Call Him Mr Akshaya Mohanty, Not Khoka Bhai — The King Of Odia Modern Music

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Our adulation is only superficial it seems. Akshaya Mohanty is omnipresent in our lives — from WhatsApp, FB to events and all kinds of music banters, non-music khatis, everywhere across three generations. He is supposed to be the king of Odia modern music, the fountainhead of modernity and out-of-the-closet romance in Odia music.

Some of us believe that he was much more than only a musician or a music maker. He made every Odia household spread their wings, break the staid middle-class coyness. He himself was larger than life. He was the trendsetter, a maverick personality — quite rare in a bottled-up society then. Girls had a crush on him. It is rumoured that elders were also attracted.

The attraction was the unique combination of trendy music, high quality but uncomplicated expressions and free-spirited persona. His ORB 222 ambassador car with him at the wheels was a trailblazer in Buxi bazaar, which was his major joint. His candour took our society by storm.

His experiments with his writings and music were audacious. He was an iconoclast in many ways. He stormed the cringy music bastion — dominated by Calcutta studios — with a freshness which was unknown and unheard of. He took music not to the classrooms of Sangeet Vidyalayas and gurus, but to where it belongs — the heart.

He released Odia music and romance, in verse, out of the asphyxiation of prudish lyrics and subverted expressions. But why are we so nostalgic about Mr Mohanty? Do we truly respect him? He has given Odia culture a new direction, a new whiff of air.

Yet, we don’t want him to win any recognition, forget Padma Award.

Yet, we forget to give him any return gift but sing paeans in WhatsApp Messages and social media which are essentially lifeless and repetitions. The messages are drowned and swamped every second, every day and every year.

We listen to his oft-repeated numbers, never ever bother to read about him or touch upon new perspectives of his life or thinking. There is no research instituted for his body of work, which is not only versatile but far-reaching — from folk, devotional to modern, romantic and brilliant prose. His thoughts reflected the restlessness of the youth of the 70s and 80s. But where is the documentation? Where is a Research chair in the University?

His erstwhile hangers-on organise events which we are better off without, due to their sub-standard quality and presentations.

Everything about celebrations in his name has now become trite, absolutely a rigmarole, heartless and ritualistic.

Everyone in WhatsApp seem to know him — the generic Bhai, but most neglected. He is made to be like the proverbial joker of a circus who’s there to entertain you for the evening, giving his sweat and blood and not getting even a pat in return. The perennial ‘kalankita nayak’.

His writings are urbane, magnificently uncomplicated, extremely Odia in spirit but stylish in presentation. If translated, his writings can easily become national.

We, the diaspora, remember him twice or thrice a year. The same numbers, the same speeches about him, the same attempts to establish the speaker’s ‘personal connect’ with Khoka bhai and the same forgetting dear Khoka bhai after the show. A little high, we only remember ‘punyara nadi teere’ and the next moment, he is out of our radar.

I am responsible for utterly neglecting him, using him, ditching him and dropping his name in every conversation.

I am asking myself: do we deserve the cult – Mr Akshaya Mohanty?

Stop calling him Khoka Bhai if you stop honouring him. Someday we will realise what it means to be a lover. Till then I continue to be a self-centred, boorish and a fake connoisseur. I have done nothing for Mr Akshaya Mohanty, the culture icon of modern Odisha.

If this is not absolute banality, what is?

Learn to call him Mr Akshaya Mohanty, not Khoka Bhai. Brotherhood’s sanctity is something we have not yet internalised and respected.

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