent quality of “Nirmaya Odia” they are brimming with. I would not lose hope if there are no billionaires in Odisha or if the quality of life is only measured in SGDP. There is no measure for aggregate life skills, something like a State Gross Soft Skills (SGSS). Everything in life starts with soft skills; we are the reservoir of them and yet go unrecognised. This is where I think intellectualism and nationalism overlap.
Can we institutionalise intellectualism in Odisha?
Hinglish communication with a strange twist of Odia is staple for the youth today. The parents do not mind as long as they look ‘cool’. This ‘cool quotient’, slaying own language, is the bane of non-intellectualism of a state. Institutionalization starts at home.
In the 50’s Late Dr Mahatab organized Bishuba Milan as a congregation of intellectuals in the state and the young writers and thinkers were recognized and publicized with hype. Hence it became a coveted felicitation and set a benchmark of quality writing and thinking. In all these years we have not had another thinkers’ platform.
We have many literary functions, but they are events heaping compliments on established superstars and most of them from outside. A young writer from Sonepur can not even enter the venue of the festival, which is always in a 5-star hotel in Bhubaneswar and with a clearly stratified invitee preference.
The purpose of these multi-branded events is completely different, and no way contributes to the intellectual growth of the state. It might be good for event management and hospitality industry. Since Gaan Majlis (Village Parliament), a regular cartoon strip in Prajatantra has stopped, there has been no such sharp, incisive satire, every morning, to stir the state and set it thinking. The population of newspapers or dailies in Odisha is in all time high now but none of them carry interesting cartoons or snippets which would catch popular imagination.
Now there are trained journalists and creative professionals available, like never before.In the mushrooming mass communication institutions including IIMC at Dhenkanal. The newspapers or e-Newspapers do not carry analytical pieces on policy or implementation issues. There are no windows that can open to ‘thoughts’. The University of Culture or the other Universities should have a department or stream, exclusively for thinking.
In Odisha, thinking should be new future and we can build a new Odisha.
Articles on our tribes and ethnicity are nothing but anthropological studies on tribals and marginalised people. The English used describes the writer more than the subject – the frequent use of bombastic; obfuscate English to convey the scholastic supremacy of the writer. Even writings on our Lord Jagannath are unnecessarily complicated and complexly high sounding, be it in English or Odia. The articulation is much more significant that the writer. Intellectualism is far more important than the intellectuals –the sum is greater than the parts.
About 2-3 art foundations set up by successful senior artistes are operational in Odisha. Dinanath Pathy, Jatin Das, Jagannath Panda have set up foundations, but their residencies need greater support. Residencies could be the nurturing grounds for young minds from different districts of Odisha. Odisha is 27 more districts, other than Cuttack, Khordha and Puri and are full of talents. They need to be brought to the mainstream. Odissi, our marquee identity today needs life and rejuvenation.
The Odissi research centre, since ‘86 has turned more to be an event centre rather than a research centre. With hardly any research or documentation being done, the centre is a popular event venuebecause of its vantage location, inexpensive charges, and good branding. Should we continue riding on Odissi without feeding it? Who is researching on new styles and presentations in Odissi? It is reduced to be only a passport to Padma awards.
In the present times new money from our rental economy has produced dilettantes. “Sponsorship” is the new key to convert a philistine to cognoscenti. But this is a worldwide phenomenon. We should use this “patron” money to build our repertoire and make the art forms sustainable, however not get sucked into the super mart of culture.
Is our intellectualism peaking or has it already? There is a reverse trend globally. The IQ is showing signs of falling in countries like Finland, Norway, and Denmark. In Odisha there is social stability, institutional opportunities, and rich culture as reference and still we are deprived of inventiveness and originality. They say, no idea is original. But we can be inventive and intellectually entrepreneurial – invent new templates of poetry, literature, political analysis, cinematic production, scientific discoveries and above all our own thinking.
Here we need to clarify that IQ alone should not mean intellectualism. An intelligent person, with high IQ has the capacity, which is measurable, to think beyond, seek answers to curiosities and in the process develop own thoughts. The intellectual uses IQ to do all as mentioned above and additionally, disseminate.
After Pathani Samanta, (Mahamahopadhyaya Chandrasekhara Singha Harichandana Mahapatra Samanta), the great Indian astronomer in the league of Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Johannes Kepler measured celestial distance and movements with the help of simple domestically used devices like bamboos and sticks. When he was a child, poor and unschooled, he could measure the number of vultures flying high and their velocity without using any instruments, neither were they available.
We need more Pathani Samantas in Odisha, not cyber coolies who waste their formative years doing low end, data entry work in the name of IT. Institute of Life Sciences is working in oncology drug delivery systems which would revolutionize cancer treatment. The youngsters are bright, intelligent, and skilled but need direction. Our start-up platform should coach them and not only be engaged in connecting them to government schemes, which even a smart website can do.
Pathani SamantaI find a deep connection between intellectualism and statehood. Exercising intellect, putting it to use, would mean thought investment for the state. Undivided Ganjam, Mayurbhanj, Deogarh, Balasore, Sambalpur were fertile grounds for brilliant minds who had straddled across politics, literature, and science in the past and have given us this state. We are naturally gifted, peaceful by nature, blessed by divinity and possess a noble lineage. What stops us from thinking?
After all, intellectualism is the only ism without any obdurate dogmas and hence is solidly sustainable. Let us not squander it away.
(The writer is an author & futurist)