Translated from Kosali by Surendra Nath
Padmashree and Odia Sahitya Akademi award winning poet Dr. Haldhar Nag is popularly known as Lok Kabi, poet of common men, for his simplistic style, use of common man’s language , treatment of nature and for highlighting daily life activities. He is often compared to the revered odia poet Kabi Gangadhar Meher, who was considered as Prakruti Kabi, or nature poet.
Dr. Haldhar Nag’s life is an inspiration to many. After losing his parents at a tender age he could not study beyond class 3 and engaged in menial works to fend for himself. An absence of formal education was never an obstacle for his creative potentialities. Though he was unable to write, he could speak and dictate, and this is how his journey as a poet began. Gradually, he became popular for his minute observations on social realities and lyrical qualities of his poetry.
Dr. Nag speaks and writes in Kosali, a language spoken by Western Odisha people. It was not part of Odisha’s mainstream literature. His effort to write and popularise a marginal language is yet another feather in his cap. Just like Thomas Hardy and R.K Narayan, he too created a landscape reiterating Western Odhisa and its scenic beauty.
Kavyanjali: Selected Poetic Works of Haldhar Nag, was originally written in Kosali and has been translated into English by Surendra Nath. It was published in 2016 with a foreward from Odia writer Manoj Das. This collection of poetry is a bouquet of various themes like spiritualism to social realities to linguistic identity.
Rewriting Epic: The Great Sati Urmila
Haldhar Nag’s anthology started with a long poem “The Great Sati Urmila”. It narrates Ramayana from Urmila’s perspective, a lesser acknowledged female character who was never known for her sacrifices in The Ramayan. Highlighting her qualities poet Nag proves her as The Great Sati, at par with Sita and Mandodari. He takes references from regional versions of the Ramayana.
In Odisha, the Vilanka Ramayana is popular and was written by Sarala Das in 15th century; much of the references which is believed to be taken from Vishakhadutta’s Mudrarakshasam.
There are certain variations in these texts; for example Kaikeyi, who was blamed for Ram’s 14-year exile, is represented differently. In this version, Kaikeyi had a vision that Ram would die if he ascended the throne and the only way to save him was banishment. So, a villainous character is represented differently.
Similarly, Urmila who was never discussed prominently in The Ramayan, was brought to the centre for her sacrifices, knowledge and purity.
“Unheralded unsung she is,
In all seven books of Ramayana
For the poet in me, Sati she is,
Even greater than Sita in purity.”
Old Banyan Tree
“Old Banyan Tree” was Haldar Nag’s first poem to be published in a local magazine and widely recited poetry. Personifying the banyan tree, the poet tries to portray what could the tree must have witnessed for the past many years.
The tree was present in his grandfather’s time, many young children must have grown old by swinging on its roots, it must have given shelter to many travellers, many a groom must have come to take their brides and rested under its shade, the dead are also kept under this tree for final good bye to god’s abode. The banyan tree must have witnessed also thieves distribute their loot, lovers and their beloved sneaking a moment of privacy under it. Had the tree got the opportunity to speak it could have spoken volumes…With pastoral elements in it the poem talks about a common village life.
“It sees, it knows, it hears, it finds
But it speaks not a word
It stands like a mute witness
With its strong arms spread outward”
The River Ghansali, too looks at natural elements as observers of human life; the poem narrates the journey of a river to sea and also metaphorically speaks about the spiritual journey of man from birth to death and the ultimate meeting of soul with the over soul.
The Minister and Beggar
This poem is a political satire, and written in a dialogic form between a Minister and a Beggar. The Minister advises the beggar not to beg rather work hard to earn money in response to which the beggar too advises the minister not to gobble up people’s hard earned money rather use it for humanitarian activities.
“For my hunger in my belly I beg,
But selfish I am not
Self-centered you are, better start begging,
Like me from house to hut.”
Light the Earthen Lamp
Light and the Earthen Lamp is a short poem of three paragraphs but discusses a very vital point. The voice of a community will be silenced if their language goes extinct and ultimately their the people will lose their identity.
“Like in an heirless clan,
The lamp is lit by the newborn;
Let the wick burn and spread,
The language of Odisha-Western.”
Love for one’s own language is evident in this poem. The appeal to retain one’s identity through language stands out, and is relevant to our times; when the hegemony of English is both being questioned and is becoming a measure of privilege and progress.
Why did he Leave his Home
Why did he leave his home is a beautiful poem against the social norms where people normally put the blame on the weak. Written in a sarcastic tone, the poem emphasizes how common people bow down before power.
“On everyone’s lips there was this talk.
Triumph is never for the poor folk;
Water always downward flows,
Fault to the deprived always goes.”
The Harlot of Tikarpada
The Harlot of Tikarpada is a criticism towards the moral degradation of people. A harlot, when suggested by a man to leave this immoral activities and lead a family life by getting married she exposed the society by saying no body looks the inner beauty rather everybody needs money. If I can collect enough money to pay for the dowry I can get a husband.
“The money I earn now by selling my body, I shall spend
To buy heaps of dowry, when I go as a bride newlywed.”
The anthology consists of 24 poems along these themes; mythology, pantheism, relationship of man and nature, resistance against exploitation, social hierarchy, politics of language, regionalism etc; and a worthy read when we are consciously seeking diverse voices, from within and without.
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