In a sheer coincidence, even as the Odisha administration was preparing itself to organise the World Odia Conference grandly last week, an amateur theatre group of Bhubaneswar was staging a drama ‘Odia Das’ whose plot centred around the extinction of the Odia language.
This may sound strange, but the discussion regarding the possible extinction of Odia, the sixth classical language of the country, has been in the air for quite some time. Death of any language is not a new thing. Out of about 6,700 languages in the world, only 4 per cent of the people use 96 per cent of languages and 96 per cent of people use only 4 per cent of the languages. Linguists apprehend that out of the 6,700 languages, about 6,000 will die in another 100 years, and there will be only 300 languages around 2200 AD. While Odia may not have been such a pathetic case as yet, it can very well take a few steps to be in an expansive mode.
With a population of more than 4.2 crore, Odia, the major language of Odisha is considered the 10th major language in the country. It has its own script, unlike Sindhi, Rajasthani, Ahamiya and Konkani languages. Odia stands in 33rd position on the world map. Eighty per cent of the total population in Odisha can speak and understand Odia language which is huge by any standard. Authors of Odia literature have won all major awards in India like Jnanpith and Saraswati Samman and it is very vibrant today.
Odisha’s medieval literature is one of the richest in India. We have everything to be proud of - be it Sarala Das’ Mahabharata, Bhagabata of Jagannath Das or Laxmipurana of Balaram Das. This slim book ‘Laxmipuran’ is the first of its kind which stands out for its feminist stance that gave a clarion call for women’s emancipation way back in the 15th century.
For Odia language and literature, there is a lot to look forward to in 2024. The inauguration of Odia University will give a boost to the learning and research in the Odia language. I hope it will start a comprehensive course which includes copy editing and translation. The Government of Odisha has decided to start story-telling classes in the schools which is a novel idea. It should consider appointing at least one competent teacher in each school who can teach Odia and inject creativity. This would serve both purposes - train young minds and create job opportunities for Odia teachers. Similarly, the Odisha Research Centre set up by the Government of India would also provide a conducive platform for the promotion of the Odia language and literature.
More steps are needed to be undertaken to promote children’s literature and adaptation of folk literature and mythology in digital formats. Odisha Sahitya Akademi has a Herculean task of clearing the backlog of awards of the past seven years. I hope this is carried out successfully which will have a positive impact on writers. The recently concluded Book Fair Akshara did a record business of `11 crore and I am sure this will go up in the coming years. Regular Book fairs, LitFests and literary events have put Odisha on the centre stage of the cultural scenario of India. These will pay dividends and Odisha will witness a brighter phase in 2024.
Eminent litterateur,convenor, Odia Advisory Board,Central Sahitya Akademi