Delving into creative depths

Gopinath Mohanty: one of the most outstanding figures of post-independence Indian literature.  

Gopinath Mohanty (1904-1991) is one of the most outstanding figures of post-independence Indian literature. After Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Chha Mana Athagunta, Mohanty’s novels Paraja, Amrutara Santana, Danapani, Laya Bilaya and Mati Matala are major Odia works. Paraja, Danapani and Laya Bilaya have already been translated into English.

Paraja, published in 1945, was named after a tribe. Two years later came Amrutara Santana, the first novel to receive the Sahitya Akademi award in 1955. Both novels contain a lot of ethnographic details but the author’s competent craftsmanship does not allow them to intrude into the main flow. Danapani is the tale of an indefatigable social climber, Balidatt, and is set in an urban milieu. Laya Bilaya is the story of a family from Kolkata spending a week at Puri. Mati Matala, published in 1964, is a novel of epic dimensions. Almost 1,000 pages long, it is one of the longest novels written in Odia. Harijan, published in 1948, was about those who had to remove night soil. Through Rahura Chhaya (1952) he explored the dark levels of human consciousness. He received the Jnanpith Award in 1974 for his contribution to Odia literature.

However, his towering figure as a novelist has overshadowed his achievements in the field of short stories. He also wrote two biographies: of Utkalamani Gopabandhu Das, as told by a domestic help; and of Gopabandhu Choudhury in two volumes.

A writer’s life is an important element in understanding his/her work. Life events, career, family, relations friends and the people he/she comes in contact with… all go into the creative work. In fact, for a deeply creative person, no event in life is without significance or value. They merge into the crucible of his creative self. In the case of Mohanty, his entire literary output was deeply influenced by his life and his times. On more than one occasion, he asserted that he rarely wrote unless he was deeply affected and moved by some personal experience. In 1986, I conducted a long interview with him over several sessions at his home in Bhubaneswar. Initially published in the Indian Literary Review, it was subsequently included as a chapter in Indian Writers at Work in the New World Literature series.

As a writer, Gopinath Mohanty had a tremendous fascination for recording the details of an experience. He believed that our lives are lived not in large concepts or intellectual formulations and ideas but in the minute details of everyday life, which are often without apparent meaning and significance. That lack of significance gave it a sense of tragic inevitability. Human destiny is the unplanned flow of time and what it does to man. Time’s cruel, relentless designs are worked out in the myriad tiny events that shape our lives. Mohanty believed that the only way to seek and perhaps discover a semblance of meaning in life was by paying steadfast attention to these apparent meaningless events. It is precisely for this reason that he is a colossus among post-Independence fiction writers.

Mohanty was what I would call a complete writer. Novels, stories, biography, essays, playa, poetry and translations… nothing was away from his creative realm. His interest in literature was never isolated from his deep interest in Odia history and culture.

The writer is a renowned Odia poet and author and Jnanpith Awardee.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 1:49:55 PM |

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