( On the occasion of the 80th birthday of Manoj Das )
By Hemant Mohanty
How do we describe Manoj Das?
A formidable and peerless name in the field of story writing in both Odia and Indian writing in English? An inspiring and resourceful orator? An acclaimed authority on Indian literary and cultural tradition? An unconventional columnist, a fantastic editor? A seeker of truth? An educationist and philosopher?
His identity transcends all these classifications.
He is a fantastic classical writer who writes short stories, novels, essays, travelogues in both Odia and English with equal proficiency, a speaker with powerful and inspiring oratory skills which keep his audiences spell bound irrespective of their level of understanding, an educationist who understands and visualizes the need of aspiring souls and has been an able guide in the process of their all-round growth, an unquestionable authority on the vast Indian literary and cultural traditions with an in-depth understanding of the ethos of this great country, one with illuminating interpretative skills, a trend setting editor who captivates readers with his thought-provoking editorials and masterly editorial skills and an impressive columnist who analyzes events from a complete different angle, with credible logic and penetrating enlightenment.
One may wonder, how can all these be bundled into one individual ?
Manoj Das is truly an exception; he is much much more than whatever we claim to know of him.
When he declares that – “I have no hope that anyone can know me, because even I am still in the hope’s stage in knowing myself.”, it comes as a warning for those who wish to know him.
This is true for all spiritual men, who continue their search for truth in whatever activity they may indulge in or whatever field of work they may choose- an inscrutable breed who beat all yardsticks.
He is a mystic in the true spirit of the term. He treads in relatively higher planes of human thought- a position from where he observes and interprets things and also draws his inspiration. This is why he does not claim credit for his creations.
He says, he writes as he gets the inspiration to do so. He is only a medium, not the source. He says that characters follow the theme of a story and the words are merely added by an author to personify them. This is the humility of a true spiritual person who believes that a divine power is always here to guide us, provided we have that calmness, sincerity and thirst to invoke it.
This is also the reason why we will not like to remember Manoj Das as the author of a particular book, as it happens in case of most of the influential writers. He has written several books on different subjects, each of which is unique in its essence. It is impossible to single out just one of his creations as his best without doing grave injustice to others.
It is said about a good poetry that we can neither add a word to it, nor can replace one. It is remarkably true for Manoj Das’s stories. His choice of words is perfect, description of the scenes and situations is exact, interpretation of events is revealing, and the style of presentation is so lively and dramatic that, as if it airdrops the reader on the scene of the story directly and keeps him engaged there till the very last word of the story.
This is why we find his characters so lively and intimate, often discover them in the close circle of our friends and family members and sometimes in ourselves. The basis of all his works and activities is humanism with all its vibrant complexities and his approach is a stubborn optimism embedded in an unshakable faith in the immense possibility of the man and his destined evolution into divinity.
As one critic rightly puts it “ It is life with all its complexity, all its treacherous nether-currents as well as its promises, which he lays bare with a disarming poignancy”.
Manoj Das’s literary works have a strong Indian base which can be easily spotted by even a ordinary reader. Humor, mystery, mysticism and otherworldly themes, which are the very fabric of Indian life, are magnificently sketched in his writings. It is rightly put by Dick Batstone, the distinguished British sociologist, who is quoted in the note from the publishers in OUP edition of Das’s autobiographical work Chasing the Rainbow:
“One of the intriguing qualities of his English writing is the lack of clichés – the totally unexpected use of words and their collocation, arising, perhaps, from the exact and fresh description of his visual imaginings of Indian situations and agents, of a kind that an English writer would not have……he is like no one but Manoj Das. ..…And he writes as an Indian indeed, with a wholly Indian view of things, from an Indian background”.”
It is remarkable that he does not indulge in propagating or supporting any particular so called ‘ism’, does not subscribe to the widely followed customized pattern of writing best seller books, yet his books are read, enjoyed and appreciated by the readers world over and considered as classics by the connoisseurs.
The kernel of his works is humanism with all its vibrant complexities and his approach is a stubborn optimism embedded in an unshakable faith in the immense possibility of the man and his destined evolution to divinity.
Often publishers of Manoj Das’ English works, try to portray him as among the foremost Indian writers writing in English in the tradition of R.K. Narayan and mostly ignore his Odia works, whereas his Odia publishers do the same by portraying him as one of the finest writers in Odia language. This is due to the fact that he is equally proficient in both languages .
He was once asked : In which language do you think before writing a piece ? Manoj Das’ reply was – “In the language of silence, if I do not sound presumptuous.”
Nothing can be more true than this. It is believed that normally man thinks in the language of his mother tongue and it constrains him from being able to think beyond its vocabulary. This is why it is often said that ‘languages are the poorest form of communication”.
But, for a man who thinks in the language of silence, there is no constraint.
His thoughts are as vast as is humanly possible. He has the ability to choose the appropriate medium to express his thoughts effectively, without being bogged down by the limitations of words, languages and artificial boundaries that divide the mankind.
That’s Manoj Das for you.
( 27th February, 2014 happens to be Manoj Das’ 80th birthday)