Two's company: As the pen of Oriya writer Devdas Chhotray overflows with "Longing", HUMRA QURAISHI finds that bureaucrats can be poets and artists can be self-effacing too The Hindu Metro Plus Thursday, Apr 01, 2004
ARCHITECT-ARTIST Prafulla Mohanti and bureaucrat-writer Devdas Chhotray don't give the slightest hint that they are great masters in the field of creativity, tending to speak of just about anything and everything except themselves. Recently their talent came to light when a book of poems titled "Longing" by Chhotray with illustrations by Mohanti was released in New Delhi. Mohanti has also translated the poems from the original Oriya. If you were to ask Devdas, a senior bureaucrat, what makes him delve into that sort of romantic verse, he reveals he has been writing poetry and short stories for almost three decades and has provided lyrics for at least 75 Oriya films and written scripts of several films including "Shadows of the Rainbow" which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995.
He is also the son of the well-known Oriya personality Gopal Chottaray. "You could say I have it in my blood. My mentor has been the well-known music director Akshay Mohanty, and often I 'd composed the lyrics over the phone." There is an upsurge of sentiments hidden in his simple lines of poetry. Each poem is direct, with that longing of great intensity. The central character of Mallika remains unchanged in these poetic lines. But Devdas tries to brush off any inquisitive queries. "No, Mallika is just an imaginary character."
But Devdas's yearning seems absolutely intense, as though matching his classical name and his romantic temperament, which seems bordering on restlessness. "I find it difficult to stay with myself," is how he puts it. As to why Oriya talent doesn't reach the mainstream, both these men have this to say: "Orissa earlier remained backward because of historical reasons, and even now the Government is not interested in the promotion of arts and culture of the State." But apolitical men like Prafulla seem to be doing their bit, for though he is based in London, he makes it a point to come to his Orissa village Nanpur, staying there for three months, running a village school and arts centre there, with his English friend Derrick Moore. Let's not forget that Prafulla Mohanti is the author of works like "My Village, My life", "Indian Village Tales", "Changing Life", "Through Brown Eyes".
If Prafulla is himself a writer then why did he take on the task of translating his friend Devdas 's poems? "I have enjoyed Devdas' poetry for a long time and he has generously allowed me to interpret, rather than translate these poems into English, using my own imagination. My aim has been to give expression to the rich imagery of these sensuous poems of Devdas and offer them a wider public. My drawings are not illustrations. They are evocations of the general effect of the poems on my artistic sensibility."