The passing of Nityananda Mohapatra, author, freedom fighter, Gandhian and editor, marks the end of an era in Odisha's literary and cultural life. His long and eventful life encompassed the period of the freedom struggle, and the post-Independence age.
Son of Odia novelist, lyricist and satirist Lakshmikanta Mohapatra, he was from an affluent, landed family. Nityananda plunged into the freedom struggle early and was jailed three times between 1930 and 1942. Some of his early writings, such as the poem Swarajya Pala (1930), and short story Mausi (1934), were banned by the British.
After Independence, he joined electoral politics and was in the Orissa Assembly from 1957 to 1971. He was Minister of State for Supply and Cultural Affairs from 1967 to 1971.
Posterity, however, will remember him for his contributions in the fields of literature and culture. In this respect, he had similarities with Harekrushna Mahatab, who was Chief Minister of Odisha and belonged to the part of Odisha that Nityananda hailed from. Like Dr. Mahatab, he combined a career in active politics with intense involvement in cultural life.
Under his inspiring editorship, Dagara (Messenger), a literary magazine founded by his father, nurtured writers of humour, satire and parody. It created space for lively debates on issues affecting contemporary society and culture. The magazine serialised autobiographies of writers as well as those in other walks of life, and published cartoons and parodies of Odia poems. It carried sensitive and insightful book reviews, setting standards and educating readers. Inviting Odia painters to reflect upon their life and art in the pages of Dagara was an interesting and innovative editorial initiative in the 1950s. The satirist Faturananda came into prominence through his association with this magazine.
Nityananda Mohapatra's novels, short stories and essays are notable. In his prose fiction, he portrays the world of rural Odisha facing a series of crises and disintegrating under the pressure of complex socio-economic changes. His works of fiction bear compassion for the underprivileged and reveal a profoundly humanist vision of life. His essays are alive to the nuances and shades of human relationships and employ supple prose. He received the Odisha Sahitya Akademi award in 1974, and the Sahitya Akademi award for his novel Gharadiha in 1987.
His zest for life and his humility endeared him to everyone who interacted with him. One more living link of Odisha with the pre-Independence era has now snapped.
(The writer is professor of English, Utkal University)