Jagannath Prasad Das

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This article is about the author. For the psychologist, see Jagannath Prasad Das (psychologist).
Jagannath Prasad Das (Writer)
Jagannath Prasad Das
Jagannath Prasad Das
Born (1936-04-26) 26 April 1936 (age 80)
Puri, Odisha
Pen name J.P., J.P.Das
Language Odia, English
Nationality Indian
Ethnicity Odia
Citizenship Indian
Alma mater Utkal University (1953-55),
Allahabad University (1955-57)
Period 1960s
Genre Poetry, Fiction, Plays, Essays, Art History
Notable works English: Puri Paintings,
Odia: Pratham Purush, Parikrama, Desh Kaal Patra, Suryasta Purbaru
Notable awards Saraswati Samman,
Sahitya Akademi Award
Nandikar Award

Jagannath Prasad Das(J. P.) (born 26 April 1936) is an eminent litterateur from Odisha who has dominated the Odia literary scene for over forty years. His literary oeuvre comprises poetry, plays, short stories, novel, essays, children’s poems and nonsense verse. He has done translations of literary works from different languages into Odia and English. He has done extensive research into Odishan art and has published three works on the pictorial arts of the state. He has also done paintings, acted on stage and in films, and taken active part in social and cultural movements. His writings have been widely translated into Hindi, English and other Indian languages, bringing him national recognition. He has been honoured with awards for his writings, the important ones being the Central Sahitya Akademi award for his poetry (which he refused), the Nandikar Award for plays, the Sarala Award for short stories and the Saraswati Samman for his poetry. He has been connected with literary, cultural, and charitable organisations and has been member/office holder of these bodies.

Starting his career with a brief teaching assignment as Assistant Professor in the University of Allahabad, he joined the Indian Administrative Service and had held many important positions in the Government of Odisha and the Central Government. He has chosen to settle down in Delhi after taking premature retirement from Government service and is a well-known figure in the cultural and social life of the city where he lives.

It would come as no surprise that Prof.Sumanyu Satpathy has titled a short biographical piece he has written on him The Artist as Polumetis , the Greek term meaning many-mindedness.

Early life[edit]

J.P.Das was born on 26 April 1936 to Shridhar Das and Indu Devi at Banpur in the Puri District of Odisha. His father, an eminent literatteur, was then teaching at the Banpur High School. Banpur is a village and Das studied in the local ‘vernacular’ school. Shridhar moved to Cuttack as Professor in the Christ College there and the family moved there in 1948. Das enrolled in the Mission School (later called the Christ Collegiate School) and passed the matriculation examination from there (1951). He did his Intermediate in Arts from the Christ College (1953)and Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack (1955). He was a good student and secured high ranks in all the examinations. He moved to Allahabad to do his Master of Arts in Political Science which he passed in 1957 topping the list of successful candidates.

Early Writing[edit]

J.P..Das started writing poetry from his school days and one of his earliest poems was published in the reputed Odia literary journal Kumkum in 1949 when he was thirteen years old. He regularly contributed to Odia literary journals and shared space with many literary luminaries of the time. In 1951 he brought out a collection of 39 of his poems titled Stabak (meaning 'Bouquet', published by Odisha Publishing House, Cuttack, priced four annas. He continued writing poetry and was considered a major young voice in Odia poetry. However he stopped writing when he moved to Allahabad. His next collection of poems was to appear only in 1971.

Das has not included these early poems in his later anthologies considering them juvenilia. However many readers of his early poems still remember the words of those poems and feel that they should not be excluded from the corpus of his poems.

Service career[edit]

Das joined the IAS in 1958 and was allotted to the Odisha cadre. His earliest posting was to Rourkella as Subdivisional Officer. He thereafter worked in several Departments of Government of Odisha and was Secretary of the Departments of Works and Transport, Industries, and Finance at different times. In 1973 he was deputed to the Central Government in Delhi and worked in the Commerce and the Finance Ministries. In 1976, he did an M.Phil course in the Indian Institute of Public Administration, and took a Homi Bhabha fellowship to do research. After completing the fellowship, he joined as the Resident Commissioner of the Government of Odisha at Delhi from which post he took premature retirement in 1984.

Das is on record saying that of the years he spent in Government service, he considers the three years he spent in Kalahandi district of Odisha as Collector and District Magistrate as the most rewarding and fulfilling of his career.

Kalahandi[edit]

Das was posted to Kalahandi in 1963 when the district was one of the most backward ones having a substantial tribal population and lacking in basic facilities. The district faced a severe drought and in 1965 which necessitated tremendous efforts by the administration to provide relief and ameliorate the condition of the famine stricken population. He has written about the problems he had faced when he stopped export of food grains outside the district; though his order had been rescinded by the Government, the authorities had to permit import rice at a later date. Das has written a poem on Kalahandi, which has gained an almost classic status.

Poetry[edit]

J.P.Das considers poetry his first love. He is also on record saying: All that I want to say, let me say in poetry. Writing poems from an early age, he published his first collection of poems in 1951, which he later called immature. His next collection Pratham Purush came out after a twenty-year hiatus in 1971 and made a great impact on the Odia poetry scene. The poems were hailed as free from the existing trends in poetry, and got rave reviews. Translation of the collection soon followed and were equally well received. Mulk Raj Anand called the translated poems in First Person authentic poetic expression in new metaphor. Of the Urdu translation a review said: Das’s sensibility is easily comparable with that of Faiz in Urdu.

Given below are some comments on his poetry at different times.

If contemporary Odiaa poetry has acquired a new dimension and sophistication in terms of vision, technical integrity and innovative use of the creative medium, it was because of J.P.Das's contribution.   - Kavya Bharati,1997

An unusual blending of the sense of beauty and the sense of joy in living and loving makes his poetry extremely readable and accessible. His passion for the diverse facets of life and existence makes his poetry vibrant and rejuvenating . The sense of rhythm that he tries to capture in his poetryis very close to the colloquial speech.  -Kavya Bharati", Madurai, Issue 13, 2001

[ J.P.Das's collection of poems] is authentic poetic expressions in new metaphors.   - Mulk Raj Anand

There is no self-indulgent practicing here; form and language suggest a strong, mature personality.   - Nissi.m Ezekiel

His poetry is universal as true poetry should be and ranks with some of the best in any language.   -Vassilis Vitsaxis

The world that J.P.Das creates is both magical and historical, lost and redeemed.   -Mary O'Connor

J.P.Das's is a poetry of concern, of dread and angst in a world growing darker day by day...its virtues are to be sought in its moral earnestness and its faithfulness to the gruesome reality of our times of torment.   - K. Satchidanandan

Painting[edit]

J.P.Das held the first (and only ) exhibition of his paintings in 1971 at Bhubaneswar. His only formal training in Art was joining the diploma course of fine arts at the Allahabad University, which he never finished. (His co-student in the class was the thespian Sarat Pujari).

Though done by an amateur Sunday artist, the paintings got some good reviews. Dr. Dinanath Pathy wrote: It is not necessary that one should go through a training course in fine arts to make a good artist….All the 16 canvases on display were marked with a freshness and individuality, which clearly indicated a good artist in the making…..With his vision and sincerity, he will one day establish himself one day as a true artist. Another reviewer Prof. Inam Ansari wrote: Given time and maturity, Das is sure to succeed and prove a worthy member of the artist fraternity.

But this was not to be for Das stopped this creative activity and thus ended the short period of his career as artist.

Short Stories[edit]

J.P.Das wrote his first short story in 1980, many years after publishing poetry. His very first short story attracted attention for the novelty of its theme as well as for the use of a new style and language for Odia fiction. Since then he has alternated between poetry and prose and given both equal attention.

Das is now as much known as a fiction writer as a poet, and his collection of short stories has been awarded the prestigious Sarala Award. Many of his short stories have been produced as television films.

Given below are some appreciations of his short stories:

His stories draw a map of India whereby seemingly incontestable categories, widely accepted beliefs and traditions associated with the national identity collapse…. The stories gain a deeper, unstated meaning as they provide an acid critique of a country largely transformed under the pressures of globalization…. J.P.Das’s characters revalidate the assertion that the authentic reappropriation of one’s cultural space remains by and large one of the most critical unfinished agendas of our tim.  -Mauricio D.Aguilera Linde

J.P.Das is the quetessential raconteur with an instinctive mastery of form.   -The Hindu

J.P.Das’s stories begin with clinical and detached descriptions…but at some point, imperceptively, the mood changes and we find ourselves in an uncharted territory,where shadows of unresolved mysteries darken the surface of quotidian life.   -Meenakshi Mukherjee

Epiphanies and liquid perceptions are subtly phased into one another, characters and situations multiply and recreate themselves and mature as the whole seems to be spawned by an intelligent camera.   - The Book Review

A feature of J.P.Das’s stories is the slow, deliberate accretion of detail that seems calculated to make the reader breathless and impatient, driving him on to the inevitable climax, which provides a sense of relief as well as disbelief.  -Bikram K. Das

He occupies a special place in the history of the Odia short story, having helped to modernise it by expanding its horizon and by his unusual angles of approach….JP is one among the few living contemporary Odia writers who is astute in mapping the relations between writing and social power as they obtain in a provincial milieu. -Himansu S. Mohapatra

Drama[edit]

J.P.Das wrote two short plays in 1960 and then wrote his first full-length play Suryasta Purbaru (translated into English as Before the Sunset) in 1971. This play was staged in a Bengali version in Kolkata the next year, even before it was staged in Odia in Odisha. In 1976 the Hindi version was performed in Delhi directed by the eminent theatre personality Ram Gopal Bajaj. Om Puri played the role of the protagonist Deepankar in the play. The play has since been translated into many other languages and staged in different parts of the country giving it the status of a classic. It is included in the volumeModern Indian Plays published by the National School of Drama.

His second play Saba Shesha Loka (translated into English as [The Underdogs]) was also produced in the Hindi version first, directed by eminent theatre and film personality Ravi Baswani. Thespian Pankaj Kapoor essayed the important role of Ram/Shyam in the play.

A subsequent play of his, Sundardas, was staged by the Department of Art and Aesthetics of the Jawaharlal Nehru University directed by the renowned playwright and theatre person H.S.Shiva Prakash. It was also staged under the auspices of Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts.

Das has been closely associated with the new theatre movement in Odisha and is a founder trustee of the Utkal Rangamanch Trust, Bhubaneswar. He has been an office-bearer of Bharatiya Natya Sangh, the Indian branch of International Theatre. He was the Vice-chairman of National School of Drama. He has been honoured with Nandikar Theatre Award Nandikar Award, Kolkata as an eminent playwright.

He has done some acting on stage too; mention may be made of his role as father in his own play Made for Each Other and as Fateh Muhammad in Manoranjan Das’s play Buxi Jagabandhu.

Below are given some comments on J.P.Das’s plays:

J.P.Das is a versatile writer and his plays are literary works at their best. It is hoped that these works of an important Indian playwright will delight both readers and theatre persons.   -Nirmal KantiBhattachraje (in his Introduction to Complete Plays by J.P.Das)

J.P.Das has now secured his place among the leading playwrights of the country.  -Enact

J.P.Das is a poet turned playwright and his poetic sensitivity, compassion and perspective inform his plays. He leaves many things to the imagination of the audience or gives only suggestions, as a peot would. But he does succeed in saying many things with a minimum of words.   -J.N.Kaushal

Sundardas is a significant addition to Indian dramatic literature. The play is an insightful treatment of the politics of conversion.   - H.S.Shivaprakash

Films[edit]

J.P.Das has been closely associated with cinema, having been an active member of the Bhubaneswar and Delhi Film Societies. He has been on the Boards of Orissa Film Development Corporation and the Children’s Film Society, India. CFSI. He was Chairman of the International Jury of Children’s Film Awards of the international organisation CIFEJ in 1985.

He was a Member of the International Children’s Film Awards Jury, 1989. He was a Member of the Jury of National Film Awards in the years 1985, 1988 and 1990. He was a Member of the Film Review Committee of the Ministry of Health and Family Planning during 2001-2003.

He was instrumental in organizing the International Children’s Film Festival in Bhubaneswar in 1987. He has edited a volume Films for Children published by Vikas Publishing House. He has acted in telefilm Sunaina directed by S.N.Dhir and in the tele-serial Panchhi directed by Ravi Baswani. Many of his short stories have been made into telefilms.

Novel[edit]

Desh Kaal Patra ( A Time Elsewhere)[edit]

J.P.Das has written this only novel, a fictional account of Odisha in the second half of the 19th century. In its six hundred pages it gives a panoramic picture of the political, social, cultural and literary history of the State. Published in 1992 it has already got into several editions and has gained the status of a literary classic.

The book was chosen for translation into all Indian languages by the National Book Trust under their Aadaan Pradaan scheme and it has already been translated into Hindi and Bangla. A film project based on the book is under way.

In his translator’s note to the English translation A Time Elsewhere, published by Penguin Books, Prof. Jatindra K. Nayak has the following to say about the book: It tells the story of the transformation of a traditional society under the impact of colonial rule….it seeks to construct an alternate narrative in which the colonised is not content to be only written about; he is seen as shaping his own destiny. muse India

Translations and Editing[edit]

Besides translating some of his own work from Odia into English, he has also translated other works from different languages into both Odia and English. He has translated Odiaa Women Poets’ work into English (with Arlene Zide), Catherine Clement’s poems from French into English (with the poet), Gulzar’s poems from Urdu into English, Swedish poet Werner Aspenstrom’s poems into Odia, a medieval Odia text Lakshmipurana into English and the poetry of Odiaa Dalit poet Basudev Sunani into English.

He edited the first ever anthology of Odia Short Stories in English translation. He has edited an anthology of poetry from different Indian languages ( with K.Satchidanandan), and a volume of essays, Films for Children.

Fellowships[edit]

J.P.Das has been awarded the following Fellowships for research and creative writing:

  • Homi Bhabha Fellow (1979-1981) for research on Pata Paintings of Odisha
  • Emeritus Fellow of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India (1994-1996)
  • K. K. Birla Foundation Fellowship in Comparative Literature (1996-1998)

Awards[edit]

  • Vishuv Award from Pajatantra Prachar Samiti in 1976 and 1984
  • Odisha Sahitya Akademi Award for collection of poems Je Jahara Nirjanata in 1975
  • Central Sahitya Akedemi Award for collection of poems Ahnika in 1990 (He did not take the award)
  • Sarala Award for Short Story Collection Priya Vidushak in 1998
  • Nandikar Playwright Award in 2000
  • Saraswati Samman for poetry collection Parikrama in 2006

Research[edit]

Though Odishan temple sculpture and architecture had been studied by scholars for a long time, no such study had been done of the rich tradition of pictorial arts of Odisha. This shortcoming was made good with the publication of J.P.Das’s Puri Paintings: The Chitrakara and His Work (Arnold-Heinemann, New Delhi and Humanities Press, New Jersey, USA) in 1982. It was the first book on the distinctive pata style of painting of Odisha and had got rave reviews on its publication.

Dr. Eberhard Fischer had the following to say in his review of the book in Artibus Asiae, 2/3 1983: This book is an important contribution to our knowledge of traditional painters’ role and of Orissa’s rich artistic heritage…. The text is well-written, scholarly and clear. The author, a well-known poet and an administrator, deserves high praise for his direct and unpretentious presentation. J.P.Das, also an amateur painter, has been acquainted since his childhood with traditional Orissan paintings and as a young IAS officer was involved in Handicraft Programmes of the Orissan Government. For his thesis he lived and worked mainly in Raghurajpur near Puri, observed the painters’ way of life and their working techniques, and conducted interviews. Furthermore, he obtained records from the Puri Temple Administration Office, and searched for relevant Civil Court records of Puri and for documents from the American Friends Service Organisation. He finally visited museums, mainly in Calcutta and London, studying their collections of pata paintings to form his own ideas about historic questions…..What I enjoyed most when reading this important publication is the clear diction and the well-organised layout. J.P.Das is on the whole unprejudiced as a historian and yet critical in all questions concerning general assumptions.

Miloslav Krasa, reviewing the book in Archiv Orientalni 54, 1986, wrote: This study is a basic and valuable contribution to a long-neglected subject, filling yet another lacuna in our knowledge of the social and cultural history of Orissa.

Puri Paintings has helped in promoting this painting style in India and abroad and has gained respect and recognition of the painters.

Das followed up this book with two other books on the pictorial arts of Orissa: Chitra-Pothi: Illustrated Palm-leaf Manuscripts from Orissa ( Arnold-Heinemann, New Delhi and Lotus Press, London, 1985) and Palm-leaf Miniatures: The Art of Raghunath Prusty of Orissa (Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,1991) . The first of these books is about the art of illuminating kavya texts from medieval Oriya literature on palm-leaves. The second book, written in collaboration with Prof. Joanna Williams of the University of Berkeley, California, is about one such palm-leaf artist, Raghunath Prusty who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century. Both books were highly appreciated and well reviewed . Prof. Pratapaditya Pal wrote in Marg ( Vol.49 No.3 March 1998) : The recent research and publications by at least two enthusiasts, among others, will redress the balance [neglect of study of Orissan painting] and Orissan Painting will receive the attention it deserves. The scholars are J.P.Das of India and Joanna Williams of the United States

Children’s/Nonsense Verses[edit]

During a period of illness in 1991 J.P.Das wrote some nonsense verses as also some poems for children which were published in 1993 in two books under the titles Alimalika (Publications Division, New Delhi)and Alukuchi-Malukuchi (Lark Books, Bhubaneswar). Both titles mean ‘odds and ends’ in Odia. Children’s and nonsense writing are rather neglected in Odia and the two books were therefore a pleasant addition to this genre of writing in Odia literature. Das himself translated some of the poems from these two books into English and published Alimalika:Children’s Nonsense Rhymes ( Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 2004). In 2008, he published another such collection under the title Anaabanaa – also meaning ‘odds and ends’ in Odia –( Ink Odisha, Bhubaneswar). Another similar collection by him, written during another period of illness, Aanamaana, is in the press.

Books on J P Das[edit]

  • Words on Canvas: J.P.Das and His Work editor: Ganeswar Mishra (Orissa Lalit Kala Akademi, 2005)
  • Srijan Jatra (Odia) by Ganeswar Mishra (Vidyapuri, Cuttack, 2010)
  • Priya JP (Odia) Edited by Prof. Sumanyu Satpathy (Shiksha Sandhan, Bhubaneswar,2011)
  • Jagannath Prasad: Bandhutara Aasara (Odia) Edited by Ganeswar Mishra (Timepass, Bhubaneswar, 2013)
  • Bahudha (Odia) by Prof. Sumanyu Satpathy, 2014

Books by J P Das[edit]

Research[edit]

Puri Paintings: The Chitrakara and His Work, Arnold-Heinemann, 1982

Chitra-Pothi: Illustrated Palm-leaf Manuscripts, Arnold-Heinemann, 1985

Palm-leaf Miniatures (with Joanna Williams), Abhinav Publications, 1991

Edited[edit]

Oriya Short Stories, Vikas Publishing House, 1983

Films for Children, Vikas Publishing House, 1987

Kavita 93 (with K. Satchidanandan), Virgo Publications, 1993

Translations[edit]

Growing an Indian Star (with Catherine Clement), Vikas Publishing House, 1991

Under a Silent Sun (with Arlene Zide), Vikas Publishing House, 1992

Autumn Moon, Rupa Publishing House, 1999

Essays[edit]

Reflections on Literature and Culture, Sikshasandhan, 2009

Books By J.P.Das In English Translation[edit]

Poetry[edit]

First Person, Tr: Deba Patnaik, Arnold-Heinemann, 1976

Love is a Season, 'Tr: Poet, Arnold-Heinemann, 1978

Timescapes, Tr: Poet, Arnold-Heinemann, 1980

Silences, Tr: Poet, Vikas, 1989

Diurnal Rites, Tr: H. Panda, Sahitya Akademi, 1994

The Unreal City' Tr: Durga P. Panda, Har Anand, 1997

Lovelines, Tr: Poet with Paul St-Pierre, Virgo, 2001

Alimalika, Tr: Poet, Writers Workshop, 2004

Dark Times, Tr: Poet with Paul St-Pierre, Virgo, 2004

Poems, Tr: Poet, Grassroots, 2004

Nanasense, Tr: Sumanyu Satpathy, NBT, 2013

Short Stories[edit]

The Magic Deer, Tr: Author, Vikas 1983

The Forbidden Street, Tr: Author, Vikas 1988

Spider's Web, Tr: KK. & Leelawati Mahapatra, Vikas 1990

The Prostitute, Tr: Bibhuti Mishra & Others, Har Anand 1995

The Pukka Sahib, Tr: Bikram K Das, Harper Collins 2001

Stories, Tr: Paul St-Pierre, Leela & K K Mahapatra, Grassroots 2003

Dear Jester, Tr: R K Swain & Paul St-Pierre, Rupa 2004

The Will, Tr: Ashok Mohanty, Sahitya Akademi, 2007

Plays[edit]

Before the Sunset, Tr: Author, Arnold-Heinemnn, 1978

Two Plays, Tr: Author, Writers Workshop, 1983

The Underdog, Tr: Ravi Baswani, Vikas, 1984

Absurd Play, Tr: Author, Writers Workshop, 1989

Sundardas, Tr. Paul St-Pierre & others, NSD & Har Anand, 2002

Miss X, Tr: Author, Rupa, 2002

Novel[edit]

A Time Elsewhere, Tr: Jatindra K. Nayak, Penguin, 2009

Collections[edit]

J. P. Das Omnibus, Ed: Paul St. Peirre, Har-Anand, 2012

Complete Plays, Ed: N. K. Bhattacharjee, Har-Anand, 2012

Selected Short Stories, Ed: Mauricio Aguilera, Har-Anand, 2013

Selected Poems, Har-Anand, 2014

References[edit]

  • Autorspeak, Sahitya Akademi, 2006 pages 105-110
  • Going Through Hells, Muse India, Issue 5, Jan-Feb 2006
  • The World of J.P.Das by Sachidananda Mohanty, The Hindu, March 4, 2007
  • JP Revisited by Dr.Ashok Choudhury, Creative Mind, Vol V, 2008
  • Out of Orissa by Humra Quraishi, Sunday Tribune, April 18, 2010
  • Taking Stock by Suresh Kohli, The Hindu, February 4, 2012
  • The Measure of Life by Jitendranath Mishra, The Nation, Bangkok, March 26, 2012
  • Indian Literature: An Introduction, Delhi University, page 315

Videos[edit]

  • Documentary on J.P.Das, Sahitya Akademi (30 minutes)
  • Jaipur Literature Festival, January 22, 2011 (discussion on A Time Elsewhere)
  • Think Literature, Bhubaneswar, December 24, 2013