For Odisha To Evolve, We Need Original Thinking And Intellectualism

Like GDP, IQ should not be regarded as a comprehensive measure — GDP of human development and IQ of intellectualism. In the last 100 years, the general IQ of humanity has increased by about 30 points — about 3 points every decade. Compared to 1920, we all are geniuses and our brain sizes have increased almost 3 times since bipedal apes, Australopithecus. Today, our brains consume one-fifth of our calorie intake.

So what? In Odisha, group living and group thinking has been in the upswing since the 90s. There is certainly increasing cognitive demands due to the drastically changing social dynamics. For those in their 30s, unprecedented spurt in educational institutes, increasing access to public services, exponential increase in disposable income, unbridled consumerism and virtually free ride in the technology highway have made information usable like never before.

But the usage of information hovers primarily around products and services with extremely short life utility. New product takes over, bringing with it a wave of new information which again dies before it fully lives. This is the constant ‘high’ of consumerism. Those below 30 years of age are constantly hooked and occupied with trends.

But we need original thinking and intellectualism. The future of Odisha should evolve as researchers, artists, technologists and philosophers.

For half a century and more, Sachi Routray, Manoj Das, Ramakant Rath, Sitakant Mohapatra, Jagannath Prasad Das, Devdas Chotray, Haraprasad Das, Binapani Mohanty, Pratibha Ray continue to be the flag-bearers of Odia literature. The style of Odia writing, in general, remains unprovoked. Have we stopped thinking?

Akhil Patnaik and Nandini Devi tried to bring in short, crisp form of writing and translation with gusts of fresh air. Jagyanseni of Pratibha Ray attempts a self-portrait of Panchali, with fresh lens and has appealed nationally. Jayant Mahapatra is the lone reaper, in English poems.

But Odia literature, not all but mostly, is regional, cocooned in its own tidings and perilously uninspiring and dated. Konark, the mast as well as the touchstone of our thoughts, writings and backdrops, needs respite to breathe, stand on its own feet and avoid collapsing. Since the 12th century, it has served and saved us.

Non-filmy albums, or laghu sangeet as we call it, and puja releases have stopped after Khoka bhai. Barring Kadambini, all literary magazines, including the iconic Jhankara, are out of print or cease to exist or are reduced to lame mementos with token publications.

Why I stand for meetings in college elections is now avoidable. Once upon a time, they thundered with the manifestos of young leaders-in-the-making. Mock UN Assemblies are the leadership simulation programmes available at only a few, high-end schools, which is the privilege of a few, very few.

The below 35s are forming opinions, solely influenced by social media. No other media or source reaches them. They live in a world of their own. Elise Boulding, the famous sociologist, once said something which is relevant to our current state. “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.” Where is the imagining?

We are living in the best of times but if we cut that time into slices, we realise that in every slice the period is getting shorter. Short-termism is the new venom. The next generation(s) are unable to look beyond this minute news cycle — a moment to moment, temporal exhaustion. We, the seniors, have to customize the legacy we want to leave behind. Only then it would serve its purpose to them and future generations.

Intellectualism in Odisha has staggered, post-80s. Have we stopped ideating?

Today, Odisha has poetry portals, story-telling sessions, non-bureaucrats giving full time to literature, hordes of celebrity writers and thinkers making frequent jaunts to the state, internet giving equal opportunities for Khariar and Bhubaneswar to be informed and, above all, about 5 or more people in every 10 using internet in Odisha.

A few years ago, in places like Bolangir, Aska, Nilagiri, Bhawanipatna, Rayagada, Malkangiri, Bhandaripokhari, evening soirees (read khati) of prominent citizens (not necessarily the rich and well-heeled only) included intense conversations on local stories, political dramas in the state, local college politics and brainstorming on development. There are no citizen meetings now, except the likes of members’ meets on fixed days by Rotary or Lions.

Even though we all are on social media, throughout the day watching mindless videos and postings, we never care to pause and think for ourselves. When did I last spend time thinking (anything for that matter except my immediate material needs)? There are no central reference personalities which people can follow — some peer leaders, erudite celebrities who can promote ‘thinking’.

Odisha has enviable soft skills. Odias often describe themselves as reticent, introvertish. This is a strength rather than a weakness. Our quiet nature empowers us to engage with the world — but on our own terms. I have spoken to a lot of super successful Odias and they all started quiet, seemingly shy, and outwardly withdrawn. This unobtrusiveness is our strength. We are blessed because of our comity and we could use this as a strong mark.

This strength does not come easily, anywhere in the world. Since that is our valuable genetic inheritance, can we describe it in an epithet like “Nirmaya Odia”/ ନିର୍ମାୟା ଓଡ଼ିଆ. Our divinity has dissuaded us from maya and hence the rat race is not for us. Our natural ability to intellectualise has been under-utilised even with all the tools to wisdom are easily and equally available for all.

When Odias go out they do well, is a catchphrase in every discussion on this topic. If it is so, then why? Because of the eco system they get outside to provide many lateral approaches to the inherent quality of “Nirmaya Odia” they are brimming with. I would not lose hope if there are no billionaires in Odisha or if the quality of life is only measured in SGDP. There is no measure for aggregate life skills, something like a State Gross Soft Skills (SGSS). Everything in life starts with soft skills, we are the reservoir of them and yet go unrecognised. This is where I think intellectualism and nationalism overlap.

Can we institutionalise intellectualism in Odisha?

‘Hinglish’ communication with a strange twist of Odia is staple for the youth today. The parents do not mind as long as they look ‘cool’. This ‘cool quotient’, slaying own language, is the bane of non-intellectualism of a state. Institutionalisation starts at home.

In the 50s, Late Dr Mahatab organised Bishuba Milan as a congregation of intellectuals in the state and the young writers and thinkers were recognised and publicised with hype. Hence it became a coveted felicitation and set a benchmark of quality writing and thinking. In all these years we have not had another thinkers’ platform.

We have many literary functions, but they are events which heap compliments on established superstars, and most of them are from outside the state. A young writer from Sonepur can’t even enter the venue of the festival, which is always in a 5-star hotel in Bhubaneswar and with a clearly stratified invitee preference. The purpose of these multi-branded events is completely different, and does not in any way contribute to the state’s intellectual growth.

Since Gaan Majlis (Village Parliament), a regular cartoon strip in Prajatantra has stopped, there has been no such sharp, incisive satire every morning to stir the state and set it thinking. The number of newspapers or dailies in Odisha is at an all-time high, but none of them carries interesting cartoons or snippets which would catch popular imagination.

Trained journalists and creative professionals are now available like never before, thanks to the mushrooming mass communication institutions, including IIMC Dhenkanal. The newspapers or e-newspapers do not carry analytical pieces on policy or implementation issues. There are no windows which can open to ‘thoughts’. The University of Culture or the other Universities should have department or stream, exclusively for thinking.

In Odisha, thinking should be the new future so that we can build a new Odisha.

Articles on our tribes and ethnicity are nothing but anthropological studies on tribals and marginalised people. The English used describes the writer more than the subject — the frequent use of bombastic, obfuscate English to convey the scholastic supremacy of the writer. Even writings on our Lord Jagannath are unnecessarily complicated and complex, be it in English or Odia. The articulation is much more significant than the writer; intellectualism is far more important than the intellectuals — the sum is greater than the parts.

About 2-3 art foundations set up by successful senior artistes are operational in Odisha. Dinanath Pathy, Jatin Das, Jagannath Panda have set up foundations, but their residencies need greater support. Residencies could be the nurturing grounds for young minds from different districts of Odisha. Besides Cuttack, Khurda and Puri, Odisha has 27 more districts which are full of talents. They need to be brought to the mainstream.

Odissi, our marquee identity, needs life and rejuvenation. The Odissi research centre, since 1986, has turned into more of an event centre than a research centre. With hardly any research or documentation being done, the centre is a popular event venue because of its vantage location, inexpensive charges and good branding.

Odissi, our marquee identity, needs life and rejuvenation

Should we continue riding on Odissi without feeding it? Who is researching on new styles and presentations in Odissi? It has been reduced to being just a passport to Padma awards.

In present times, new money from our rental economy has produced dilettantes. ‘Sponsorship’ is the key to convert philistine to cognoscenti. But this is a worldwide phenomenon. We should use this ‘patron’ money to build our repertoire and make the art forms sustainable, and not get sucked into the super mart of culture.

Is our intellectualism peaking or has it already peaked? There is a reverse trend globally. The IQ is showing signs of falling in countries like Finland, Norway and Denmark. In Odisha there is social stability, institutional opportunities, rich culture as reference and still we are deprived of inventiveness and originality.

They say, no idea is original. But we can be inventive and intellectually entrepreneurial — invent new templates of poetry, literature, political analysis, cinematic production, scientific discoveries and above all our own thinking.

Here we need to clarify that IQ alone should not mean intellectualism. An intelligent person with high IQ has the capacity which is measurable, to think beyond, seek answers to curiosities and in the process develop own thoughts. The intellectual uses IQ to do all as mentioned above, and additionally, disseminate.

After Pathani Samanta, (Mahamahopadhyaya Chandrasekhara Singha Harichandana Mahapatra Samanta), the great Indian astronomer in the league of Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler measured celestial distance and movements with the help of simple domestically-used devices like bamboos and sticks. When he was a child, poor and unschooled, he could measure the number of vultures flying high and their velocity without using any instruments, neither were they available.

We need more Pathani Samantas in Odisha, not cyber coolies who waste their formative years doing low end, data entry work in the name of IT. Institute of Life Sciences is working in oncology drug delivery systems which would revolutionise cancer treatment. The youngsters are bright, intelligent and skilled, but need direction. Our start-up platform should coach them and not just be engaged in connecting them to government schemes, which even a smart website can do.

I find a deep connect between intellectualism and statehood. Exercising intellect, putting it to use, would mean thought investment for the state. Undivided Ganjam, Mayurbhanj, Deogarh, Balasore, Sambalpur were fertile grounds for brilliant minds who had straddled across politics, literature, and science in the past and have given us this state. We are naturally gifted, peaceful by nature, blessed by divinity and possess a noble lineage. What stops us from thinking?

After all intellectualism is the only ‘ism’ without any obdurate dogmas and hence is solidly sustainable.

Let us not squander it.

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