The Disease Of Odia Self-Belittling

Recently I met a close friend, well-heeled Odia and with a perennially professed Odia love. I was quite shocked when the friend mentioned, in a refrain that “she had not found any interesting and savvy Odia youth as she has in other states.” She meant lacking in chutzpah and smartness.

I realize that such a mindless statement need not be overestimated or overemphasised. But it deserves to be given the importance of ‘pulse reading’. Needless to mention, what ensued was my painful rebuttal, a spate of counterpoints, civil and yet heated arguments, but I was re-bruised by the limitless depth of self-belittling.

It is a black current from the black hole which has severely damaged our state, our language, our culture and all of us. This was asymptomatic, but my learning from her thought is that most of us, unbelievably in our close proximities, nurture this ‘smallness’ about ourselves, quite unshakably.

Over the years, I have endured many such blows, but every time it helps in gathering myself to even more intense activism. The taunt works well. These potentially harmful sleeper cells exist in the well-placed gentry of our state. My rural family, my country siblings are far more dedicated activists for the state than the white collar self-doubters.

I feel deceived because these naysayers, with the required wherewithal, defeat the credulous champions who are powerless. It is the trusting believers versus the deep-slaying misanthropes. Can any society pull itself up with this negative force at the top? Is it possible to create an Atmanirbhar Odisha with this corrosive mindset?

The governments can go on presenting public schemes for public good. But the demand for these schemes, the internalisation of beneficiaries, and sum total of welfare measures will always remain unmatched to the operational efforts. The defeatism among general mass buries all initiatives. The lethal poison of self-doubt kills more people than any army or war. When the self is gone, how can we plan for self-reliance (Atmanirbhar)?

Odia evangelism should start here and now. It is imminent that we kick off a large-scale programme on Odia mindset change, in the state and among the diaspora. This should be a rigorous community-based programme on the lines of behaviour change initiatives in health sector interventions, for example.

Faith in one’s self and fellow selves (the society) is the biggest upliftment charter for all of us. Each one of us should be responsible for developing the self-esteem of minimum 10 youngsters in our circles – from IT hubs and diaspora to migrants and own siblings and children. I should speak to my child first. Odia evangelism should begin at home. Spread the word around about Odisha, its legacy, the scopes it offers and the bonding it can forge to contribute to the national GDP and national character.

We are a land of comity, amity and soft power, but at the same time should be result and evidence backed. Is this a big ask, unattainable? Certainly not. Our culture is fast losing its influence and glue. This is also affecting the health of the people and the state. Rural Odisha’s food habit is no more Odia. Odia cuisine is best known for its balance, nutrition and taste. But we are not valuing our own food anymore.

There should be regular, well-researched webinars on ‘know your own land’. This series should invite youths to participate from all districts in phased manner. They, in turn, would replicate the series among their cohorts. Information purely based on WhatsApp university does not help. Seniors should mentor the next generations.

The civil society has to take up cudgels to brighten its outlook. Rapid industrialisation, exposure of global events, international achievements of young Odias, and increase in income and opportunities — nothing has been able to lower the trepidations of Odia self-pity, as desired. Our social balancesheet flaunts assets which no other state in India can even dream of. But who cares to gather and construct narratives for the state?

The governments are doing their best in terms of offerings, but without any social encouragement, support or complementarity. I often wonder how lonely governments must be in their solitary efforts. The policy makers and civil servants have no support from us, the civil society. Is the civil society only meant to draw benefits without any responsibilities? Am I only to demean my fellow-Odias without doing anything to ameliorate the status?

I take all benefits from the state, go out, place myself well and then snigger with aplomb. Do I deserve to address it as ‘my state’? If it is my state, then the TV anchors should speak in Odia language and in diction which is Odia. The use of Odia in day-to-day language needs to be made a norm, Odia films need to have Odia names and be based on Odia social trends. We need to bring back Odia to Odisha. This is not jingoism. This is preserving precious identity.

Speaking in Hindi and English doesn’t elevate me. The youngsters should realise this and embody this as an obvious part of life. I am not advocating any mandatory usage under duress, but socialisation in Odia language which is beautiful, free flowing and our own.

Undoubtedly, explanations for economic growth should be broadened to include cultural determinants. Culture has and will influence economic outcomes by affecting such personal traits as tenacity, confidence, thrift, willingness to work hard, and openness to strangers. Our openness to strangers is actually skewed, sometimes too cosy for comfort.

We need not be obtrusive and loud, but at the same time there is no need to consider self as ingénue, gauche and mentally subservient. Our compassion, affability and politeness is our hallmark, the avant-garde in this world which is chasing these higher life qualities. But the foundation is our self-belief.

The state now needs to dedicate resources to translate Odia literature and scriptures into classy English and other international languages. Without translation, the cultural flowering will cease, as it has for so many decades.

Public libraries need to be newly built or refurbished. And despite challenges in mobilising communities to utilise libraries, the movement would create the trend. We need to create trends to entice young minds and future Odisha architects and impresarios. If it is required to make Odia language stylish and contemporary, let’s make it. Why do we have so many webinars and Odia language discussions without any future projections and plans? Is it only to celebrate the decadence or impress upon the audience with one’s archaic, bookish knowledge of history?

University of Culture should be perfect platform to lead the Odia reactivation. All the Odia associations, across India and outside, are groups of Odia enthusiasts and these need to be mainstreamed. Otherwise they would continue working in silos and be happy with incremental contributions. Their synergies would steer quantum jump in Odia motivation, self-esteem and productivity.

Building self-esteem is a time-consuming process and warrants assimilation. There is no quick fix to such renascence. Odisha’s development will directly contribute to the nation’s development. Our wallowing in self-pity negates the strength in our piety. Self-deprecating pulls down all of us together, including my friend, who needs urgent support in broadbasing her Odia experience.

Towards the end of the conversation, I was pitying both – her and myself. The world is coming to us, but why do we feel so small about ourselves?

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