Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....


Jitendra Narayana Dash

The First Short Story Writer of Orissa


When some people from the neighbouring Bengal started drumming that Oriya was not a separate language, the man to get the shock the most was Phakirmohana. It was in the 1860’s. The propaganda was “Oriya is just a dialect and no language at all.” This made Phakirmohana the worst sufferer of his own sentiments. His reaction to this was instant. Pulling on himself with a very thin line of financial support as a mere Mission School teacher at that time, he braved to establish a printing press at Balasore in 1868, as if to prepare an army of letters to save the Oriya language–his mother-tongue. That press was christened as P. M. Senapati & Co., Utkal Press.

His was the second press in the whole of Oriya-speaking region at that time; the first being Cuttack Mission Press (Estd. 1837). And the only available printed book was perhaps the translated Bible.

Phakirmohana reminisced in his autobiography: “While teaching at the Mission School, in my heart of hearts, I was all for the development and expansion of Oriya literature. Starting from translation to writing of books for school children, he went to every height by publishing the old writings of ancient Oriya literature and organising occasional literary meetings to give it a proper implementation. Regarding the form, he was sure that it was story which touched the people first and it was through stories alone that Oriya literature could be popular and involved. That is why several years after, he wrote to Biswanath Kar, the editor of the famous periodical of the time “Utkal Sahitya”: “I could feel, it is only for the stories that the Bengali magazines have developed. So I tried to write stories. Another intention was that by seeing me writing. Some others might pick up to write, My longings had come true, two of the stories in the last issue of your magazine had been quite satisfactory.”

Stories, being the easiest of communicative literature and the newest in print to this region, Phakirmohana wanted to force his pen in this direction, first. His time, the last half of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century, was a period of short story all over the world. Somerset Maugham writes: “It was not till the nineteenth century, that the story acquired a currency that made it all important feature of literary production. Of course, short stories had been written before and widely read but with the rise of novel the vogue dwindled.”

Phakirmohana, without visiting any foreign land and taking his sleek literary strides in an aura of abundant illiteracy, was discreet enough to sense the twist of time. Orissa was then so dark and so nervous that it needed a great literary push to come up to attention. So with a very small and stimulating attempt in the year 1968, he started a magazine “Bodhadayini Ebam Sambad Bahika” with a dual intention of serving both journalism and literature. Like Chekov, perhaps he also felt–“We need more writers. Literature is still a new thing in our daily life even for the ‘elect’. There is a writer for every two hundred and twenty-six people in Norway, and here only one for every million.”

Phakirmohana started the magazine “Bodhadayini” and wrote his first story in Oriya, “Lachhamanian” in 1868, perhaps the first printed story in the whole of Orissa.

Surendra Mohanty, the present President of Orissa Sahitya Akademi, opines that Phakirmohana is the primogenitor of the modern short story in Oriya literature. He writes: In 1968, while teaching in a school at Balasore he wrote the story “Lachha­manian”, (notwithstanding the argument of Dr. N. Samantray) and it could be divined to be the first short story in the entire Indian literature. Phakirmohana’s contemporary in Bengali literature, Bankimchandra, did not write any short story. Two stories written by Sanjib Chandra Bhattacharya and published in the magazine “Bhramara” (1874), though treated to be the first stories in Bengali, are mere sketches, as these lacked in form and style.”

In his “History of Bengali Literature”, published under the auspices of Sahitya Akademi, Dr. Sukumar Sen also admits of the fact that the story “Kanthamala” written and published by Rabindranath, though is formally accepted to be the first short story in Bengali, from the standpoints of style and form, it was not a short story. However, it is true that Bengali literature did not have a short story before Rabindranath. Hindi literature as well imbibed itself with short stories only after Premchand.

And that too Premchand’s pen became effective as early as 1917 only. In Telugu literature, there is also no trace of a short story prior to 1868. The great poet Gurazada Appa Rao, who is supposed have fathered the Telugu short story, only dates to a beginning in 1912.

Hence it leaves sufficient room for one to say that Phakir­mohana is not only the first story writer of Orissa but also perhaps the first of its kind in the entire range of Hindustan. But the pity is that the evidence is lost, the script of “Lachhamanian” is lost in the limbo of untraceable past.

After his first story, he did not write any short story for quite a long time. This is perhaps because, his maiden attempt was not that successful like that of Rabindranath’s “Kanthamala.” He kept quiet after his first short story and as he admitted in a letter to the editor of “Utkal Sahitya”, he was convinced, seeing the Bengali magazines, that it was short story which should be attempted first for more benefit. Here it should also be noted that, Phakirmohana’s pen had become effective as early as 1866. So, Dr Natabara Samantray’s argument that Phakirmohana might not have written the story “Lachhamanian” does not hold good at all.

That Phakirmohana did not write any story between 1868 and 1898, until the classic story “Rebati” came out in October, 1898, may be accounted for to his heavy engagement as Dewan of different feudatory States one after another, like Nilgiri, Damapada, Dhenkanal, Daspalla, Pallahara and Keonjhar; starting in the year 1871 and ending in 1896. It is only after his retirement from all services and his independent sojourn at Cuttack (1896), he started unleashing his creative flow in full swing. During these preoccupied days in the different tributary mahals, he, of course, was deep in translating “Ramayan” and “Mahabharat” from Sanskrit to Oriya, which are also untraced till today.

Again in his autobiography he admitted that after leaving Balasore, when he went to serve in the feudatory States, his creative writing got stopped. For eight to ten years, he did not write a single word.

Pandit Nilakantha Das, writing a preface to the two-volume complete work of Phakirmohna, recalled his meeting with him in which Phakirmohana was said to have viewed that, “When a novel written by Bankim Chandra came from the Bengali Press, I felt inferior with the feeling–could one write such in Oriya? Phakirmohana might have been impressed by the writings of Bankim as the later was also influenced by Dickens, but we don’t find an iota of imitation or borrowing from any outside author, like English or Russian in any of his short stories. In his short story “Rebati”, he had given an English quotation at the beginning which runs thus:

“But oft some shining April morn
Is darkened in an hour,
And blackest griefs o’er joyous home,
Alas! unseen may lower.”
Rev. G. H. Gurney

This quotation registers the fact, that Phakirmohana had quite an ingress into the study of English but throughout the length and breadth of all his stories there is no influence of the English literature at all. His stories bear the tang of the soil, the typical atmosphere of Oriya village. He portrayed ordinary people in ordinary situations, which reveal all the more clearly the picture existing in the contemporary Orissa. The stories are not just social documents, but are real insights into deep human character. His striving for a realistic portrayal of life in Orissa enslaved by illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, superstition and exploiting rule has been very natural in all his short stories. Phakirmohana’s kind of realism characterised by a deep human insight was previously unknown to the gamut of whole Oriya literature.

His story “Rebati” still remains high in the world of Oriya short story. It may be argued that till today the Oriya short story has not yet surpassed his story “Rebati”, in its realistic front. In language, form and technique this particular story is so superb that it is difficult to lower its position by any other available short story to a secondary position. As the father of modern Oriya short story, Phakirmohana has left such an indelible mark by way of writing “Rebati” that the coming generations do not feel that bold to overcome the impact of his technique in writing Oriya stories. It is accepted that “Rebati” is the first qualified short story of Orissa.

As all his stories reveal, Phakirmohana was never a passive onlooker of things. Projecting the sufferings of the Oriya people under the double yoke of superstition and illiteracy on one hand and shylockism on the other, his stories arouse the reader’s in­dignation against everything that hinders man’s happiness, every­thing that wards him off from living a decent social life. Being a moralist in his implicit undertone, he concentrated his attention on the problems of good and evil in Orissan society.

All of Phakirmohana’s stories don’t stamp in the same force and that he failed at times in depicting a story is altogether a different question. He is the first short story writer in Oriya and till date remains to be the first in various counts.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: