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Seeing Beyond Bankim and Bengal

Sumanyu Satpathy

By Fakir Mohan Senapati . Translated from the Oriya by Chandan Das
Three Rivers Publishers, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 118, Rs. 150.00


In academic circles, all discussion of the In- dian novel as it emerged in the latter half of the 19th century revolves around questions of its adjustment with a ‘derivative’ form, that of the European realist novel. Further, in most such narratives, the points of reference are Bengal and Bankim. Perhaps we need to move beyond these grids and get more interested in the contexts of the early Indian novels’ production as well as their unique local contexts. For Odia writers, the motivation for writing and publication of the novel came from their anxiety over real or imagined threat to their linguistic identity. With the advent of print technology, 19th century Bengal was flushed with modern books in Bangla, a luxury which Odias did not enjoy.   From 1866 onward, among others, Fakir Mohan and Gauri Sankar Ray led from the front and with patronage from local rulers tried to ensure that there were good enough books for pedagogic as well as popular reading to stall the rising Bangla book business. Odia intellectuals also saw books in terms of pedagogic tools for nation building purposes. All these factors are discernible in the ‘Bhumika’ or Foreword to the first edition of the iconic Odia novel, Chha Mana Atha Guntha [(Six Acres and a Third (1902)]: One often hears complaints of how there is a dearth of good reading material for entertainment in Odia. We have often hung our heads in shame on hearing such complaints. We know that these days, a new desire to write plays and novels has arisen in the minds of many; and a number of published and unpublished books in these genres have come our way….The author of Chha Mana Atha Guntha is a well established and accomplished servant of literature. …It will at least partially fill the need of entertaining, good-read prose texts:it is in this hope that we came forward to publish the work.We know that when the book was being serialized in the pages of Utkal Sahitya all the readers were highly appreciative of the work. (Translation and emphases are mine)   Though this Foreword is not reproduced in any edition of the novel in any of the four major English translations, its significance in the context of late 19th and early 20th C Odia book history cannot be overestimated.   The novel under review, Lachhama (first published in 1914) was also serialized in the same periodical, ...

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