What are your favorite books? This is a question that many of us have answered multiple times—in social get-togethers, classrooms, job interviews and now, in social networking profile forms. Sometimes, it is restricted to a genre, a language, or to some sort of qualifications. As an Odia, I have got this question many times in friend circles: what are my favorite Odia books? I do not have a definite list of five or ten but some names that automatically prop up are Nilashaila, Amabasyara Chandra, Chhamana Athaguntha, Paraja, Sriradha, Utkala Bhramanam and so on. The names evoke different reactions: “I love that too” or “I do not know why people go mad over this”, “well, I have not really read that”, or even “poetry is not really my cup of tea”. But there is one name—Utkala Bhramanam—that invariably evokes a common reaction every time: what is that? Who is the author? Many even assume it must be some obscure work by some obscure writer which for some reason has appealed to me. But the eyebrows are invariably raised when I drop this bombshell: it is by Fakir Mohan. Fakir Mohan? You mean Fakir Mohan Senapati?
Yes, I mean Fakir Mohan Senapati, arguably the most well-known writer of modern Odisha. Chhamana Athaguntha, Daka Munsi, Rebati or Patent Medicine—which reader of Odia literature has not read these classics? And while many may not have read these books, most are aware of Galpaswalpa, Mamu, Prayaschita, Lachhama, Atmajibani Charita and the likes. But Utkala Bhramanam—what is that? Is it a novel, a collection of stories, or a travelogue, as the name suggests?
And the suspicion further rises when I say it is a long poem. Are you sure it is Fakir Mohan? Yes, I am. And that is the tragedy. Odias do not even know about one of the best works of (one of?) the best writers of Odisha.
The statement may sound arrogant to many of you. What gives me the right to call it one of his best work? Because I feel so. And if someone has read it and does not think so, I will respect that opinion. Problem is: few have even heard of it.
I do not know why. Why was such a beautiful work lost? I remember my father getting a torn copy of the book from a library some thirty years back. But after that I have tried to get it but have not been successful. I have asked in the usual places including Orissa Sahitya Akademi and other major publishers, without success. I will be obliged if someone gives me some good news on this.
Enough of justification. What exactly is Utkala Bhramanam? It is a long poem which is part satire, part parody, part history, part travelogue, and part biography. It is a comment of Odisha of that time—the good, the bad and the ugly. And the language is universal, something that would appeal equally to a scholar of literature and a high school student. BTW, I myself was in high school when I first read it. I am reproducing some of it here. I do not have the book with me now; it is completely from memory. So some mistakes might have crept in.
This is how it starts.
Jaganntha Mahaprabhu Sri Guru Gosain
Puri Zilla Postafisa (post office) Kundhibenta Sahi
And from the very beginning, you know what to expect. He invokes Goddess Sarala in his inimitable style
Tumbhara abhysa kavi kanthe basibara
Mo prati separi kara nahin atyachara
Kanthare basile hoijibi je hauda
Kipari lekhibi tebe grantha dui pada
And if Sarala is not spared, how can you expect the wannabe Sahibs to be spared?
Educated Babunkara nitya vyavahara
dekhi dekhi helini mu nihati nachara
Nidhuma Kharare pindha banatara coat
Fingi dei chhenabada kha biskot (biscuit)
Thia hoi muta pachhe ghsa nahin danta
Ingreza (English) na heba thiba Odia ekanta
Mayura lanjaku gunji bula nahi aau
Na heba mayura thiba je kau se kau
And then the satirical comment on the tendency to use Onglish (Odia+English) by the educated…
Odia egara pana baki Ingirezi
Adbhuta khechudi eka misi hue saji
Bhala gote matrubhasha kisa heba bhai
Chali jau achhi kama rundai pundai
Kukura kimpai gote banaiba ghara
Chati bule baramisa aintha patara
And finally, his apology too is sharp and humorous
Ahe babu mane kare request excess
Mo nama re na aniba defamation case
Nitanta raga re jebe heba gara gara
Withdraw kari nebi lekhata mohara
If part of the book made fun of those wanting to be Angrez, most part of the book is a tribute to many great sons of Odisha of that time. And here are some, not necessarily in the order in which they appear in the book.
About Utkala Gauurav Madhusudan Das
Asa Mister M S Kare Shake hand
Samruddha hoichhi tumbha joge motherland
Bhala bele kari accha okilati paas
sabaas sabaas bhai sabaas sabaas
About Bhaktakabi Maddhusudan Rao
Ojana re heba madhu adhai pashuri
Kipari rakhichhi ete guna pete bhari
Adarsha manyusha jebe dekhibaku chaha
Dhai jai thare dekhi asa Madhu Rao
About Pallikabi Nanda Kishore Bala (he was a political agent that rquired a lot of tact)
Sapa bi mariba aau badi na bhangiba
E policy tuma chhada aau ke janiba?
And his good words are not only reserved for the Odias; it is for all well-wishers of Odisha.
About Ravenshaw and John Beemes
He Ravenshaw punyashloka dharma parayana
Dhanya heli tuma nama kari uccharana
Ravenshaw college kirti sabu dine thiba
Jaya jaya jaya jaya Ravenshaw Sahiba
Thila jane Beemes asha thila taha thare
matraka parila nahin rahi Odisha re
And of course, there are other gems too about places and people. I particularly like these ones about Jajpur
Asu asu mane padi gala adhadura
Parbati ma thila para ehi jajapura (There was a famous gundi called Parbatima Gundi)
Ki upama debi taku gyani pane
Heba Newton Galileo pari jane
Jagata durlabha pana tahin gundi puni
Amruta phopadi debe debataen suni
I can go on and on. And last time I read it (my father had copied the book on a notebook) was more than ten years back. I do not remember too much of it but I can still write a few more stanzas. That is the beauty of the poem.
I put it as one of my favorite books in Facebook by creating the page. After more than a year, I am the only person who likes it.
I sincerely wish the government of Odisha publishes and publicizes it. It is, in my opinion, one of the most precious hidden gems of Odia literature.