Dear Friends and Well-wishers of Overman Foundation,
26th January 2020 has brought to us the delightful news that legendary author, senior inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry and respected member of Overman Foundation, Shri Manoj Das has been conferred with the prestigious ‘Padma Bhushan’ for his contribution in the field of literature and education.
Born on 27 February 1934 to Madhusudan Das and Kadambini Devi in Sankhari, a remote coastal village of Odisha, India, Manoj Das grew up amidst loving rural folks and Nature’s splendours but also had the horrific experience of a devastating cyclone followed by famine crushing his locality. At the age of eight he stood witness to his affluent home on the sea being plundered by savage gangs of bandits, not once but twice.
In town for study, writing came to him spontaneously and his first book in Odia, Satavdira Artanada, was published when he was fourteen. At fifteen he launched Diganta, which, in course of time, grew into a significant literary journal in the state. In search of some panacea for human suffering he became a revolutionary youth leader while in college, leading several agitations, courting jail, becoming unopposed President of the University Law College Union, General Secretary of the Students Federation and playing an active role in the Afro-Asian Students Conference at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1956.
His quest, however, led him to mysticism and, after serving as a lecturer in English at Cuttack for four years, he, along with his wife, Pratijna Devi, a scion of the Raj family of Kujang whose parents were renowned freedom fighters, joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry in 1963 which became their permanent abode.
Though outside his home state he is widely known as one of the best-loved and serious among the Indian writers writing in English, he is also probably the foremost successful bilingual writer in the country. He had been a regular columnist on literary and cultural themes for some of the major newspapers in India such as The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and major Odia dailies.
He was the editor of a prestigious monthly commanding an international circulation, The Heritage (1985-1989) published by the Chandamama Publications of Chennai and an author-consultant to the Ministry of Education, Government of Singapore (1981-1985), visiting the island nation twice a year for taking classes of a hundred teachers.
His research in the archives of London and Edinburgh in 1971 brought to light some of the significant glimpses of India’s struggle for freedom led by Sri Aurobindo in the first decade of the 20th century. He received the first Sri Aurobindo Puraskar for this pioneering work, offered by Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata (the birth place of Sri Aurobindo), supported by the Government of West Bengal.
The numerous accolades he has received include India’s national award for creative writing—the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Odisha Sahitya Akademi Award (twice), the Sarala Award, the Sahitya Bharati Award (by now Odisha’s premier award that began with honouring him), the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad (Kolkata) Award, The BAPASI (Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India) Award as the best writer in English in the South for the year 1998 and Rotary’s ‘For the Sake of Honour’. The Odisha Sahitya Akademi also bestowed on him its highest honour, the Atibadi Jagannath Das Samman.
He was the leader of the Indian Writers’ Delegation to China in 2000.
The President of India decorated him with the Padma Shri Award on the Republic Day, 2001. This was followed by India’s most prestigious award for literature, the Saraswati Samman. Utkal Sahitya Samaj, the hoary literary organization of his home state, Odisha, bestowed on him Utkal Ratna. While one university made him its honorary Professor Emeritus, the Utkal University of Culture chose him alone to be conferred with D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) in its very first convocation. That was followed by four other universities awarding him honorary D.Litt. including the oldest university of his home state, the Utkal University and his alma mater, the Ravenshaw University.
The Sahitya Akademi, our national academy of letters, has conferred on him its highest honour, Fellowship, which, according to its constitution, is “reserved for the immortals of literature”. Lately he received the NTR National Literary Award conferred by the NTR Vigyan Trust, Hyderabad, as an outstanding Indian writer in May 2013 and in October 2013 he was awarded the Amrita Keerti National Award by the Mata Amritanandamayi Trust, Amritapuri, Kerala, on the occasion of the 60th birth anniversary of renowned mystic and philanthropist. In 2014 he was bestowed with the Samman Puraskar by Lala Diwan Chand Trust, New Delhi.
He is recognized as a competent interpreter of India’s literary and spiritual heritage. Of the numerous talks he has given under schemes such as the UGC-sponsored Extension Lectures at different universities or literary, educational or spiritual fora in India and abroad, mention can be made of a few:
He was chosen to deliver the first UNESCO lecture organized by the Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India in 1998 at the National Museum Auditorium at New Delhi. He was invited to deliver the first Sri Aurobindo Memorial Lecture instituted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (New Delhi) at the Calcutta University, Presidency College Auditorium in 2008. He was invited to deliver Sahitya Akademi’s prestigious annual oration, the Samvatsar Lecture, at the Rabindra Bhavan auditorium at New Delhi in 2009. He was chosen to preside over the inaugural function of the 20th World Book Fair at New Delhi in 2012. He is one of those living writers on whom maximum number of scholars has done their doctoral theses either in English or in Odia.
His major works in English include Selected Fiction of Manoj Das (Penguin), Chasing the Rainbow: Growing up in an Indian Village (Oxford University Press), A Tiger at Twilight and Cyclones, two novels clubbed together (Penguin), My Little India (National Book Trust) and The Bridge in the Moonlit Night and other Stories (National Book Trust). He is also one of the best-loved writers for children. While his Stories of Light and Delight, published in 1970, continues to be the largest selling story book for children in India till date, several other books for children like Books Forever, A Bride Inside a Casket, Legend of the Golden Valley, etc. are not lagging far behind.
Among his non-fictional works are a monograph on Sri Aurobindo published by the Sahitya Akademi on the 15th of August, 1972 and released in a function in New Delhi the same day by the then President of India, V.V. Giri in celebration of the Master’s Birth Centenary and Myths, Legends, Concepts and Literary Antiquities of India (Sahitya Akademi). His edited works include The Hour of God and other Selections from Sri Aurobindo (Sahitya Akademi) and Streams of Yogic and Mystic Experiences, a huge volume comprising treaties by about 40 scholars. This volume commissioned to him by Centre for Studies in Civilization, Ministry of Education, is much appreciated for the elaborate Introduction written by him.
Manoj Das is among those few living writers on whose life the Sahitya Akademi has produced a documentary film. About him, Ruskin Bond had once remarked, “There are only a few good story-tellers left in the world today and Manoj Das is one of them.” Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar had bracketed him in the art of short story with Rabindranath Tagore and Munshi Premchand.
We take the opportunity to congratulate Shri Manoj Das for being conferred with the prestigious ‘Padma Bhushan’.
With warm regards,
17 Replies to “Manoj Das conferred with the ‘Padma Bhushan’ by the Government of India”
Dear manojda, congratulations from the bottom of my heart. We are so proud of you. I am sure this is not the last of your laurels. Many more to come. May be you will go into the Guinness book for the number of awards. Waiting to see you in delhi soon. We will celebrate.
Dear Manoj Da – Warm congratulations on your richly deserving ” National Honour ” – I suppose your kitty is full – but then – other wards may come in the unfolding future –
With the Divine Mother’s Blessings
Surendra s chouhan – SAICE’69
Hearty congratulations sir
Met Prof Manoj Das today. We are proud of him.
Hearty congratulations to Sri Manoj Das Babu for Padma Bhushan award bestowed by Government of India.
Congratulations. Really great news.
Mother’s Grace.Heartiest Congratulations to Him.
Wow ! Congrats to him.
Manojda ! Accept my best regards and admiration !
Heartiest congratulations Manoj Da. May the Mother’s blessings always be with you!
Congratulations Manoj Da ! Your writings, poems are worth reading time and again. Your art of oratory is superb. I recollect every word you uttered at sahitya Academy last year. You deserve the highest honour. Congratulations indeed. Jai Maa!
being an Odia and his die-hard fan, extremely proud of the Living Legend Shri Manoj Das. I can not forget (in this life time) his always-smiling, down to earth personality and his warm hospitality whenever I was fortunate to meet him. Long Live Sir. may Diving Mother bless you with lots of Love and good health.
As a a follower of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, We fell proud for the award conferred on Sri. Manoj da and his dedicated work. Many more laurels yet to come.
I am more happy than I can express. He is our pride &most valuable asset & ornament not only of the Ashram but also of the world at large.I humbly express my gratitude to the Mother for her subtle action for a disguised divinity in his mortal session.
Simultaneously, I humbly express my congratulations to Manojda, our torch bearer on terrestrial existence.
I ardently pray to the Mother to grant him, healthy,peaceful & happy life for the welfare & suprametanlization of the world.
Pronam to the great soul Manojda.
Manoj Das is a Rishi in modern India, the award itself became greater when came to Manoj Das
Our gratitude to the Divine Mother and congratulations to Manojda,I know him since my Digboi days when he was sent to Digboi by the Mother with the foundation stone for the Matrimandir.
Government of India has taken a very very appropriate step to confer its third highest civilian award to a literary genius that Manoj Das is.
May I take this occasion to write my reminiscences of him?
Way back in 1974, Naresh, my dormitory mate in one of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s guest house New Sweet Home was his typist. I still recall a simply-dressed Manoj Das coming one afternoon on his bicycle looking for him. Naresh also told me during those days that Manoj Das was writing Sri Aurobindo’s biography.
I developed admiration for Manoj Das after reading some of his short stories in 1990s. His understanding of the subtler traits of human nature, his humour, his skill of crafting the characters of his stories, his narration of the rural environment of Odhisa in which he grew up – all came out in flawless brilliant English prose. In fact, in the introduction of one of the books of short stories, the British reviewer has regarded Manoj Das as among the greatest short story writers of English literature of all times.
Manoj-da’s sense of value and relevance of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother was such that when a new journal “Sri Aurobindo’s Action” was started during Sri Aurobindo’s birth centenary in 1972, and when the Ashram Press was not in a position to take fresh work, Manoj Das would personally travel to Chennai, probably by the government bus, spend overnight there, get the new issues printed and bring them back to Pondicherry for mailing to subscribers!
I must also mention that it was Manoj Das who, with a rare insight into the life and work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, brought to my notice while concluding a speech at Savitri Bhavan in Auroville that the day of the Mother’s final and permanent return to India and joining Sri Aurobindo, namely the 24th April 1920, was the greatest day in the history of the earth. Anyone who knows the subtler evolutionary truth of things in the light of Sri Aurobindo cannot but agree with this unusual statement. It was with the Mother’s final arrival in Pondicherry that Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary mission of a new creation on earth took off with assured success.
A few years ago, Manoj Das has also penned an extraordinary series of articles – a labour of love – in the Mother India magazine on Sri Aurobindo’s pre-Pondicherry life based on his extensive research in the various archives including government archives in London and Edinburgh which, at a certain point in time, declassified certain files. The story of his visit to England for this purpose is interesting. It runs as follow:
On reading one of Monoj Das’ articles in an Indian magazine, the then foremost Indian Industrialist late G. D. Birla was so impressed by the brilliance of his writings that he contacted Manoj Das and thanked him and also suggested that Manoj Das could contact him in case of any need. Sometime later, when Manoj Das came to know that the British government was declassifying the old files concerning early freedom Indian fighters including that of Sri Aurobindo, he requested G.D. Birla if the London office of Birla’s could get the copies of those declassified material. G.D. Birla replied that he would be glad to sponsor Manoj Das’ personal visit to England so that he can choose firsthand whatever material he required for his research.
One of the startling details I came to know from what Manoj Das obtained as a result of that Birla-sponsored visit to archives in England (and Scotland) was that the then president of America Theodore Roosevelt had requested from Indian viceroy and governor general Lord Minto a copy of Bande Mataram in which Sri Aurobindo’s articles were being published. Minto duly supplied a copy. Roosevelt, in his reply, wrote that he found the content “interesting”!
I may mention here that America had a genuine sympathy to the Indian freedom struggle and Sri Aurobindo acknowledges that in an article in Karmayogin on 31st July 1909, the last year of Roosevelt’s presidency: “the main flood of the new thought and knowledge has been diverted to America, the giant of the future, which alone of the nations has shown an active and practical sympathy and understanding of our nation.” (Ref: Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 8, p.147)
Manoj Das’ perspective sobriety and humility can be gauged in his acceptance speech in 2015 when he was awarded Auro Ratna award by the Overman Foundation. Here are his exact words:
“…well, in one part of me there is a faculty, there is some kind of a skill or whatever you say which is not of my making. I did not create it. It was there. The answer is given! And for that activity of that small parts the whole Manoj Das—why should he be honoured? This Manoj Das has quarreled with people, he has led agitations, he has been jailed also—why should the whole Manoj Das be—I mean—awarded when for a little bit or a part of him has some role to play in a creative wonder.”
I recommend readers to go through entire speech of Manoj Das as well as others during the Auro Ratna Award ceremony in 2015. This is the link. (http://overmanfoundation.org/manoj-das-receives-auro-ratna-award-2_) It is very interesting.
Personally, I’m glad and grateful that twice Monoj Das has accepted my invitation – once in August 2017 for celebrating at Hotel Ashok, Pondicherry Dr. Karan Singh’s 50+ years of service to the cause of Sri Aurobindo and, a year later, when a book on Karan Singh’s Auroville Collaboration was being released in Auroville by Kiran Bedi. The book also contains in one of its section Manoj-da’s insightful short note on Dr. Karan Singh as well as a longer article drawing upon from Karan Singh’s autobiography.
The world has been significantly enriched by your life and work, Prof. Manoj Das. Thank you. You have also offered a significant moral support, not only to Indian society but also but also to the Ashram, Auroville and Aurobindonian world.