Translated from the Odia original Matira Manisha by Bikram Das
Matira Manisha (‘The Man of the Soil’) is one of those uncommon artistic creations which prove that good art does not have to be convoluted or obscure. The novel’s enduring appeal lies in its very starkness. It is the story of an Odia peasant family whose simple joys and sorrows are bound up with the soil. Baraju Padhan, who becomes the head of the family after the death of his father, Shaama Padhan, inherits his humanism and is committed to the traditions and ideals of joint family existence, but his younger brother, Chhakadi, instigated by his wife Netramani, is determined to split up the home.
The book is remarkable not only for its depiction of enduring human values but also for its realistic portrayal of the culture of rural Odisha. The language of the novel is a bold attempt at capturing the idiom of the people whose life it presents. Matira Manisha lies close to the hearts of Odia society and has been made into an award-winning Odia film by Mrinal Sen.
A mural of the doctrines of India – Born of the Soil is a symphony of unity, love, apathy, humility and fraternity. It transcends the contemporary reader from the mechanical world to an austere agrarian hamlet of India. Born of the Soil is a reflection of ‘simple living high thinking’. It is an authentic piece of work by Kalindi Charan Panigrahi – in Odia entitled as Matira Manisha – and translated into English by Bikram Das.
Kalindi Charan Panigrahi is conferred as the father of the Marxist trend in Odisha. In 1920 he created a wing called ‘Sabuja Samiti’ along with some luminary Odia writers which aimed to delve in ‘green literature’ or the genre of ‘romanticism’, profoundly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore.
Born of the Soil is a brilliant attempt of Social Realism. The theme of the story is simply drawn from the roots of the agrarian society of India. The language of the book is an embodiment of purely rustic, simple and colloquial tendencies. It is a matter of complete agreement with Bikram Das that while translation some words are strongly irreplaceable as the story will lose its essence and context. The direct use of colloquial words make Born of the Soil more interesting as it breathes freshness and makes a bridge and connects the reader to the soil of Odisha. For a better understanding of the story the book provides a wide and a comprehensive glossary along with notes.
Born of the Soil is a tale of Padhanpada – a small and insignificant crossroad of the rural Odisha and peeks into the family of Shamma Padhan – a man with high morality and humility. Shamma Padhan a potent personality is always deployed in the service of humankind. His wife is truly a better half as she perishes the same thinking. Shamma Padhan had two sons – Baraju and Chhakadi. He believed in the ideology of the old proverb “why save money if your son is worthy; why save if your son is worthless.” He considered that it is a sin to amass wealth so; he never saved money for future. Baraju had four children while Chhakadi has none and the wife of Baraju took proud of the very fact. A mother is usually concerned more towards the child who is unfortunate, that’s why the wife of Shaama Padhan continuously worries about Chhakadi and his wife. We find a glimpse of orthodoxy in the thought process of Shamma Padhan’s wife as she declares – ‘A women is born to suffer’ and she belonged to that particular class of Indian women who believe that ‘your son first then your deity.’
We ascertain the ‘value of given word’ as Baraju had promised his dying father that he will never let the wall come in between the house. Baraju being the eldest son has to take up all the responsibilities after the death of his father. He resembled his father in all aspects. He was a staunch follower of fraternity and had a genuine empathy for the poor and marginalized class.
Baraju had read Bhagwata and believed that ‘wealth can buy all things except – ‘Punya’. We witness a clash of ideologies of a father and son – Baraju wanted to work for the landlords but his father believes that they are born to till the soil.
After the death of Baraju’s mother all the household responsibilities fell upon the ‘Elder Bohu’ or the wife of Baraju. Consequently the battle started between the two ‘jaa’ – the sister in laws over petite matters. This quarrel takes magnanimous shape and the husbands are also being involved in. This ideal family gets on the verge of partition.
Baraju who had promised his father, that he will never let the wall come in between the house, was intended to keep the value of given words. He counts that the whole error lies in his own wife as she is the elder of the family; hence she has to grapple with all situation.
Chhakadi being a vagabond is not interested to take any responsibilities and Baraju considered him as ‘child’ so he doesn’t ask Chhakadi to work. Netramani, the wife of Chhakadi is disgruntled with the fact that Baraju is taking away all the wealth and using it for the lavish wedding. Netramani constantly provoked Chhakadi to separate. The continuous instigation worked slowly and Chhakadi started believing that his brother is cheating upon him.
Meanwhile Hari Mishra – the president of the village chowkidaari, a master of dishonestly acquired properties – started blowing poisonous words against Baraju in the ears of Chhakadi and it is simply a law of nature that when you hate anyone you forget his virtues, Chhakadi did the same. He opened a grocery shop with the help of Baraju but remains unable to earn any profit; but his shop turned the apt stage for scandal mongers, whose chief work is to incite Chhakadi against Baraju.
Baraju in order to control his wife from quotidian quarrel adopted the Gandhian philosophy of ‘Ahimsa’ and ‘Fast ‘ to achieve the desired goal. This ideology proved fruitful and Baraju’s wife finally shed off the false notion of respectability.
When Chhakadi and Netramani demanded separation, Baraju simply handed over complete property to Chhakadi and went out of the house in respect of the given word that he will never let partition occur inside the house. This is the perfect example of an emotional soul.
Chhakadi – ashamed of himself – searched for his brother, despite the objections of his wife. He found Baraju in his friend’s home. He makes himself seated on the door of Baraju’s friend and purged himself with tears. This incident reveals the strong bond inherent in both brothers.
Published by Niyogi Books, Born of the Soil is a perfect manifestation of rural life or the agrarian class of India with their individual belief system, their soil, their deities and their ideologies.
About the Author
Kalindi Charan Panigrahi (1901–1991) belongs to the post-Fakirmohan, post Gopabandhu generation, appearing at a time when Odia writers were no longer crusading for a racial, linguistic or cultural identity and could explore new areas of experience with greater self-assurance. While still in his twenties, Kalindi Charan, along with Annada Shankar Ray and a few other budding poets, proclaimed the birth of a new literary movement, named ‘Sabuj Sahitya’ (Green Literature). The ‘greenery’ that inspired their writing was a declaration of soft, youthful idealism and romanticism rather than the radicalism of contemporary writing. The Sabuj group drew inspiration from Tagore, Marx and Gandhi. Like Tagore, Kalindi Charan tried his hand at multiple genres besides poetry—novel, short story, drama, biography and essay. His fame, however, rests chiefly on the slender novel Matira Manisha, written in 1934. He is also remembered as the father of Nandini Satapathy, who was Odisha’s Chief Minister.
Dr Bikram K. Das is an esteemed translator and was a professor at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad and at the National University of Singapore. He has translated many Odia books into English, including Gopinath Mohanty’s Paraja and The Survivor and J.P. Das’s The Pukka Sahib. His translation of Paraja won him the first Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize in 1989.
About the Reviewer
Madhumita Ghosh is a scholar of English Language and Literature from Dhanbad, Jharkhand.