“I feel responsible for my WORDS”
-says eminent author Manoj Das. Manoj Das is truly a man of words; he can express most complex thoughts in simplest way. A poet, novelist, short story writer, columnist, travel writer, children’s writer and philosopher, he is a wizard of words who has mesmerized generations of readers with the sheer genius of his writing. To meet an octogenarian, who still has enthusiasm and innocence of a small kid is indeed a marvelous experience. In his writing career spanning more than half a century, his literary achievements are astonishing. Here, Smita Dwivedi in conversation with him discovers his world of words. Manoj Das (born 1934) is an Indian awardwinning bilingual creative writer who writes in Oriya and English on whom Sahitya Akademi has bestowed its highest award (also India’s highest literary award) i.e. Sahitya Akademi Award Fellowship. He started writing when he was 14 and till now his affair with words is growing stronger with time. The simplicity of his writing has won him admirers in every generation and across all countries and continent. He was awarded Padma Shri, the fourth highest Civilian Award in India in 2001 for his contribution in the field of literature & education before that in 2000 he was awarded with Saraswati Samman.
Writing…a natural progression
According to Manoj, he never looked upon writing as something that was outside one’s normal activities. Writing came to him naturally. His first book of poetry in Oriya, Satabdir Aratanada, was published when he was in Class X, followed by Biplabi Fakir Mohan within six months. His first collection of short stories came out when he was in Class XI. The title story, Samudra Kshudha, that was the first ever short story Manoj wrote, is considered a classic in Oriya prose because of its content which was radically new and its powerful narrative style. He also launched a literary magazine, Diganta, while he was in Class X. By the time Manoj graduated from Samanta Chandrashekhar College, Puri, in 1955, at least three more of Manoj’s books had been published: Jibanara Swada and Bisha Kanyara Kahani, collections of short stories, and Padadhwani, a collection of poems.
“I started writing when I was a small kid. Initially my writings were for adults and I became children’s author by accident. My special thanks to K S Duggal, first director of NBT, India and Shankar of Children Book Trust. Neera Benegal (wife of popular Indian director and screenwriter Shyam Benegal) was the editor of India Book House, who encouraged me to write my first book for children, he shares. His famous book Stories of Light and Delight, was first published in 1970 by NBT, India and is the highest sold children bestseller in India.
It’s not child’s play!
After wining so many laurels for children literature, he still feels that one has to be very careful with his words and stories, when writing for children as these words are going to be imbibed in young developing minds of kids, who are the future of this world. “Producing Children literature is a big responsibility; we should give our child something that stimulates child creative imagination. Children love fantasy world; they live in their own world. We need to preserve that innocence in every child through our books,” he shared.
Manoj strongly believes in the innocence of childhood, and lessons of nature. “My birth place, a remote hamlet on the sea, was as beautiful as a fairytale land in my childhood, with two natural lakes abounding in lotuses between our house and the sea. Unconsciously, in my rendezvous with the sea and the breeze and the moon, I had probably developed the habit of expressing myself to them in silence,” he shared.
“ T h e s t o r i e s f r om t h e Ramayana and the Mahabharata, recounted to me by my mother stirred my imaginativeness. Hence we can say that Valmiki and Vyasa – particularly the latter – was the earliest influence on me,” he further added.
Swami or Alice…
a kid is a kid
On asking about the urbanrural divide on children literature in India, he shared, “I feel it’s sad if we are thinking that way. A child is a child, his soul and his dreams are same world over. Story needs element to appeal kid. Though I was born in the small coastal village of Shankari in the Balasore district of Orissa, and my stories are loved by kids all over the world.”
On declining readership
“There are several factors, not one, which are responsible for the neglected state of affairs with regard to children’s literature in India. First, we had such powerful stuff for children— the Jatakas, the Panchatantra, stories from the epics etc—that we did not consider ourselves capable of continuing that wonderful line. Secondly, the general negligent attitude towards children—taking them for granted—is also responsible for the situation. But things are changing. Lately some attention is being given to this field of creativity. A writer needs to be honest to his own inspiration; he must not be swept away by lures of publicity, hype and produce stuff that suits such waves. And I feel we will be successful in bringing our kids back to books,” he concluded.
Usborne enters ‘booming’ Asian children’s market with new Korean imprint
Usborne Publishing will be launching its seventh foreign-language imprint, Usborne Korea, in autumn 2015. Usborne will partner with Korean publisher BIR (Bi-Ryong-So) in Seoul. BIR is one of South Korea’s leading children’s book publishers. This announcement follows discussions between Usborne and BIR (and other successful South Korean publishers) which have lasted for many months. Speaking of Usborne’s first major step into the booming Asian children’s book market, founder and MD of Usborne Publishing Peter Usborne says, “I have long wanted to expand our very successful foreign imprint policy into Asia, where we have been selling a steadily increasing number of rights and co-editions over the years. This venture is not without risk, but I am very excited about it. To celebrate, I am attempting to learn Korean.”
The Usborne Korea programme will start with around 40 new titles, next year. The relationship with BIR is being managed from Usborne’s London office by Nicola Usborne (Peter Usborne’s daughter), Usborne Foreign Rights Director Paula Ziedna and Usborne Foreign Rights Controller Jennifer Ahn, who is Korean. Ms. Sanghee Park, CEO of BIR Publishing, will be managing the Korean side of the partnership. Other Usborne imprints publish in French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese and German.