A People’s POET (Satchidananda Routray: 1916-2004)



 Recently the literary fraternity is going to celebrate the Centenary Celebration of Satchidananda Routray, popularly known as Sachi Routray who breathed his last on 24 August, 2004 was best known for his poetry, acclaimed to be the harbinger of modern Odia poetry, though he was a man of many genres. His versatile genius has found easy success in almost all the branches of literature and the present epoch in Odia poetry is known after his name as the Routray era. Once he observed, “Although poetry has been my forte, I have also written other form of literature, i.e., short stories, novels, poetic drama, criticism and research. I think, every poet is unconsciously a critic for he has to choose, reject and harmonize words, associations, metaphors, etc. while writing poetry. Hence there is no wonder at the British example that almost every major poet of England was a major critic of his times, such as Dryden, Carlyle, Mathew Arnold, Eliot, etc.”

An exponent of progressive literature in Odisha, he was the first poet to introduce prose ­verse in Odia poetry. While still a student of Khurda High School, he came under the influence of the then fashionable school of thought in the literary field of Odisha Sabuja Sangha (Society of Evergreens), whose aim and ideals were to a great extent, the distant echo of Sabuja Patrika of Shantiniketan. Sachi, the young lad, with heart full of exuberant high hopes started his literary career as a romantic poet with a terrific passion for shaping his designs according to his own pattern. Patheya (For the Road, 1932), his first collection of mystic-verses, was published when he was sixteen. Although influenced by Tagorian mysticism, the book full of promise, enthusiasm and lyrical spontaneity, drew the attention of the reading public towards the tender boy. Dedicated to a ‘young traveler’ it contains fifty-two sequences conveying ‘mellifluous experiences’ concerning love, nature and general dissatisfaction against the prevailing social injustice and inequalities, followed by Purnima in 1933. A poetic drama by its form, establishes the full significance of the ultimate aim of human life, it depicts the mythological love episode of Siva and Parvati.

These two books reveal the highly imaginative mind of a young promising poet and the style closely follows the tradition of the Sabuja Poets. Sachi, however, attained celebrity with the publication of Baji Rout (1942), a long poem to celebrate the heroism of a young boatman boy, Baji Rout, born in the village of Nilakanthapur in Dhenkanal, who refused to oblige the king’s soldiers to cross the river, on 10 October 1938, while guarding a vantage point. First published in 1938 in Sahakar, then a leading Odia journal, and also in a small, slender booklet, later on an enlarge edition published from Kolkata in 1942, the poem was written in a meditative rhetorical language and in a symbolical structure. Later it received universal acclaim through an English rendering entitled The Boatman Boy and Other Poems by Harindranath Chattopadhyay. The book is a perennial symbol of revolt became extremely popular with the younger generation. Considered as an epic which become almost the Bible of the State Prajamandal (People’s Movement) of Odisha and in general, of the revolutionary youth of his days, Baji Rout recounts the sacrifice of a rustic village boy and fell to their bullet but averted disaster.

It is no ‘assassination in the sacrificial grove of poetry’. Here is a breath of greatness. The poem is conceived in five spans, and comprehends the full circuit of ardour, agony, martyrdom, despair, and eventual resurrection. With the powerful invitation to the tyrant, Sachi Routray wrote:

         “This is no funeral flame, comrade!

         No funeral flame, but freedom’s leaping flame

         To cleave the country’s dark of death and shame,

         A sacrifice mystery of death turned life…”

The poet raised high above the personal level and makes it truly a saga of freedom and of heroic sacrifices for the cause of the country. The incident fired the imagination of the people and became a rallying point for them to unite against the imperialist ruler. The Founder- Secretary of All India Progressive Writers Association, Sazzad Zaheer once observed, “Sachi’s poems were the best examples of progressive literature”. The poet was deeply imbued with the feelings of nationalism and sacrifice of Odishan people fighting for Indian independence. Baji Rout shows the unwavering commitment to the national cause. He wrote:

         “Shoot, shoot as steadily as you can,

         Our breasts are bared to your bullets!

         Keep aside your wooden lathis,

         For we damn it all,

         Our breasts are made of rocks”!

Palli‑Sri (The Village Graces, 1941), his magnum opus, the testament of faith in spirit of freedom and carefree living in a world of rare charm and natural beauty, is considered as the best palli‑kavita (rural poetry) written in Odia after Pallikavi Nandakishore Bal. Containing ten poems, the book begins with the poem titled Chhota Mora Ga’nti (My Littleknown Village) which indicates that the writer starts to write on the little village in which he was born. The poem is full of reminiscences breathing a sweet note of pastoral simplicity and permeating the mind with the fragrance and purity of a distant dream. The change in his poetry came naturally as a part of his evolution as a poet, a symptomatic of the continuous process of growth of his sensibility and craftsmanship. Based on the different aspects of village life and the rural folk and set against the backdrop of natural beauty, the idyllic countryside, the poem is a living force. He wrote:

         “My little village! How beautiful is

         Your shimmering moonlight!

         Yet, how more beautiful is your darkness too.”

J.B. Mohanty says, “Palli‑Sri represents the founding of a virile and full blooded literature for the people, expressing faithfully their joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs and ushering in a people’s literature that could reflect the ideational pattern of the life of the people in an unmistakable way”. The publication of Pandulipi (Manuscript, 1947), however, ushered the advent of the modem era in Odia poetry. Introduced with new verse forms like prose verses, verses with interim rhymes, elimination of metrical similarity of vowels, Pandulipi was the harbinger of new poetry. Accepted for their innovative quality, freshness, new idiomatic expressions and a fascinating range of imagery, the poems have exerted a salutary influence on the younger generations of poets. Pandulipi was a defiant declaration of human rights against a decadent social order. Sachi, a conscious writer, wanted to unmask the forces of reaction and exploration that had taken shelter under the pretext of religion, revivalism and reformism.

His other early poetic works during 1930s and 1940s include Raktashikha (Red Flame, 1939), Abhijan (The Expedition, 1938), Bhanumatira Desha (The Land of Bhanumati, 1949), Smramika Kavi (The Labourer Poet), Sarbahara (The Proletariat, 1937), Biplabar Janmadine (On Birthday Revolution, 1939), and Nal November (Red November). Excellent command over language and throbbed with innumerable new images, turns of phrase and metrical and rhythmical innovations, his early poems had strongly elements of left oriented progressivism as well as soft romantic strain. During the period some of his poems were banned in 1939 and 1942. The fiery lines of Raktatshikha, a book of patriotic songs, though proscribed by the Government in 1939 and the Press was fined Rs.1, 000/‑ for having printed it, are still alive, gathering force and momentum as they pass from lip to lip whenever there is a popular movement afoot in Odisha. Verse of high compelling quality, it spears to the people in the language of the people.

Abhijan, another characteristic book of Sachi, held in high esteem by the modern generation, is a landmark of new progressive ideas in the domain of Oriya literature. Embodies all visions and aspirations of the people of the age of freedom and democratic consciousness Abhijan bears the signature in fire of the titanic struggle of a budding consciousness in a new-awake nation. Regarded as the gospel of revolutionary outlook and containing verses of a highly compelling quality, such as: “Bhat”, “Spain”, “Gallows,” “Andaman”, etc. Abhijan, directly appeals to the starving millions. His poetic credo is unambiguously stated in a poem “Bhat”:

“Hunger burns like a bloody heart,

         Give me a share of rice to eat”.

Apart from progressive and modern poems he had also written some humorous poems contained in Hasanta. The typical examples of his satire may be given from his book containing his humorous poems like “Horse Race in Heaven”, “Gopabandhu’s Death Anniversary”, the vegetarian village “Sarpanch” ‑ a strict Gandhian who only ate meat when a goat or hen committed suicide. Subsequently after Independence he wrote poetry, which linked him with the new poetry that emerged from mid fifties. These are: Svagat (1958), Kavita (1962) and the Kavita series appearing at regular intervals in 1969, 1971, 1974, 1983,1985,1987, 1988, 1990, respectively, Asiar Svapna (1969), Mayakovosky Kavita Sangraha (1965) which won him the Soviet Land Nehru Award. His Kavita 1962, adjudged to be the best collection of poems between 1960 and 1962 by the Sahitya Akademi, containing fifty-five best poems of Sachi, experiments with the new style and technique of expressing the contemporary reality, particularly related to his own new romantic themes about nature and social concern.

Kavita 1962, an extraordinary book of impassive poems, introduces many striking imageries. “It includes an expressive introduction to the movement of new poetry in Odia and other languages,” says the Akademi. The alchemy of words, magical charm of accents and dhvani has achieved greater success in Kavita’62 than in any other book of Sachi. Prafulla Jagdev says, “In Kavita’62 modern themes have been consolidated with a matching structure of images and rhythms”. The predicament of the modern man ‑ his sense of deep rooted frustration and disillusionment, and his sense of rootlessness and his acute sufferings in the present social gestalt’ have found authentic expression in Kavita’62.

Containing sisty-seven poems and dedicated to an unknown rickshaw puller, Kavita’67 is undoubtedly a major poetic work of Sachi bearing the indelible stamp of his all-inclusive poetic personality. Surendra Mohanty, the noted Odia writer who reviewed the book in his journal Kalinga says, “Kavita67, more important than Kavita’62, carries the message of affirmation of life and different levels end of his apocalyptic vision of a brave new social order which a conditioned mind cannot envisage today. His poems relating to Bangladesh ‘Kavita’71’, written over a period of two years since 1969, is a brilliant book of poetry to which Odia new poetry owes a lot both in technique and in texture. Some of the poems are the meaningful utterances of the poetic voice end of the poet’s awareness of a common human destiny embracing the entire world.

 Kavita’71 unfolds many aspects of his workmanship that have enriched modern Oriya poetry. During the period 1983-87, three epochs makes books: Kavita’83’, ‘Kavita’85, and ‘Kavita’87, were produced. ‘Kavit’a’85’ contains thirty-nine poems as well, fifty-three lyrics on varied subjects love, metaphyphysical ramblings, satires, etc some of which had been broadcast by AIR, Cuttack. ‘Kavita‑87 written during 1985‑87 in magazines combines in it a bunch of his early poems written in 1930s which remained hitherto unpublished in any book. However, the poems of Routray show distinct development both in technique and subject matter of Odia poetry. His earlier poems, which follow a stereotypical path, show a definite contrast to his recent and modem poems. The earlier poems breathed an atmosphere of romanticism with a subtle desire to revolt. He sung passionately of the sorrows and sufferings of the people. Till 1939 he was regarded as the ‘voice of the voiceless millions’.

His Boatman Boy was born directly of the people’s baptism of fire when they launched a revolt against the feudal rule of the native state Odisha. Modern Review Press, Kolkata brought out Sachi Routray: A Poet of the People  (1955) with contributions from stalwarts as Humayun Kabir, Kalidas Nag, Srinivas leynger which introduced Sachi to an all-Indian audience and the epithet ‘poet of the people’ has clung to him ever since. His poetry gives its reader a taste of such crystallization. The poetry has touched life at different levels and, therefore, there is variety and sweep and even occasional grandeur in his works. Though Routray was introduced by his Boatman Boy and others Poems to the world of literature, many works that are there to his credit: short stories, plays, and novels, bear ample testimony of his intimate study of various aspects of human life. To quote a critic, A.N. Antony who wrote a critical estimate of Sachi’s work, “poet, critic, story-teller, playwright ‑ all rolled into one, Routray is an integrated personality in the literary world of India”.

His short stories have been published in five volumes: Matir Taj (1947), Masanir Phula (1948), Chhai (1949), Mankarda O Anyanya Galpa (1983), Nutana Galpa (1987) which ushered a new era in the history of literature. They depict the true life of the people in the context of present day environs and multifarious problems and bear evidence to the poet’s deep insight into human nature vis-à-vis the socio-political reality. Sachi portrays real life from a quite new angle of vision. However, his Matir Taj and Masanir Phula contain examples of his epoch-making short stories. Masanir Phula, containing four celebrated short stories, relates to the reaction of hardened cremation worker who is raised to a new sense of love and poetry as he looks upon the face of a woman lying stretched on the pyre ready for cremation. Each short story in Masanir Phula is a mirror of life. To quote, P.K. Parija, who had reviewed some of his short stories, i.e. Matir Taj and Masanir Phula, “they portray the inner conflicts and subtle tremors of the mind of average man in our country and stand unsurpassed in many ways for their clever delineation and humanistic approach”.

His stories have been translated widely into English, Russian, Hindi, Urdu, Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, and Assames languages. Sachi was also a successful novelist and essayist who set altogether a new trend with his only novel Chitragriha (1935) which has all the characteristic of an anti‑novel of the world written five years earlier to the anti‑novel movement which was started in Paris in 1940. Acclaimed by all concerned to the harbinger of modernity in Odia literature, it introduced Marxism and the psychoanalysis of Freud in the literary world of Odisha. As an essayist he wrote many critical essays titled Sahitya Vichar o Sahityare Mulyabodh (1972), Adhunika Sahityar Keet Diga (1983). Sahitya Vichar…, written about literary theories such as romanticism, neo romanticism, imagism, realism, socialistic realism, surrealism, naturalism, existentialism, new criticism, etc. besides his studies in the theories of Eliot, Richards, Sartre in addition to modern poets of Odisha, studies in the evolution of values in literature beginning from the pre‑Aryan days till the Riti period of ornate genre school (1700 A.D).

Adhunik Sahityar… contains the lectures, which Sachi had delivered at Vishva Bharati as the N. Bandopadhyay Memorial Lecture for 1979‑80 and in the Harvard University International of Arts and Science, USA in 1955. Besides, his research works includes of the poet Jayadeva and on Ramayana and Mahabharata, and Uttar Phalguni, an autobiography. Being an able editor and journalist, Sachi was associated with various leading journals of his time ‑ De Facto editor (1937‑40) Sahakar, then leading journal of Odisha, and Arati (1940‑42); editor of Diganta, the most prestigious and highly standardized Odia journal devoted to arts, letters, and researches for long which is still continuing.

Also a connoisseur of the arts, he mounted exhibitions of the palm leaf illustrations and pat paintings in the Moscow University in collaboration with the famous indologist of the Soviet Union, Gusseva, in 1979. Again in 1982 Sachi mounted the similar exhibition in the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. In the University of Poland, Czechoslovakia, UNESCO, he had delivered lectures in 1979 on lecture-tour sponsored by Indian government. Routray though had written profusely in his own mother tongue Odia, and in Bengali, he had written in English. Many of his poems and research articles written in English have been published in journals in India and abroad. Some of his stories have been translated into Russian and published in journals and international anthologies like People of the World, Moscow. To name a few of his valuable translation which he had done for Sahitya Akademi, National Book Trust, and Publication Division are: One Hundred One Poems of Rabindranath Tagore, Twenty One Short Stories in Bengali, and Biography of Dadabhai Noaroji. He has also translated into Odia several other books such as Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy and the short stories of William Cather.

Apart from Sahitya Akademi and Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1964 and 1965 respectively, as a trend‑setter in modern Odia diliterature, Routray was honoured with several awards of national and international repute, i.e., Padma Shri (1962), Bharat Nayak Award (1986). For his eminence as a poet in Odia, Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest honour, ‘Fellowship’ on him. He was also bestowed with ‘Mahakavi’ (1985) and ‘Utkal Ratna’. The Andhra University, Waltair, and Berhampur University, Odisha conferred D. Litt. (Honoris causa) in 1977 and 1978 respectively.  He had presided over the open session of the 1st Session of All India Poets Conference held in 1968 at Kolkata as well, 1st Eastern Zone Writers Conference in 1972. He was the President of Odisha Sahitya Akademi during the period 1978‑81. During his tenure, he had a brought a renaissance to lifelong pension of Rs.200/- to Rs.500/- per month to the writers, artists, and sportsmen of Odisha. Besides, he was member of various literary and cultural organizations: Member, Central Film Censor Board, Member, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

Quite well known in Europe, America, U.K., U.S.S.R., Czech, Poland as a leading Indian writer, he addressed many international literary seminars and conferences abroad such as: International Seminar of Arts and Science (1955) at Harvard University, USA; International Social Services Seminar in Australia and Newzeland (1952); Delegate to the American Study Mission International’s Lecture tour Programme (1962); Pushkin Seminar, Russia (1979); Bangladesh University Seminar (1972); Bangla Academy (Dacca) Seminar (1975). On the invitations of the host countries or their institutions Sachi addressed many literary and cultural conferences and writers meet in London, U.K., Paris, Rome, Switzerland, Thailand, Ceylon, Cairo, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Russia. He was also invited to read his poetry in Boston Radio Station, USA (1955); Bangla Radio, Dacca (1972); Moscow Radio (1979).

The doyen of Odia literature, Routray was born on 13 May 1916 in an aristocratic Kshatriya family of Gurujanga village in Khurda, Odisha that was then part of Bihar and Odisha phrovince. As an ardent nationalist and rebel, he was influenced by the freedom movement and came under the magic spell of Mahatma Gandhi during his school days. He took active part in the State People’s Movement of Odisha against the British. Because of his nationalistic activities and patriotic fervor, he was bounded out of Odisha and was imprisoned twice. Matriculated from the Brahmo Boys’ H.E. School, Kolkata, his nationalistic activities got him into trouble and were again chased out from Kolkata. Ultimately he graduated from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack in 1939. He received training in Industrial Relations and Social Welfare in Australia and New Zealand under the Colombo Plan in 1952 and again in 1955 at the International Labour Organization in Geneva.

Worked as the Chief Labour Welfare Officer and later as Executive Officer of Kesoram Cotton Mills Ltd, Kolkata for 20 years, he resigned in 1962 to devote himself exclusively to writing and cultural activities. Fundamentally a rebel, a non-conventionalist, non­-conformist and a progressive, Sachi has left the imprint of his personality on whatever field he has left be it political or literary. Apart from kindling the torch of revolution in the heart of the youth, his poems signaled the advent of a renaissance in the literary domain of Odisha. His free verse forms, his conventional imagery, his down-to-earth realism, his masterly representation of the cause of the lost and the neglected and the lowest in society made himself the harbinger of the impending spring of modernity in Odia poetry.

A well known litterateur, an ardent political worker, and an active social reformer, Sachi’s contribution will be long remembered. As A.V. Antony has rightly observed, “Sachi not only blazed the trail of revolution in the state of Odisha in 1938 and gave that revolution its voice and verse, but later touched life at various levels and gave to us many a beautiful verse embodying truth and beauty of life”. He, thus, had become the trumpet voice of the mute and the deprived millions. His death has left behind a very big void.

Dr. Ashok K. Choudhury, a litcritic & postdoctoral scholar, is with Sahitya Akademi, Delhi.


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