MANOJ DAS-A Reader This anthology of short stories, essays, vignettes from columns in newspapers and selections from the novels of Manoj Das, is a significant projection of the creativity of one of contemporary India's foremost writers.
Discerning critics like Dr K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar and Prof. H. P. Shukla have hailed his fiction as the most authentic representation of India's psyche. 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.
Born in 1934 in a small village in the eastern coast of Orissa, 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 numerous accolades he has received include the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Saraswati Samman, the Padma Award and D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) from five universities so far. He has been chosen as the Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi, an honour 'reserved for immortals in literature'. Manoj Das is attached to Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Puducherry.
Dr P. Raja (1952) is a bilingual writer. He 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. He has authored twenty-eight books in English and ten books in Tamil. He is a well-known translator. Apart from contributing regularly to The Hindu, The New Indian Express, and The Statesman, he edits Transfire, a literary quarterly devoted to translations from various languages into English.
Dr Raja brought out the seminal research work Many Worlds of Manoj Das in 1992. He has 39 years of teaching experience and is currently teaching and supervising research work at Kanchi Mamunivar Govt. Centre for Postgraduate Studies and Research, Pondicherry.
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, although Indians had, in a small way, begun already to learn English under a few institutions sponsored by the East India Company. The spread of English education had resulted in the importation of Western ideas and techniques. Needless to say that it made Indians familiar with the Western short story. Before the 19th century came to an end, the genre of short story captivated the attention of Indian readers and there was a fusion of the best from our past with the best in Europe's present.
The short story has been one of the most popular forms of literature produced in India during the last hundred years. It was primarily because the Indians were well acquainted with the genre by the blessings of Somadeva and Vishnu Sharma (of the Kathasaritsagara & Panchatantra) apart from the Jatakas. The earliest short story collections by Indians writers in English appeared in London in 1885: Realities of Indian Life: Stories Collected from the Criminal Reports of India by Soshee Chunder Dutt and Sourindra Mohan Tagore (Naik: The Indian English Short Story: A Representative Anthology, 13). Following the introduction of printing and the gradual extension of literacy in the land, a considerable number of periodicals arose and that paved the way for the growth of the short story.
The short story form seems to be peculiarly suited to the mirroring of Indian life since its writer of it can choose anyone part of life and deal with it with the attention, care and mastery which it requires. The brevity of the short story, the comparatively less taxing demand it makes on the time of the reader and the possibility of its including any aspect of life and society have earned for the short story the special position it occupies.
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 the English language is being handled.
It was only during the mid-sixties, to be exact in 1967, that Manoj Das's first collection of short stories A Song for Sunday and Other Stories appeared. Many were the writers who had read and encouraged him. One among them was the doyen of letters, K.P.S. Menon. 'Appreciating my stories,' acknowledged Manoj Das in an interview given to the magazine (1975-76) brought out by the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), Pondicherry, 'Mr. Menon commented, 'My old collector, J.C, Molony, used to say that even the best of Indians writing in English reminds him of a man who plays the piano with a stick instead of with his fingers. But no one will think so about your stories.'
Since then Manoj Das has eleven collections of short stories and three novels, leading him to the rank of established Indo-Anglian writers.
Well known to the readers of Odia and Indo-Anglian literatures, Manoj Das is one among the few gifted writers of India who can wield the pen both in his mother tongue and in English with equal ease. Years ago, Dr. K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar in his Indian Writing in English described him as the first writer from Odisha to publish a collection of short stories in English. His status in Odia literature is high. In 1960, when the premier Odia monthly Dagora conducted an opinion poll to decide who had made the greatest contribution to post-Independence Odia literature, among the veterans voted- like Gopinath Mohanty, Surendra Mohanty and Sochi Routray- was Manoj Das, then in his mid-twenties.
Manoj Das's short stories are internationally acclaimed, published in noted magazines and anthologies in the West and praised by distinguished writers like Graham Greene and H.R.F. Keating. Even in the early seventies of the last century Newsart of New York applauded Manoj Das as one of the foremost of the new generation of Indian writers. Ruskin Bond wrote in the Imprint, 'There are only a few good storytellers left in the world today. One of them is Manoj Das'. (Jan. 1976).
A zealous Marxist and a fiery student-leader in his college days, Manoj Das used to keep his audience spell-bound by his oratorical skill. He took a keen part in the Afro-Asian Students Conference at Bandung in 1956. He was a rebel who courted jail with a smile. But first and foremost he was a writer. While his first book in his mother-tongue, Odia saw publication when he was barely 14, when 15 he launched Diganta (a journal of progressive writing) which grew in course of years to be a leading magazine of culture and ideas in Oriya.
After teaching in Christ College at Cuttack for four years, this Marxist turned spiritual seeker joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1963, where he serves Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education as a Professor of English Literature. Apart from his basic creative writing, which is fiction, Manoj Das's contribution to children's literature is considerable. One of his books belonging to the genre, Stories of Light and Delight (National Book Trust, India), is a best-seller in all its editions in all the major languages of India for the past four decades.
Manoj Das's non-fiction works include Sri Aurobindo, a literary monograph in Sahitya Akademi's 'Makers of Indian Literature' series and Sri Aurobindo in the first Decade of the 20th century, an account of some of the little known episodes in India's Freedom Movement, culled by the author from the archives of London and Edinburgh, published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry (1972).
Creative writing apart, his contribution to India's major journals were much appreciated. His regular column in The Hindustan Times, called 'The Banyan Tree' and in The Hindu called 'The Tides of Time' were a highly popular feature. He edited The Heritage (1985-89) which has been acknowledged as India's most prestigious English monthly.
Manoj Das is recognized as an able interpreter of Indian literature and culture. He was invited by the Government of the Republic of Singapore to help them in their Moral and Ethical Studies project. He visited the Island-nation several times during 1982-1985, delivering a series of systematic lectures to their teachers and writing two text books for their school system which is supervised by the Cambridge University. His work was appreciated by the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore in their Parliament.
He is an optimist who believes in a transformed future of mankind and his writings and talks exude his faith. Manoj Das has published about 30 books in Odia and nearly the same number of books in English. Through his creative writing he has brought about a new awareness about the sweetness, even though often a sad sweetness, arid serenity that pervades life in general and the rural Indian life in particular.
Manoj Das 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. There may be many social critics, whose voices may be thunderous, but leaving any lasting impact is a different matter. Manoj Das achieves this purpose because he drives home his point through his irresistible subtle art.
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