Dr. Kalikinkar Pattanayak
Visiting Fellow, SCS (A) College, Puri
21st century is an Age of experiment in literature and culture. Kumar Bhai born and brought up in the neglected corner of Odisha in 20th century saw the war-torn world. He observed the decadence of culture and split personalities in the society. What pained him most is the pain the fellow human beings used to experience owing to ignorance of the working of human psyche. He used his pen as a medium to reform society and uphold culture. He emerged as the messenger of peace and harmony. In his writings he displayed a flair for the virtues, the classics held; on the theatre he played the role of a reformed artist unlike that of moderns. He placed human values over the commercial. Goodness, selflessness, compassion; propriety and above all decency were valued highly by him.He usually spoke in the mother tongue that is Odia because it was natural to him.This article is written in the other tongue, that is English,because it being the global lingua franca, acts as the proper medium to reveal his message that is universal,holistic and proper for the modern youth whose heart, to borrow the language from T.S. Eliot, is like, ‘taxi throbbing and waiting’. All the quotations from Odia have been translated, at a few places, transcreated by me the writer of this article. In a nutshell, this paper explores what Bhai stands for and how he is relevant for our times.
Kumar Bhai the writer is the shining example of a social reformer who took to writing in order to inaugurate an era of decency in human culture, which deteriorated under the impact of colonization. Doubtless the Britishers in India exploited the common masses, imported and imposed their materialistic culture upon the subjugated people. The Indians under the impact of western culture belittled their importance attached to human values. Kumar Bhai sarcastically remarks on hybrid culture:
Sakhilo! high heel nai
Lipstick othare dei
Saibani besa ba saiba besa
Madam bolanti ama duhita
O, darling dear!
Putting on the high heeled shoes
And lipstick on the lips,
Flaunting as the foreigners
Our daughters relish the addresses like madams.
The young people turned vainglorious and imitative. Bhai looked upon it as the sign of deterioration of culture. Thus Bhai tries to decolonize the mind-set in order to preserve the essence of our own culture.
Kumar Bhai, as his name indicates, is the embodiment of indomitable zeal and enthusiasm and the exponent of universal brotherhood. Bhai born in Dhenkanal district of Odisha in the year of our independence ie; 8th April 1947 was gifted with various talents; he had a natural flair for dancing, singing, acting, writing and above all living a selfless life. Hence he emerged as a man of many parts: educationist, artist, musician, writer and social reformer. His pen is mightier than those who write for the sake of writing. He has a vision of a glorious future when the people will prefer goodness to shrewdness, transparency to crookedness, simplicity to complexity, morality to sensuality, creativity to mechanical doing and so on. In a word like Jayprakash Narayan he aims at revolutionizing the thoughts, more importantly, the life style of the people. To him the music of humble life style and high thinking was better than mechanical thinking and joyless living. During his life time he used to visit the educational institutions and instill the idea of goodness, dedication, selflessness, originality in the young impressionable minds of the school or college goers. Hence he is a model before all. Down the ages each reformer has his ‘watch- word’ just to reflect on his philosophy and activity. Gandhi’s watch– word is ‘non violence’; Buddha’ s, ‘righteousness’ and Bhai’s, ‘decency’. Culture is broadly defined as ‘way of life’; it refers to what man is. It is the core of civilization. Matthew Arnold rightly points out that culture is what has been thought and said best in a particular period. Arnold regrets the tendency of the philistines- the persons who hate intellectual and artistic pursuits. His Scholar Gypsy pictures that man suffers from ‘ sick hurry and divided aims’. Hence he is restless and does not enjoy the peace of mind. Kumar Bhai perceives the same feeling but expresses it in a different way. For him decency is the key word; but for it culture degenerates into vulgarity and barbarism.
The paper has been divided into four sections; the first section is the introduction to the theme; the second section dwells upon the indecency in human culture; the third section focuses on the culture of decency and the last one is the conclusion in which the originality in Kumar Bhai’s thinking is brought to light. Deliberately the epithet ‘human’ has been chosen in place of ‘contemporary’. The word contemporary has a reference to ‘of the time’, recent but the word human has a reference to universality. It has been noticed that degradation of human values has been a phenomenon since man attached more importance to pelf, power or position than to peace or bliss. The centre of Kumar Bhai’s writings is decency which creates a circle of peace and bliss which man longs for in the core of his heart.
Indecency in human culture: source, magnitude and impact upon the consciousness, has been presented by many a literary artist in different ways. In the 20th century W.B. Yeats who won the Nobel prize for literature discovers the malady of modern civilization that the ‘best’ of people lack ‘conviction’ and ‘worst’ are full of passionate intensity to go on with their nefarious activities marked by self-aggrandizement. Hence he visualizes the coming of anti Chirst- an image that has a link with the incarnation of Lord Bishnu in human form- the head of the lion with the body of a man in order to devour the devils- the personification of evil. All down the ages the sensitive literary artists have lamented the loss of human values. The mode of their presentations about the decadence of culture has varied but the theme has always been heart- rending. In this context Bhai’s sustained efforts to denounce what is indecent has caught the imagination of the sensible readers. In the lyric Bold Dance (Nachare Dhumuk Dhuma) the poet says:
‘Lobha paine jete sabu aniti
Lobha sari die sabu santi
Khadya re bisa mise, ghus re bepara hase
Lobha hi manisa kare bisa re’ (Palli Sangita-46)
Greed is the root of corruption
That eliminates peace and bliss;
Adulteration of food is a temptation
That no business persons afford to miss
Bribe oils the wheel of transactions:
Greed spoils humans. (Village Song-46)
In the above lines Bhai spells out where indecency lies. Indeed corruption is another name for indecency. Greed, one of the inherent human vices is the mother of it.
In the lyric Swartha paine Ei Dunia Lo (Self Interest is the go of the Day)the poet says:
Swartha paine ei dunia lo
Swatha paine hasa sneha
Swartha bina kaha kie kouthi lo
Kaha paine dhaluchi luha. (Palli Sangita-7)
Self interest is the go of the day,
For it begets love and amity
But for it nobody sheds tears
And nothing moves.(Village Song-7)
Here Bhai holds that self-interest is at the root of all actions and moves. When a person gets blinded by self-interest or vested interests his activities appear indecent because they pose obstacles in the progress of the nation. Acute self interest begets complexity and makes the doer take to falsehood, bribery and crooked ways.
In the lyric Hate Mapi Babu Chakhande Chala (Look Before You Leap) Bhai throws light upon indecent shows in contemporary world. He writes:
Bhela loka besi ehi jugare
Kanta ani pakanti se batare
Tume jadi bapa dekhiki najiba
Kanta phuti jiba gala gala. (Palli Sangita-1)
This age is dominated by cheats many
They plant thorns on the way
If you do not see the way properly
The prickers will prick suddenly.(Village Song-1)
Bhai states categorically that in our age cheats, rogues, scoundrels are many. Their dealings are detrimental for the experience of harmony and peace.
In the lyric Sakhi lo Bada Bichitra Katha ( O, Darling! How Funny is the Thing?) the poet attacks the mixed culture. He writes:
Pua mane saheb saji
Se bidesi madare bhiji
Garam dine bi tye ku bhidanti
Upar botam dei ta brutha. (Palli Sangita-55)
O, darling dear!
The boys imitate the Britons
Drink foreign liquor,
Put on tie during summer
And display button upper
A mindless exercise!
Bhai criticizes the tendency of the Indian youths to imitate the superficial aspects of the lifestyles of the foreigners. The Indian youths do not put on the indigenous clothes; they develop fascination for western culture in their dresses as well as addresses. Such a blind imitation is indecent because it destroys originality.
Thus Bhai tries to bring to light the genesis of corruption: greed, lust, self-interest, blind imitation and so on. His analysis reflects his penetrating insight into human nature. The lines are lyrical, often satirical and convey the readers a message that human culture needs to be modified and refined; the ways should be chalked out to prevent indecency and corruption.
The culture of decency centres round human values: goodness, selflessness, ceaseless striving, and above all aspiration for peace and bliss. Bhai himself was the embodiment of many human values. He exemplified certain qualities which are needed for a cultured man.
Mangalamayee (The Benefactress) is an interesting novel written on the consciousness of man. In one of the introductory pages of this novel Gangadhar Mishra the retired Superintendent of police writes a passage on‘words the from the core of the mind’(mana gahan ra bhasa) which pictures Bhai as a man of culture:
Tumara sabu katha dhira o binamrata purna, kintu taha ispat pari tana. Tumara sangita ati madhura, kintu taha pratenkanku upara ku uthai nie abanraniya sakti ebong udipana re. Tumara abhinaya samastanku akarsirta kare, kintu taha manisa ku uthai nie achintaniya ucchha balaya ku. (Mangalamayee)
All your words are simple, indicator of humility but they are as strong as steel. Your songs are sweet but they elevate the consciousness to a great height; they infuse in the audience a kind of strength and enthusiasm that defies description. Your acting fascinates all but they revolutionalize the thinking and feeling.
In the writings of Bhai there is an underlying feeling of selflessness, empathy and goodness. Here is a splendid passage in Mangalamayee (The Benefactress) which reads as follows:
Para upakare brukshya phalai
Para upakare nadi bahai
Para upakare surya jalai
Para upakara mo lakshya atai.(Mangalamayee-19)
The trees bear fruits for the benefit of others
The river flows for its use by others
The Sun shines to flood the world with light
I intend to work for others with might. (The Benefactress-19)
The secret for right living is to forget the self and work for others- a message that nature embodies. Here Bhai reminds the readers of William Wordsworth Who raises the slogan of ‘Return to Nature’ because nature is the true teacher, guardian and the guide.
In his book A, the collection of stories, Kumar Bhai pictures the faith in the divine. Here is a beautiful passage from his short story Shesa (The End):
Agneya, ananta, asima Bhagabanka tatwa “A” ashram hi bahu nastika mananku srestha manabikata paribeshan kari astika kariparuchhi. Biswa ku janaichhi eka nutan barta.
God is infinite, boundless and beyond knowledge. The concept of “A” has bound many atheists into the fold of humanity. It has made many atheists theists and has delivered a message to the world that God is omnipresent and saviour of all.
‘A’ is the first letter in Odia language. There are many words in such a classical language which reveal the potential infiniteness in the finite. Such words picture a world which is infinite, eternal. These words inspire the humans to dream of the impossible. Bhai like Gandhi believes that means are as important as ends. He depreciates the designs of the shrewd politicians that the ends justify the means. He emerges as the apostle of goodness.
Prasanna Patsahani the Hon’ble MP quotes the oft-quoted words of Kumar Bhai:
Au kehi bhala heuba na heu
Bhala mu nijaku karibai
Eha heu prati manara shapath
Jibane sidhhi labha pain. (Palli Sangita-ja)
I will be good in thought and deed
And won’t mind if others don’t heed;
Goodness is the rule golden
For every human to shine. (Village Song-ja)
Kumar Bhai considers that goodness is the principal virtue to govern human conduct and activities. But for goodness no real success is possible. It is goodness that lends decency to every human deed; hence the goodness is the bedrock of a life that is glorious and sublime.
In India the burning issue of the day is communal riot; the conflict between the religious sects-specially between the Hindus and the Muslims. In this crucial situation the words of Kumar Bhai are relevant. Satyabhama Devi, the Controller and Director of International Indecency Prevention Movement, quotes the oft- quoted words of Kumar Bhai in context of religious harmony:
Nuhe mu hindu, nuhe mu musalman
Nuhe mu boudha, nuhe mu kshirastan
Mu ate manaba santan
Sabu dharmara karmi muhare
Mu kare satya ra sandhan
Apanara mote manile sabhie
Hebi mu bhagyaban. (Palli Sangita-Jha)
I am not a Hindu nor a Muslim
Nor a Buddhist;
I am a human
And work for universal religion.
I am a seeker of Truth Absolute
I will be fortunate
If I see myself in others
And others in me. (Village Song-Jha)
Bhai is dead against religious fanaticism and all kinds of differences on the basis of caste, religion and creed. He champions the cause of religious harmony and exploration of truth about life in the universe. He is eager to identify himself with fellow beings- in empathy lies the solution to many mundane problems.
To sum up, Bhai advocates the culture of decency; in such a culture there is no bickering nor biting whatever may be the cause. Universal brotherhood is the ideal; the idea is to integrate all human beings whatever may be the differences: temperamental or ideological or communal or religious. The way to preach and practise the culture of decency lies in resolution rather than aggravation of conflict and visualize a world beyond conflict.
To conclude, Kumar Bhai, the proponent of International Indecency Prevention Movement is the upholder of human culture. He longs for better tomorrows when every human will live in peace. His songs are inspirational, writings, powerful in order to mould human conduct and refine human manners. He attacks the human vices like self-interest, greed, anger, lust, attachment and so on in a dispassionate way. He is cool, calm, meditative and conscious of human frailties. His satire is mild not pungent. He is friendly with people who have vices and against the sin, not the sinner. In English literature the watch- words of the writers of the Age of Sensibility- Dryden, Pope or Dr. Johnson are propriety, decorum, decency and reason. Kumar Bhai uses one word frequently that is ‘decency’ because it is decency which is the mother of other virtues. At a very young age Bhai protested against a lady dancer who used to expose her body before the spectators in order to win appreciation in a public show in Bombay- the gate- way of India. Bhai’s concern was that it was not the culture of Indian lady artists to expose the body- it was purely commercial devoid of essential human values. Doubtless true art lies in concealment not in exhibition; it uplifts the consciousness and provokes thinking. The dancer’s role is to entertain and educate not degrade the culture that is prized for its inherent simplicity, humility and nobility. Bhai was advocating brotherliness or sisterliness; exposition of the body of an Indian lady in public was not the right gesture to instill such noble feelings. Thus, Bhai is a defender of Indian culture: he motivates the audience or the spectators or the readers for self-introspection and purification of desires: sensuous or sensual or material. In his writings he instructs the humans to examine the emotions: positive or negative and harbour feelings like the Fatherhood of God, Motherhood of Nature, Brotherhood of Man, Sisterhood of Woman and above all Neighbourhood of Pain. He is a pragmatist not at all an escapist. Arnold views that anarchy is the antithesis of culture; so does Bhai. What is so original in Bhai is that he delves deep into the psyche of humans-both men and women and realizes imperfections, accepts them and suggests for perfections: profane and spiritual. Hence he didn’t like to remain merely as a writer; he emerged as an activist to promote culture marked by decency that implies the deeper understanding of the psyche of the other. Writing is here a means not the end; the end is practice and propagation of culture of decency- a kind of culture that makes humans kind, sensitive and sensible.
Bhai, Kumar. Palli Sangita.(Village Song). Cuttack:Sovaniyanagar. 2010. Print.
Mangalamayee. (The Benefactress). Jaipur: Udaygiri. 2006. Print.
A(A). Cuttack: Kazibazar. 1994. Print.
(The author is also a Retired Reader in the Dept. of English of the Khallikote University, Berhampur and an Executive Member of the AESI.)