Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Kahnucharan was a household name in Orissa for over half a century

A master storyteller HARIHARAN BALAKRISHNAN Kahnucharan Mohanty's stories evoked something personal in each reader. In his last days: Kahnucharan was a household name in Orissa. Photo: Courtesy Pratibha Ray
GOPINATH MOHANTY is a name that evokes instant recognition in literary circles across India, and in some other parts of the world; but not the name of his elder brother, Kahnucharan. Against more than 1000 links for the former in Google, a lone link to "Kahnucharan Mohanty" mocks you from the screen. While Gopinath, the first Jnanpith awardee from Orissa, undoubtedly deserves his place in the firmament, Kahnucharan is considered to be the true successor of Fakirmohan Senapati, "the father of the Oriya novel". In a span of 57 years from 1924 to 1982, he wrote an astounding 55 novels and four collections of short stories. He had the rare honour of being made a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi.
This prolific novelist inspired Pratibha Ray, one of contemporary India's foremost novelists. His works like Adekha Hatho (The Invisible Hand) and Chutiley Ghata (When Life Departs) left a lasting impression on future Oriya legends like Sitakant Mahapatra. Kahnucharan's novels, like Fakirmohan's, had their hand on the pulse of the poor, the destitute, the disempowered and the disowned. In Shaasthi, a seminal novel about hopeless love and the inner strength of women against the backdrop of the Great Famine, he captures rural Orissa as it was 40 years before he was born. This is considered a remarkable feat by itself. Jayashree Mohanraj of CIEFL, Hyderabad, who translated this novel from Oriya to Telugu, thinks that Kahnucharan had an instinctive feel for the heartbeat of victims of circumstance. She is the only one to have translated any of his works into another Indian language.
Kahnucharan's language was earthy and colloquial. It did not require a scholar to understand what he had to say. The stories touched a chord in the heart of the paan-shop owner, rickshaw puller, the tenant farmer, a woman in the kitchen and the girl waiting to be a bride. In those days, women were not encouraged to study. The marginalised, with limited opportunity for education, had a hunger for the written word. As a result, Kahnucharan's novels were read in those places where scholastic works never found a place earlier — the wayside tea stall, languorous bullock-cart, urban kitchen and village haystack...
Kahnucharan was a household name in Orissa for over half a century because his language was closer to the people's vocabulary, the themes were of daily life mostly in rural setting and there was a romantic touch in every novel. During his lifetime, the TV was a dream in India. Yet, at least four novels were made into films with remarkable success. Annapurna Theatre staged dramas of his stories with the legendary actors of the day. The Hindu Literary Review Sunday, Mar 04, 2007

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