Padma Bhushan Manoj Das, Author
Over 40 million Odias warmed up to the gratifying news of Manoj Das(Doyen of Letters) chosen for Padma Bhushan, then nation’s third-largest civilian honor. Das has an exceptional literary career spanning decades. He has especially mastered the short story genre. In the words of another acclaimed writer Ruskin Bond, “There are very few short storytellers living today and Das is one of them”.
Das, the bilingual author was born on February 27, 1934, at a small coastal village of Sankhari, Balasore. He has earlier been feted with the Sahitya Academy Award Fellowship, the highest award by the central autonomous academy. In 1971, his research in the archives of London and Edinburgh brought to light some of the little-known facts of India’s freedom struggle in the first decade of the twentieth century led by Sri Aurobindo for which he received the first Sri Aurobindo Puraskar (Kolkata).
His deeper quest impelled his mysticism. Das has been an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Puducherry since 1963 where he currently teaches English literature and the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo at the Sri Aurobindo International University.
He had started writing early. His first work a book of poetry in Odia, Satavdira Artanada published 1949 when he was in high school. He launched a literary magazine, Diganta in 1950. He graduated high school in 1951. His first collection of short stories Samudrara Kshudha (Hungry sea) that year. He was influenced by left-wing ideology in college. He was active in student politics while studying BA in Cuttack College. He was a youth leader with radical views in his college days and spent a year in jail for his revolutionary activities. In 1959, he was a delegate to the Afro-Asian students’ conference at Bandung, Indonesia. He did not complete his degree in Cuttack. He ultimately finished his graduation from Samanta Chandra Shekhar College, Puri in 1955. During his college, he kept on writing and he published a novel Jeebanara Sawada, a collection of short stories Vishakanyar Kahani and a collection of poems Padadhawani.
Manoj Das is perhaps the foremost bilingual Odia writer and a master of dramatic expression both in his English and Odia short stories and novels. Das has been compared to Vishnu Sharma.
Legendary author Graham Greene once commented on Manoj Das, “said, I have read the stories of Manoj Das with great pleasure. He will certainly take a place on my shelves besides the stories of Narayan. I imagine Odisha is far from Malgudi, but there is the same quality in his stories with perhaps an added mystery”.
The numerous accolades he has received include India’s national award for creative writing – the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Odisha Sahitya Akademi Award (twice), the Sarala Award, the Sahitya Bharati Award (by now Orissa’s premier award that began with honoring him), the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad (Kolkata) Award, the BAPASI (Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India) Award as the best writer in English in the South for the year 1998 and Rotary’s ‘For the Sake of Honour’. The Odisha Sahitya Akademi also bestowed on him its highest honor, the Atibadi Jagannath Das Samman. He was the leader of the Indian Writers’ Delegation to China in 2000.