Two alumni of Ravenshaw College, Dr. Chittaranjan Mishra, former Associate Professor of English and Dr.Ajaya Mishra who has retired as Associate Professor of Odia had a conversation about their post retirement life. Chittaranjan has been writing poetry since his adolescence and has emerged as a bilingual poet and critic while Ajaya has devoted his time in cultural studies and research. After superannuation Ajay has started to build old fashioned toys out of waste materials that he had played with in his childhood. Here is an excerpt from their conversation:
Chittaranjan: What makes you shift your attention from reading books to chiselling wood?
Ajaya: During lockdown I was reminded of my childhood days. Children of present generation do not have the knowledge of our past. That made me revive my childhood habit of toy making after retirement. I wanted to shape old things for the present generation to know and the old generation to reinvent.
Chittaranjan: Studying books and carving wood – how do you balance the two?
Ajaya: Not only I’m trying to make the traditional wooden works visible but composing poems describing each item. I have tried at fusing the hardness of wood with the soft appeal of poetry.
Chittaranjan: But why are you shaping bullock cart in the age of tractors, spinning wheel in the age of textile technology?
Ajaya: Bullock cart, spinning wheel – they are objects of our past and tradition. They are the foundation on which our present civilization was built. Even today there are villages where motor vehicles are not able to reach. Bullock carts are the only dependable conveyance there. Every year on the occasions of Independence Day, Republic Day we refer to spinning wheel in our speeches. We have forgotten the fact that this very spinning wheel was once a powerful weapon used in our struggle for Independence.
Chittaranjan: You have authored books on folk culture of Odisha. What then is the relevance of your present pursuit?
Ajaya: Many words associated with folk objects get obliterated from public consciousness. The meaning of those words can be accessible only when a visual replica is at hand. For example a whole set of words in Odia are connected with ‘bullock cart’ like – chaka,akha,mahanda,pahi,juali,agakhuri,bakuli. These words are names of different parts of the structure called bullock cart. To show a small model of a cart can be more effective a tool while teaching and bringing the pupils home to traditional ways and customs.
Chittaranjan: Please tell me more about the practical utility of the articles you are making these days.
Ajaya: Let’s take for example ‘dhinki’ – the old style husk lever that was common in households of Odisha. Even today there are villages without supply of electricity. Since there are no rice mills the people still continue to depend on ‘dhinki’. After the extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani electricity supply was disrupted in many places. To get temporary escape from heat and humidity people started using hand fans. Our children play with expensive toys inside the four walls but economically backward children are playing in the open with indigenous play things like patara chaki and sain sagadi. They are making these toys by their own hands. This helps them boost their creativity.
Chittaranjan: What steps you have taken to store and preserve your products? Is there any special arrangement?
Ajaya: I have installed shelves to store my works. That is my storage space. I fondly call it ‘Mishra Workshop’(Mishrashala).Usually I work on the roof. When litters pile up I transfer them to the compost bin to be used in my rooftop garden.
Chittaranjan: Can this work continue as an ongoing process? I mean have you someone in mind to whom you can pass on the baton?
Ajaya: I am in search of few youngsters who should possess certain skills and interact in such work.
Chittranjan: You have mingled wood with words. How could the idea strike you?
Ajaya: Wood is the fundamental ingredient of our living and household. I have joined wood with words of verse. I made a spinning wheel; composed a poem about that. I made a kite of leaves and described it briefly through rhymed lines.
Chittaranjan: Have you chalked out any plan for future?
Ajaya: I have planned to conduct various workshops and impart training to youngsters. I can make more of things if I get likeminded and motivated people. I’m thinking of bringing out a book containing illustrations of the miniatures I have made so far. I too plan for preparing videos along with the book. Dreams are many but time seems to be running out.