Debasis Panigrahi: A Gentleman Police Officer & Versatile Writer

Tribute By An IPS Officer To Debasis Panigrahi On His Ekadasha (Ritual On The Eleventh Day Of Death)

“A Pandemic has

Overrun the World

And all of us

Taken hostages

There is stillness

Of death and disease

In the air

Up against an unseen enemy”


Little did Dr Debasis Panigrahi know, as he wrote the above lines in one of his poems on COVID-19, that he would be taken hostage by the very same unseen enemy we are all up against, and that the stillness of death would claim him from our midst so soon. 

Bapi to his friends, Debasis to his colleagues and Debasis Sir to his subordinates, Dr Panigrahi  was a poet, philosopher and a policeman. Born on August 29, 1965, at Khantapada village, Nilagiri, Balasore, he spent his formative schooling years at K C High School in Nilagiri. Thereafter, he went to a number of prestigious institutions for his higher education, including FM College, Balasore; Ravenshaw College, Cuttack; Utkal University, Bhubaneswar; and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. 

Dr Panigrahi joined the Odisha cadre of the Indian Police Service in 1991 and went on to have a stellar career in the force. However, while policing was his profession, his passion since his early days lay in literature. His world view and his consciousness were deeply rooted in his surroundings and his lived experiences during his formative years. 

Dr Panigrahi had two distinct identities: an instinctive cop and a sublime writer. And he negotiated his profession and his passion with the ease of a practiced perfectionist. His illustrious career as a police officer was marked by sincerity and dedication, his life as a littérateur informed by reflexivity and compassion. Throughout his long and fulfilling life, his profession and passion complemented each other and was reflected in his conduct as a policeman and his imagination as a poet and a writer.

He had a sterling career. During his initial years on the force, he served as the Superintendent of Police in the important districts of Puri, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Ganjam and Keonjhar. His contemporaries remember him as an honest and committed police officer who enjoyed the trust of the government, his colleagues, and more importantly, that of the people he served. 

It was perhaps his sensibilities as a writer that lent a human touch to his policing, drawing him closer to people. His leadership qualities, along with an affable and cordial demeanour carved a special place for him among his subordinates, who remember him as a gentleman who led them with dignity and compassion. 

He later worked, for over a decade, in different capacities at the State Police Headquarters, where thorough professional conduct and a penchant for perfection made him a trusted aide of many Director Generals of Police. 

He discharged his duty with exceptional élan and was the go-to-man in administrative matters at the Police Headquarters. His friends and colleagues who worked with him fondly remember him as the “Encyclopaedia of Odisha Police”, with an in-depth knowledge of the department and an abundant repository of interesting anecdotes about Odisha Police. His tenure as Director of Odisha Vigilance was remarkable with many achievements and laurels. The establishment of Odisha Vigilance Academy, new division of Vigilance in Rourkela were his brainchild which he curated with great personal interest. Panigrahi had a dignified and a successful professional life that endeared him to everybody he worked with. 

But it was his alternative identity as a thinker, poet and author that made him stand out. His repertoire comprised numerous poems, collections of short stories, novellas and novels. He was also a reputed lyricist, having penned lyrics for audio and video albums, television and cinema. 

A recipient of ‘Odisha Sahitya Academy Award’ among several other literary awards, his stories have been translated and published in English and several Indian Languages. His  contribution to Odia literature through the last two decades earned him a special place in the galaxy of regional littérateurs. His literary instincts were multidimensional and often veered around his life’s myriad experiences, with his childhood reminisces, lived experiences and his tryst with his profession, all reflected beautifully in his writings. The analysis of complex human emotions, and the gradual transformation of societal relations lay at the heart of his short stories and novellas. While his award winning collection ‘Tathakatheeta’ poignantly depicts the complexity of different professions, his musical album ‘Janharati’ is a lively description of the love of a hardcore criminal for his village. 

The characters in his stories swung between the realms of the common to the uncommon, the ordinary to the extraordinary. Dr Panigrahi was a bilingual scholar, and his anthology of short stories titled ‘Things Left Unsaid’, a collection of 14 of his Odia short stories translated into English, was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece. Dr Panigrahi’s literary works earned praise from the doyens of literature including Ruskin Bond and Manoj Das. 

In his comment, Ruskin Bond views Dr Panigrahi’s work as “Unforgettable tales of the deprived, the disadvantaged and the disillusioned, told simply and directly and with telling effect. These tragedies of forgotten people remain in the reader’s mind long after the book has been closed.” While commenting about his work, master storyteller Manoj Das mentions, “Here are a bunch of stories outstanding for their synthesis of realism and imaginativeness. They reveal the author’s creative capacity for casting a penetrating look at the complexity that lies beneath what appears to be simple plot knit around simple characters.”

Dr Panigrahi was a pensive thinker always in an intense struggle with himself and the world around him. His life, both professional and personal, was a constant skirmish between emotional dilemmas, social relationships and sociological imaginations. His entire literary work was a product of his personal convictions and professional predicaments, making him a dialectical and an impatient soul. The versatility of his literary accomplishments was perhaps his attempt in negotiating his self with the world. In his quest to negotiate work and life, he took refuge in Mahaprabhu Jagannath, his family and his parents. In a short memoir on his father, he lamented that he could not fulfil his father’s wish of writing a novel on Mahaprabhu Jagannath. He had perhaps visualised his end, and was trying to tell the world about the incompleteness of existence that he had witnessed through his life, and which he had anxiously depicted in his writings. 

The life of Dr Panigrahi, or Debasis Sir as many knew him, was an epic testament about the sensibilities and sensitivities of a police officer that when explored, has the potential to birth a vivid literary blossom. As a constant observer of human life and its flawed and complex interactions with society, a cop, after all, is inherently a poet and a writer as he writes in one of his poems:

I wake up every morning

With a dreadful feeling

That something terrible is going to happen

Then I wait and wait endlessly

To experience the foreboding

Playing itself out”

His foreboding turned out to be true, the terrible happened, the wait ended, he did not wake up in the morning and he travelled to the otherworld. In his passing away his family lost their soul, his friends their happiness, Odia literature lost a versatile writer and Odisha police lost a treasured asset.          

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