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Window Seat: Baishnab Pani

1/11/2020 at 7:00 AM

Dr Mrinal Chatterjee

Not many people outside Odisha may know GanakabiBaishnabPani.  He was one of the pioneers of Odia folk opera (called Jatra in Odia and Bengali). He not only wrote about 600 geeti-natya (musical play) but also directed and staged their performances. He was also a social reformer.

He did not believe in casteism and walked the talk. Being a Brahmin, he married a girl belonging to a washer man community in spite of opposition from his family members and people of higher caste.

He was born on the night of Kumar Purnima in 1882 (his 138th birth anniversary fell on October 30 this year) at Kothapada village in Cuttack district in a poor Brahmin family to father SudarsanPani and mother Chhaya Devi. He was named Satrughna. He was an ailing child.

Unable to afford his treatment, as per the prevailing custom of that time, his parents dedicated him to great banyan tree of MathaBadaChhata in Puri for his well-being and changed his name from Satrughna to Baishnab.

It so happened that Baishnab survived. He was encouraged to study by Bholanath Mishra, the then headmaster of Kothapada Middle English School. However, poverty forced him to drop out while he was in Class VII. But gifted as he was, Pani became a popular ‘palagayak’.

He had a knack of reading and kept on enriching himself. Besides Odia literature, Pani had grasp over Sanskrit grammar and literature.

Baishnab Pani wrote about 600 books including 150 yatras, 19 satirical plays (called farce) and 65 anthologies of lyrics, poems, stories and other literary pieces. Some of his popular yatras include Dronacharya Baddha (1928),Karna Arjuna (1929), Rangasabha (1930), Daksha Yajna(1932), Karnadana Parikshya(1951). He also wrote yatras like Karna Baddha and Bijay Basanta. His satirical plays (Farce) include Abu Hassan Farce, Saudagara Farce, Natua Mohanty, etc.

Ironically his books and plays and hard work in popularizing this performing art did not bring him prosperity. Neither did it get him fame as a refined litterateur. His popularity was considered by the elite to be low-brow. Hard work and erratic life style took a toll on his health.

He died in 1956.

BaishnabPani’s talent was not recognized in his lifetime. He was a popular writer-director. But he was not considered to be a high-class litterateur. However, it was after his death that his talent and contribution to Odia folk literature was recognized.

Recognising his contributions to the Odia yatra and literature, the UtkalSahityaSamajhonoured him with the title Ganakabi (People’s Poet) at a function held at BanipithaSriram Chandra Bhawan, Cuttack in the presence of a galaxy of prominent writers and poets- posthumously, a decade after his death.

Ravan-Dahan 2020

In the age-told story, Ram killed Ravan on the Dusehra evening. And to commemorate that, burning of the effigy of Ravan is organized. Now, here is a new version in the time of Covid-19: Ravan died because he did not wear mask.

Marxist twist to the story: Ravan, being a poor king could not afford to buy masks for his ten heads. He came to fight Ram without mask. So in a way Ram did not kill Ravan. The unequal social structure did.

Capitalist twist: Ravan died because he lived in auber-sanitised place called Lanka and therefore lacked the immunity to fight the corona virus.
Web-series type twist: Ravan did not die. He goes into coma. He’ll reappear next year.

Conspiracy Theorist Twist: Ravan wore nine heads of blown up Corona virus. Sri Ram and Laxman threw arrows that spewed liquid soap. Hanuman sprayed sanitiser with 100% alcohol. However, Ravan administered antidote to one head. So though it seemed Ravan died, actually he survived.

Morale of the story: Ravan always survives so that the war between good and evil can continue.

Tail-piece: CV of Corona

If Corona had to make a CV, here’s how it would read:

1. Responsible for Global Digital Transformation and fast-tracking.

2.Reduction of Global CO2 emission.

3.Five million job “restructuring”.

4.Global Hygiene initiatives: 

Ensured 100% compliance on washing hands… leading to collatrally reduction of other communicable diseases.

5. Made global industry shift to WFH – saved exposure and costs.

6. Reduction in global noise pollution by making everyone keep their mouth shut (masked).

7. Taught cooking, vegetable shopping, housekeeping to many

8. Highlighted the importance of governance, adaptability and long term planning, by all sectors

9. Spiritual contribution- Provided ample time to all egoistic and self centered people to contemplate on their mortal nature.

10. Provided a big boost to the Pharma sector and brought back small utility stores back into the limelight.

Corona’s CV would look better than that of many CEOs!

Tail-piece: Maa

Santa: Aaj mere paas paisa hai, banglahai, gaadihai…. terepaaskyahai ?

Banta: Mere paasbhi paisa hai, banglahai, gaadihai….

Santa: O teri !PhirhamariMaakiskepaashai ??!


Journalist turned media academician MrinalChatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. He also writes fiction and translates poetry from Urdu and Hindi to Odia and Bengali. mrinalchatterjeeiimc@gmail.com

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