• Charudutta Panigrahi

The chronic Odia self-denigration

Recently I met a close friend, well-heeled Odia and with a perennially professed Odia love. I was quite shocked when the friend, mentioned in a refrain, during our conversation that “he had not found any Odia youth interesting and savvy as he has in other states”. He meant lacking in chutzpah and smartness. I realise that such a mindless statement need not be overestimated or overemphasised. But it deserves to be given the importance of ‘pulse reading’. Needless to mention, what ensued was my painful rebuttal, a spate of counterpoints, civil and yet heated arguments but I was re-bruised by the limitless depth of self-belittling. It is a black current from the black hole which has severely damaged our state, our language, our culture and all of us. This was asymptomatic but my learning from his thought is that most of us, unbelievably in our close proximities, nurture this ‘smallness’ about ourselves, quite unshakably. Over the years, I have endured many such blows, but every time it helps gather myself to a denser activism. The taunt works well. These sleeper cells exist in the well placed gentry of our state. My rural family, my country siblings are far more dedicated activists for the state than the white collar self-doubters. I feel deceived because these naysayers, with the required wherewithal, defeat the credulous champions who are powerless. It is the trusting believers versus the deep-slaying misanthropes. Can any society pull itself up with this negative force at the top? Is it possible to create an Atmanirbhar Odisha with this corrosive mind-set?

The governments can go on presenting public schemes for public good. But the demand for these schemes, the internalisation of the beneficiaries, and the sum total of welfare measures will always remain unmatched to the operational efforts. The defeatism among general mass buries all initiatives. The lethal poison of self-doubt kills more people than any army or war. When the self is gone, how can we plan for self-reliance (Atmanirbhar)?

It is imminent that we kick off a large scale program on Odia mind-set change, in the state and among the diaspora. This should be a rigorous community based program in the lines of behaviour change initiatives in health sector interventions. Faith in one’s self and fellow selves (the society) is the biggest upliftment charter for all of us. Each one of us should be responsible for developing the self-esteem of minimum 10 youngsters in our circles – from IT hubs & diaspora to migrants and own siblings and children. I should speak to my child first. Odia evangelism should begin at home. Spread the word around about Odisha, its legacy, the scopes it offers and the bonding it can forge to contribute to the national GDP and national character. We are a land of comity, amity and soft power, but should be result and evidence backed.

There should be regular, well researched webinars on “know your own land’. This series should invite youths from all districts in phased manner to participate. They in turn would replicate the series among their cohorts. Information purely based on WhatsApp University does not help. Seniors should mentor the next generations.

The civil society has to take up cudgels to brighten its outlook. Rapid industrialisation, exposure of global events, international achievements of young Odias, and increase in income and opportunities, nothing has been able to lower the trepidations of Odia self-pity, as desired. Our social balance sheet flaunts assets which no other state in India, can even dream of. But who cares to gather and construct narratives for the state?

The governments are doing their best in terms of offerings. But without any social encouragement, support or complementarity. I often wonder how lonely governments must be in their solitary efforts. The policy makers and the civil servants have no support from us, the civil society. Is the civil society only meant to draw benefits without any responsibilities? Am I only to demean my fellow Odias without doing anything to ameliorate the status? I take all benefits from the state, go out, place myself well and then snigger with aplomb. Do I deserve to address it as ‘my state’?

Undoubtedly explanations for economic growth should be broadened to include cultural determinants. Culture has and will influence economic outcomes by affecting such personal traits as tenacity, confidence, thrift, willingness to work hard, and openness to strangers. Our openness to strangers is actually skewed, sometimes too cosy for comfort.

We need not be obtrusive and loud but at the same time there is no need to consider self as ingénue, gauche and mentally subservient. Our compassion, affability and politeness is our hallmark, the avant-garde in this world which is chasing these higher life qualities. But the foundation is our self-belief.

The state now needs to dedicate resources to translate Odia literature and scriptures into classy English and other international languages. Without translation the cultural flowering will cease, as it has for so many decades. Public libraries need to be newly built or refurbished and despite challenges in mobilising communities to utilise libraries, still the movement would create the trend. We need to create trends to entice young minds and future Odisha architects and impresarios.

University of Culture should be perfect platform to lead the Odia reactivation. All the Odia Associations, across India and outside are groups of Odia-enthusiasts and these need to be mainstreamed. Otherwise, they would continue working in silos and be happy with incremental contributions. Their synergies would steer a quantum jump in Odia motivation, self-esteem and productivity. Building self-esteem is a time consuming process and warrants assimilation. There is no quick fix to such renascence. Odisha’s development will directly contribute to the nation’s development. Our wallowing in self-pity negates the strength in our piety. Self-deprecating pulls down all of us together, including my friend, who needs urgent support in broad basing his Odia experience.

At the end of the conversation I was miffed with both – him & I.

Article by,

Charudutta Panigrahi,

Author & Futurist

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