Ramesh Patnaik, OP
Not many authors from Orissa are considered for coveted prizes like Jnanapeeth or Murthidevi Award. Why doesn’t Oriya literature get critical appreciation at the national level? The answer is simple. Although, several regional language books have been translated into Oriya, not many Oriya books are translated or translit- erated into English. As a result, Oriya literature does not get the attention it deserves as a classical language. Had it not been for WB Yeats’ trans- lation, Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali would not have bagged the Nobel Prize for literature. “Yes, this is a fact,” says well known writer and Orissa Sahitya Akademi vice-presi- dent Gayatri Saraf who has been nom- inated for the 2017 Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award for her short story an- thology Itabhatira Shilpi.
The lead story of the anthology is based on the plight of labourers who are forced to work in the brick kilns of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Saraf shares her feelings with Orissa POSTabout what is ailing Oriya literature and how it can com- pete with literatures across the nation to establish its pride of place among a host of other issues affecting Orissa’s socio-economic and cultural life. As the vice-president of the Orissa Sahitya Akademi, Gayatri Saraf says the state Akademi has taken up trans- lation of classical Oriya books like Bhagabat, Autobiography of Fakir Mohan Senapati, Gopinath Mohanty’s Mati Matala and Mahabharat into English and Hindi recently. Some of the books have already been published by the National Book Trust of India.
More Oriya books should reach bibliophiles and publishers across the globe through translations, says Saraf. The 2017 Central Sahitya Akademi award for literature will be conferred on Gayatri, along with Suryamani Khuntia for his Oriya translation of Iravati Karve’s Marathi book Yuganta,in New Delhi, in February 2018. Saraf’s title story is the tragic por- trayal of an artistic child who leaves Bolangir along with his parents who go to work in a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh. In the ensuing story of torture at the hands of brick kiln owner, Babu (protagonist) is brutally thrashed and in- jured. He returns to Orissa along with his parents who leave their workplace, penniless fearing further harassment. His dream to sculpt a clay model of his girlfriend suf- fers a severe setback when doctors amputate his hand right from elbow due to the injury. The author portrays a vivid imagery of the plight of impoverished migrant labourers from western Orissa due to adminis- trative neglect. Babu as an artist represents how his freedom of ex- pression has been stifled by an op- pressive society.
The book of 13 short stories, pub- lished in 2015 by Teeratarang Publications, Bhubaneswar, received rave reviews while the title story was translated into English by Dr Chittaranjan Mishra. Born in 1952 and raised in a cul- turally rich family of Bolangir, Gayatri Saraf, a voracious reader herself, re- ceived the President’s Medal as the best teacher of 2005. Her early publications include poems in Meena Bazaar, fiction Mana Samudrara Jhadain Sucharita,short story compilations Alokita Andhar (Atma Prakashani, 1988) and Ainara Janha (Friends Publishers, 1995). Author of 15 anthologies of short sto- ries, Gayatri’s characters are drawn from the oppressed lanes of western Orissa. Her preference to feature social underdogs as characters spontaneously builds up the setting for a typical story. With her love for the meticulous, she explores the intricacies of a char- acter and weaves her situation ac- cordingly. Her empathy with the char- acter and her treatment brings out the much needed pathos in her writings.
The author’s Kehita Janepublished by Paschima Publications, is also based on the problems of child labourers. All social conflicts are situational and it is the author’s responsibility to high- light them, she opines. Gayatri’s stories were translated into English, Hindi, Marathi and several other languages in India and abroad. Associated with several literary and cultural outfits, Gayatri has also edited several publications of national repute. A winner of several awards like Dharitri Samman, Sudhanya Samman, Gangadhar Samman, Kadambini Short Story Award and several felicitations, Gayatri is unassuming. The author loves soli- tude and stays in a tranquil ambience of Bhubaneswar.
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