A man born of the soil returns to the soil (Book Review)
Title: Born of the Soil, Author: Kalindi Charan Panigrahi (Translated from the Odia original ‘Matira Manisha by Dr. Bikram Das), Publication: Niyogi Books, Pages: 128, Price: Rs. 350
“Didn’t Ramchandra give up the kingdom to Bharat and walk away into the forest? But then, that had happened in another age. Can you expect such a thing to happen today? Nowadays one brother will slit another’s throat. Why, only the other day a brother in a wealthy zamindar family had conspired with the others and got the eldest brother killed, along with his wife and children. For just a small slice of the property! Netramani was right! No brother would do it today. All this was mere bluff!”
Keeping in tandem with the social values and tradition of the peasantry and landed gentry, in early 20th century colonial Orissa (now Odisha) Kalindi Charan Panigrahi has faithfully portrayed a rural household whose joys and sorrows are closely related to their soil.
Shaama Pradhan’s two sons — the obedient and hardworking Baraju and the lazy Chakhadi, who spends his time in merely bluffing the village residents — fail to meet their father’s decree of keeping the family intact after his demise without creating any rift between the land and property passed on to them since generations.
By quoting appropriate examples from the two great Indian epics — the Ramayana and the Mahabharata — the author describes the dynamics of ever-changing human relations. After all, the fight between brothers over land and property is not a new concept; getting influenced by dubious surroundings and interference by constantly scheming people like Shakuni in the Mahabharata has been in practice since ages.
Thus, the character of Hari Mishra becomes one of the reasons for the split in the household, apart from the constant grudges and fights between the two sisters-in-law. Therefore, despite staying out of conspiracies and deceit by Chakhadi and his wife Netramani, Baraju Pradhan’s efforts seem futile the latter separates along with his family to put an ultimate end to the quarrels of the household.
To this end, the author’s intention of metaphorically representing familial values and ethics with repeated examples of the ‘soil’ bear fruit when Chakhadi returns to his elder brother at the end of the story.
Describing the text to be inspired by Gandhian thought at the same time, the translator has also compared the characters of Shaama Pradhan and Baraju to be the ones who prefer advocating adherence to the permanent human values of all times and leading lives according to the rules and principles led by such activism.
The then prevailing political motivations like satyagraha, non-violence, desire for social equality and one’s connection to his land, values, cultures and tradition further influenced the social surroundings of the people, especially the lower strata of the society.
The author along with a few other budding poets, proclaimed the birth of a new literary movement, named ‘Sabuj Sahitya'(Green Literature). The ‘greenery’ that inspired their writing was a declaration of soft, youthful idealism and romanticism rather than the radicalism of contemporary writing. The Sabuj group drew inspiration from Tagore, Marx and Gandhi.
The text was originally written in Odia language, named ‘Matira Manisha’ in 1934. The translator, Bikram Das deliberately retained certain Odia words used in daily colloquial diction like, ‘jaa’ (sister in-law), ‘bhauja’ (wife of one’s elder brother) and numerous others, to ensure the essence of the narrative intact within the natural flow of words.
“There can never be a perfect or a ‘faithful’ translation of the original text,” Das told IANS in an e-mail interview.
Besides, the rich language of the Odia peasants of the early 20th century helps in building up a complex plot structure that further enables the imagination and interest of the readers to be move parallel with the storyline.
In other words, the book has done full justice through its narrative in unfolding the importance of human values in colonial India.
(Nivedita Giri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)