Utkala Bhramanam: The Hidden Gem of Odia Literature

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

and

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

and

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

and

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.

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3 Comments

Filed under Books, Odisha & Odia

3 responses to “Utkala Bhramanam: The Hidden Gem of Odia Literature

  1. Dr Subhendu Mund

    You needn’t think you are the only one who likes Utkala Bhramanam. Please see my research paper ‘A Journey in the Cultural Space’, published in Indian Travel Narratives, edited by Somadutta Mandal. — Dr Subhendu Mund

  2. shyamanuja

    @Dr Mund Of course, not sir. I was talking of the relatively low awareness about the book in people of my generation, who have read Fakir Mohan’s other works such as Chhamana Athaguntha and Galpaswalpa and do read Odia literature. For the sake of visitors, I am adding a few links to the book

    Flipkart: http://www.flipkart.com/indian-travel-narratives-8131603555/p/itmdytssd9zfryte?pid=9788131603550

    Infibeam (with a 17% discount): http://www.infibeam.com/Books/indian-travel-narratives-somdatta-mandal-ed/8131603555.html

    Rawat (The Publisher): http://www.rawatbooks.com/book_more_detail.aspx?id=4

  3. Dr Subhendu Mund

    Thank u, young friend! You may be interested in my other research papers on Odia literature and culture published in various journals and anthologies. Many of them can be found on the internet also. Good work! Keep it up! My best wishes!

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