An Evening With A Legend Called Dr Manoj Das


I had an appointment with a legend called Dr Manoj Das at six in the evening. Slightly before time, I was ushered into the Spartan abode of this literary ambassador of Odisha–turned–culture curator of the country.

My family reference helped me in getting this appointment with one of the most erudite and powerfully simple litterateurs my state has produced. It has been almost half a century that our families know each other since the heady days of student movements and activisms in Agami mess (at College chawk in Cuttack) in the much revered Ravenshaw College. My father, all my uncles and Dr Das were the early entrants to the then dizzy portals of leftist thoughts and ideologies.

Gone are the movements, gone is the chaste, non-conformism of the students and lost is the effectiveness of the breeding ground of glamorous political indoctrination. We are now left with scam-obsessed, power hungry, lackeys in the name of student leaders. But that is another story.

I sounded very pushy in my tête-à-tête with Dr Das and was unabashedly trying to prove the point that my generation also understood legacy, the great campus movements entwined with literary feats and the drive to continue as change makers. But in the whole conversation, I could see and feel his weather beaten smile, a silent communication to cajole me to go slow and cautious because the environment may not understand the language and haste.

But I had gone to him to seek his blessings and I don’t even remember when I started blurting out my upstart ideas and postures. He is an internationally known thinker and I was trying to lure him to the world of websites to archive his creations. Is this shift required for a creator? Why is it necessary that he should traverse the path of technology to disseminate such pristine expressions for an unconcerned, materialistic generation? Who reads these days, who remembers and who appreciates? We are all running to a premature decline.

I did not see any glint in his eyes to tell me that he was or is at present running or more appropriately gunning for any awards. He can’t camp in Delhi lobbying to peddle his creations for the ‘tagged’ awards. He did not spend hours to create music, write poems, arrange stories, and influence fellow revolutionaries for a felicitation after half a century to ratify his specialty. He has the Mother with him. He meditates and teaches. He is busy preparing the new India and also celebrates in his own Odisha.

He is the mainstream. He gave us a culture specific magazine called ‘Heritage’, but we couldn’t run it for him. Who has the time to stop and breathe? In this running towards nowhere, we killed his one-of-its-kind magazine on culture and heritage in India. But he didn’t realize that we need only crass sensations in the garb of intelligent magazines—pinups, gossips and scandals to attract more revenues from advertisers. We call him to preside over lectures and give speeches, but have never cared to study his compositions. Maybe there would be someday when life skills would gain significance and shape our national/state character. There would be a time when all of us would be coerced to go the meditative way and all other doors would be closed shut.

We have been a meditative country and we could continue to be so, but the distractions seem to be more successful and obstinate. Today evening at Dupuy Street was cathartic and a bridge between possibility and journey to possibility—the tea at sunset in Pondicherry was with an icon called Dr Manoj Das.

(The writer is a columnist based in New Delhi)

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