Learning From A Legend

Ever since the consolidation of British power at the end of the First War of Independence of 1857, English education took rapid strides and the climate was very conducive for a new flowering of the creative Indian genius. The spread of English education had resulted in the import of the Western ideas and techniques. Before the 19th century came to an end, the genre of short story captivated the attention of Indian readers. The short story form seems to be peculiarly suited to the mirroring of Indian life, since its writer can choose any one part of life and deal with it attention, care and mastery which it requires.

The Indian English short story had been a successfully established art which continues developing with justifiable confidence and pride. That this can stand comparison with the best continental short stories is enough evidence not only of their thematic and technical maturity but also of the confidence with which English language is handled.

Born in 1934, in a small village in the eastern coast of Odisha, Manoj Das grew up in a uniquely charming environment marked by palm-grove-studded green meadows with lotus- filled lakes between his house and the ocean. At the same time he had the harrowing experience as a small boy of having to witness his region struck by a terrible cyclone and the consequent famine and his affluent house being plundered by gangs of merciless dacoits not once but twice. Manoj Das grew up to be a youth leader with radical views, suffering a term behind bars and taking a leading role in the Afro-Asian Students’ Conference at Bandung in 1956. But all through this tumultuous phase of his life, he continued his creative writing and his quest for the meaning of life.

The book, Manoj Das- A Reader, is an anthology of short stories, essays, vignettes from columns in newspapers and selections from the novels of Manoj Das. The book is edited by Dr P Raja, who is a bilingual writer, who has published numerous articles, short stories, poems, one- act plays, reviews, skits and features in more than three hundred newspapers and magazines, both in India and abroad. This book is a significant projection of the creativity of one of contemporary India’s foremost writers. Even discerning critics like Dr K R Srinivasa Iyengar and Prof. H P Shukla have hailed Manoj Das’s fiction as the most authentic representation of India’s psyche. He has been a crusader against the invasion of India’s intellectual climate by decadent values. He has not only been a ‘social critic of the first order, but also, what is more important he has stressed the divinity and psychic spendour inherent in man, through his creative writings.

Manoj Das is one of those few writers who can express in simple language matters of considerable importance while entertaining us. While we find vibrant glimpses of the subcontinent in transition in his short stories and novels, we also feel in them the elements and inspirations that go to render a work timeless and a classic creation.

By Nilabh Krishna

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