Manoj Das: In Memoriam by Anurag Banerjee

Dear Friends,

‘Our being is still dominated by the dictates of our body, life and mind. But the innermost element of our being, the soul, is bound to emerge and take the leadership of our existence. The spirit’s role is to be established not at the cost of the so-called mundane or worldly life, but through an integral transformation of the entire life. This knowledge has quenched my thirst; what remains is to prepare oneself for that glorious metamorphosis or to be deserving of it. Probably it would lead to fruition in a future birth!’

So spoke Manoj Das during the course of an interview many years ago. And when the news of the demise of this living-legend at the age of eighty-seven was announced to the world in the evening of 27 April 2021, one realized that the world of literature and humanity as a whole became poorer overnight. For not only was he one of the finest bilingual authors of post-independence India and one of the greatest exponents of Aurobindonian philosophy but he was also one of the finest human beings one ever met.

Manoj Das was born on 27 February 1934 to Madhusudan Das and Kadambini Devi in Sankhari, a remote coastal village situated in the northern part of Balasore district of Odisha. He was the fifth and youngest child of his parents. He 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. These incidents made his young heart ponder: “What is it that sustains man through travails and torments of life? Is it the dream of happiness? Can man ever be happy in the true sense of the term?”

Manoj Das’s education began at the lower primary school in the village. Later he joined the upper primary school which was situated two kilometres away. At the age of ten, he was admitted to Class V of Biswanath Academy at Jamalpur. Towards the middle of 1947 he joined a newly established school in Jaleswarpur. When his elder brother, Manmath Nath Das (who later became an acclaimed historian and Parliamentarian) joined the Balasore Government College as a lecturer, Manoj Das was transferred to Class IX of Balasore Zilla School.

Writing came to Manoj Das spontaneously. Once, when he was asked how did he start writing, he replied: ‘To be honest, I started rather unconsciously. I wish I could locate a starting point. It came to me just as one of the means or activities of expression such as speaking, laughing, weeping, singing and playing. Similes and metaphors would get formed in my imagination when I looked at the moon or a swaying tree or the waves of the ocean even when I was in my mother’s arms, years, before I learn the alphabet. No, I am not claiming to have been gifted with any extraordinary trait: the same process could be in operation in the case of so many others. But I must claim closeness to the great Valmiki in one respect! If he was inspired to come out with the first-ever verse when agitated over the conduct of a hunter, to the best of my memory I composed my first verse, a piece of satire, out of my agitation over the conduct of our maid who would try to stop me from stealing lumps of sugar from our kitchen store. What a common factor of agitation!’

Manoj Das’s first book in Odia, Satavdira Artanada, an anthology of poems, was published when he was fourteen years of age. It was followed by a second book of poems entitled Biplavi Fakirmohan. Both the books, published by N. U. Press, saw the light of day in 1949 when he was a student of Class IX. At the age of fifteen, he launched Diganta, a cultural periodical which, in course of time, grew into a significant literary journal of Odisha. In 1951 he matriculated from the Balasore Zilla School. It was also in 1951 that Samudra Kshudha, his first collection of short stories in Odia, was published. The title story, which was the very first story authored by him, is hailed as a classic in Odia prose. Not only was the book favourably reviewed by critics in various newspapers but also earned the praise of Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, the eminent Odia author, who spoke about it in the All India Radio.

Manoj Das’s quest for some panacea for human suffering attracted him to politics. The influence of Marxist leaders like Shyam Sundar Mohapatra, Banamali Das, Sailen Mohapatra and a few sincere leaders of the undivided Communist Party of India turned his young heart to Communism. He became a regular member of the Communist Party of India when he was a student of Class XI. By the time he was in his eighteenth year, he had already made a name for himself as a youth leader. Between 1952 and 1955 he led several agitations. Also during this period he was made the President of Balasore College Union and Vice-President of the State Students Federation. His political life and activities did not eclipse the writer in him. While he was still a student and a political activist, several writings of his saw the light of day. In 1953 an anthology of his short stories in Odia entitled Jibanara Swada was published by Nabayug Granthalaya. In 1954 his Bishakanyara Kahani (a collection of short stories) and Padadhwani (an anthology of poems) were published by Puri Publishers and Nabayuga Granthalaya respectively. The same year saw him contributing to English periodicals as well.

Considering the active role Manoj Das was playing in the student movement, it was thought necessary that he should be brought to Cuttack to play an even more significant role all over the state of Odisha. In spite of being eligible, he was refused admission by Ravenshaw College. The authorities of Christ College refused to admit him despite initial willingness due to C.I.D. reports on him. However he was given admission at the Samanta Chandrashekhar College of Puri from where he graduated in 1955.

After his graduation, Manoj Das shifted to Cuttack where he joined the Madhusudan Law College to study for his L.L.B. degree. He was politically quite active during the two years he spent at this college. Such was his popularity that he was not only elected the General Secretary of the All Utkal Students Federation but also the President of the University Law College Union without any opposition both in 1956.

1955 was a landmark year in the life of Manoj Das due to two incidents. The first was the occurrence of a massive flood, better known as the ‘Dalaighai Catastrophe’, in which scores of villages were submerged and innumerable people were rendered homeless. Manoj Das plunged himself into relief work. He led a group of volunteers to various places in Jajpur area making his way through mud and corpses. His health suffered a setback due to the hardships he had to endure during the relief work. The second incident was a mass upheaval which took place as a result of the report of the States Reorganization Committee which refused to bring back the regions of Saraikala and Kharswan back to Odisha. Demonstrations were held against the State as well as the Central Government in all the towns of Odisha. Manoj Das had a played a pivotal role in this movement. During daytime he organized encirclement of government institutions and in the evenings spoke at gatherings of agitated people. Under his leadership, the All India Radio was made defunct for an entire day. It was also resolved that he would lead the encirclement of the Government Treasury but in the early hours of the day of the proposed encirclement, he was arrested by the police and locked up at the Lalbagh Police Station in Cuttack. A magistrate was brought to the police station to take Manoj Das’s statement. The policemen were apprehensive that Manoj Das’s supporters could attack their jeep and set him free so they decided to wait till night before escorting him to the prison. At noon, a young police officer came and unlocked the cabin where Manoj Das was kept. Manoj Das was asked to follow him. Manoj Das was taken to the verandah at the back of the police station where he saw almost a dozen delicious dishes laid on a well-draped table. The officer invited Manoj Das to dine with him. “So, you treat your prisoners to such luxury!” inquired Manoj Das. The officer laughed mildly and replied: “No, Manoj Babu, this is for you the writer whom my wife admires. When she heard that you were in our custody, she told the officer in charge of this police station to fetch your lunch from our house and also sent me a message to serve you personally if possible. It is my pleasure that I made it possible.’ While recalling this incident many years later, Manoj Das would confess: “How much I regret that I did not remember his name. I even doubt if I thanked him adequately.”

Manoj Das was released on bail after three weeks. Soon after his release, he organized a mammoth all-Orissa conference of students at Cuttack and to the astonishment of his colleagues, invited Dr. Harekrushna Mahtab, the Chief Minister of Odisha and a Congress leader, to grace the rally as the Chief Guest.

In 1955 at the Bandung Conference where the leaders of Asia-African countries had met and the five principles of peaceful coexistence known as the ‘Panchsheel’ were adopted, it was decided that a conference of Asian and African student leaders would be held in the following year to popularize the principles of ‘mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignity’, ‘mutual non-aggression’, ‘mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs’, ‘equality and mutual benefit’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’ among them. As India’s foreign policy was supported by the Communist Party of India, the Indian Government permitted the All India Students Federation to select a few delegates for the conference of 1956. Accordingly, Manoj Das was selected by the Federation. Thus, Manoj Das went and played an active role in the Afro-Asian Students Conference at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1956. Based on his travels in Indonesia, he wrote a travelogue in Odia entitled Indonesia Anubhuti which was published by Janashakti Pusthakalaya in 1957.

Every sincere and devoted Communist of that era looked upon Joseph Stalin as the one who could do no wrong and that he was the embodiment of all that was good. And Manoj Das was no exception. However, he received a terrible shock when Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev brought to light the atrocities committed by Stalin on his fellow-comrades as well as on the innocent people of U.S.S.R. He realized that gross material factors were solely not responsible for human sufferings and that no theory was safe against its application by ambitious and imperfect human agencies. This disillusionment, he would later recall in an interview, was only one of the factors that led him to change his attitude. In another interview he has said: “Concern for the suffering humanity was what had led me to Marxism. It is the same concern that led me to spirituality. I have no quarrel with Marxism or any political philosophy. But I stand convinced that  no ideal can deliver the desired goods as long as the human consciousness remains in the stage in which it is today. True spirituality is nothing but a science of consciousness. My “change in attitude” is in keeping with my progressive quest for the meaning of life as a whole-including the meaning of suffering.” He wondered whether truth can be known from the events on the surface. Such queries broadened the scope of his quest and he turned towards mysticism and spirituality.

Manoj Das completed the L.L.B. course but chose not to appear for the examinations as he was not inclined to become a lawyer. In 1957 he took admission in the Ravenshaw College to pursue his Master of Arts degree in English. He hardly had any interest in the text books but was reading all sorts of books with the hope to find the answer to his queries. He was gradually withdrawing from active politics but had not lost his respect for the political philosophy he believed in. He knew for certain that behind every political philosophy there was a formidable truth which, unfortunately, gets spoiled due to human imperfections. He would later recall in an interview: ‘I realised that the problem of human suffering goes beyond economics, it has been going on forever, evoking different reactions at different times. In the same predicament, different people react differently, so the answer has to lie beyond economics.’

Soon after obtaining his Master’s degree in 1959 Manoj Das married Pratijna Devi, the elder daughter of Raja Narayan Birabara Samant and Ratnamali Jema of Kujang situated in the district of Jagatsinghpur in Odisha. A meritorious student since her early years, Pratijna Devi had obtained her Master of Arts degree in Psychology from the Ravenshaw College. A former freedom fighter, Raja Narayan Birabara Samant was a leader of the Indian National Congress who went on to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly. His son, Biswambhar, however had turned towards Communism when he was still a teenager and was arrested several times. He was a friend of Manoj Das. After his marriage, Manoj Das settled down at Jobra in Cuttack where his in-laws had a house. He purchased a printing press and revived Diganta, the periodical he had started in his teens, and converted it into a successful monthly journal, ‘a forum where renowned talent mingled with the new.’ Following the invitation of Shridhar Das, a reputed author who was also a senior professor of the Christ College of Cuttack, Manoj Das joined the said college as a lecturer in 1959.

In 1961 Manoj Das and Pratijna Devi were blessed with a child. But unfortunately the child passed away within a few weeks. This tragedy made him seek and explore deeper spiritual solutions. He groped for light until he was introduced to Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine by Biswambhar Samant, his friend and brother-in-law. A study of the works of Sri Aurobindo led him to the ‘astoundingly new vision of the future of man which no religion, creed or philosophy had told earlier’. Sri Aurobindo’s portrayal of man being an evolving being and the unfoldment of certain possibilities before him cast a deep influence on Manoj Das. Through the writings of Sri Aurobindo, he recovered his faith in humanity and its future. He developed a profound reverence for Sri Aurobindo and also the curiosity to know what was happening in the Ashram of Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry.

Manoj Das was in contact with Ramakrishna Das, better known as Babaji Maharaj who played a very significant role in spreading the message and teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother all over Odisha. He wrote to Manoj Das that there was a possibility that the Mother would give Darshan on 21 February 1963 and that he should try to come for the Darshan. It is to be noted that the Mother had stopped giving Darshans after Her illness in April 1962. It so happened that Manoj Das was not very keen to visit Pondicherry due to his preoccupations in Cuttack; he had his writing assignments, he had a monthly magazine to edit and he was working as a lecturer. One day, on his way back from Christ College, he made up his mind that he would write to Babaji Maharaj informing him that it won’t be possible for him to visit Pondicherry. But then quite suddenly, he told himself: “If today I go home and see any letter from Pondicherry, I will come.” When he reached his house, he found four letters awaiting him. One of the letters was from Babaji Maharaj who had written that the Mother’s Darshan was certain and that he must come to attend it. Thus Manoj Das decided to visit Pondicherry. He reached Pondicherry on 20 February 1963 with his mother Kadambini Devi, wife Pratijna Devi, mother-in-law Ratnamali Jema and brother-in-law Biswambhar Samanta. On 21 February he had his first Darshan of the Mother which he has beautifully described in an article published on 5 April 2014 in Uday India:

‘A quiet twilight spread over the eastern part of Pondicherry… The quietness in the air was certainly unusual, for a few thousand people stood facing the terrace projected from the top floor of the main building of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, but there was no murmur, not even a whisper. The moment was approaching when the Mother would appear on the terrace to bless the gathering.

‘Though my look was focused on the terrace, my thoughts had strayed away for a while. Suddenly, I woke up with a jolt to some kind of a spectacle. Had I dozed off and was dreaming a wondrous dream? But my suspicion of my own state of mind was over in a couple of seconds. It was the Mother. I saw her for the first time.

‘But was this the same face I had seen in photographs? Certainly not! For what I saw now was not a human face. It was the very concentration of unearthly beauty, a combination of hues from a distant rainbow, the serene and tender glory of a tranquil sunset on a vast horizon — a projection of the charms of divinities drawn by gifted artists — intangible and indescribable. I could not have imagined, had I not experienced it, that a physical frame and form could contain so much — so much beauty. For a long time, I wondered if what I saw was real.

‘It took me quite some time to understand that she was, in her true self, the very source of beauty; what I experienced was a transient touch of a spark from that beauty infinite.’ 

On the following day, that is, 22 February, Manoj Das told his wife that he had never experienced such a deep spiritual atmosphere like Pondicherry and that one day, if possible, he would like to stay on in this place of spiritual peace. An ardent devotee of Lord Krishna with a deep spiritual inclination towards spirituality since her early years, Pratijna Devi said:  “If one day, then why not today?” The young couple wrote to the Mother separately seeking Her permission to join Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Both of them were formally accepted as inmates three days later on 27 February, that is, on the 29th birthday of Manoj Das.

Thus began a new life and a new journey for Manoj Das! He gave up his lectureship at the Christ College, handed over the charge of Diganta to Sochi Routroy, a famous poet of Odisha, and settled down in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for good. He taught English Literature to the students of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, a responsibility which he carried on for over fifty years. Apart from it, he also looked after — along with Pratijna Devi — a dormitory named ‘Home of Progress’ where many of the students of the Ashram School lived. Afterwards Pratijna Devi started taking classes on Psychology at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. For a number of years he had assisted K. D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran in editing Mother India, the monthly review of culture published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. From 1967 to 1968, he edited the World Union. When Sri Aurobindo’s Action was launched in July 1970, he was made the editor of its mouthpiece of the same name.

A few words about Manoj Das’s association with Sri Aurobindo’s Action should be mentioned here. As the Ashram Press was busy with the publications dealing with Sri Aurobindo’s Birth Centenary, it was decided that Sri Aurobindo’s Action would be printed at the Indian Express in Chennai. Every month Manoj Das would proceed to Chennai and lodge himself in a small hotel which was situated quite close to the Express Estate. He would get the manuscript of Sri Aurobindo’s Action composed, correct the proof-sheets, sit with the production manager and finalize the layout and make necessary additions or corrections. Once the printing was over, he used to leave a considerable number of copies with V. Subramanyam, a top executive at Higginbothams, who was always willing to help and promote any work associated with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Manoj Das would then carry the bulk of the printed copies of Sri Aurobindo’s Action in a rickshaw or in a friend’s car to the Chennai bus-stop and bring them to Pondicherry. He had told the present author that the entire cost of his monthly visits to Chennai, his boarding, lodging, transport and occasional refreshments provided to the compositors came to one hundred rupees approximately. During Manoj Das’s soujourn in England, his classes at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education were shared by Amal Kiran, Ravindra Khanna and Jagadish Khanna while Dr. Kireet Joshi edited Sri Aurobindo’s Action. Some time in 1972, Shyam Sundar Jhunjhunwala began to take an active interest in the organization of Sri Aurobindo’s Action and its mouthpiece. As his classes were claiming more of his time, Manoj Das gave up the editorship of Sri Aurobindo’s Action with the Mother’s permission in 1973.

During the course of his interactions with his students at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Manoj Das realized that most of the students knew very little about the delightful myths and legends which were associated with the premier monuments of India. Once, when the students of ‘Home of Progress’ were quarantined for a fortnight due to a bout of chicken-pox, Manoj Das utilized the holidays and wrote his first book in English, Legends of India’s Temples. He felt that the book could serve well a larger circle of interested readers so he wrote to the authorities of India Book House (one of the premier publishing institutions of India in those days) at Mumbai. This institution had launched a series for the youth under the editorship of Neera Benegal (wife of Shyam Benegal, the famous film-maker), and Manoj Das felt that his book could well fit into it. Neera Benegal was familiar with the writings of Manoj Das which used to appear in various newspapers and magazines. So, the project was welcomed by her. Thus, India Book House published Manoj Das’s Temples of India in 1970. Manoj Das’s fascination for Indian myths and his urge to share them with the youth of the country was further inspired by the encouragement he received from Neera Benegal as a result of which he penned books like Tales from Many Lands (1972), Persian Tales of Wit and Delight (1972) and Rivers of India (1975). Needless to say, all these books were published by India Book House.

In January 1971, The Illustrated Weekly of India had published Manoj Das’s The Saga of Bagha Jatin in three installments. This series drew the attention of G. D. Birla, the legendary industrialist, who wrote to Manoj Das expressing his appreciation. An epistolary exchange started between them in due course of which G. D. Birla wrote that he would be happy to be of some help to Manoj Das. Manoj Das had read in the newspapers that the second series of confidential correspondence between Lord Minto, the Governor-General of India, and Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India which took place around 1909-1910 had been unsealed and housed in the Archives of the India Office Library in London. Manoj Das felt that the correspondence must be having some reference to Sri Aurobindo. He wrote to G. D. Birla requesting him whether he could arrange for photocopies of some of the documents from the newly available bunch of files of correspondence through his office in London. G. D. Birla replied that he would be happy to bear all the expenses if Manoj Das himself undertook the work. When Manoj Das approached the Mother with G. D. Birla’s proposal, She allowed him to accept the offer. But as the date of his departure approached, he somehow felt pessimistic about the venture. He wrote to the Mother informing Her that he did not feel like traveling as he was unsure about the fruitfulness of the venture. The Mother replied back: ‘Go — with my Blessings.’ The assurance from the Mother revived Manoj Das’s spirit. He travelled to Mumbai, met G. D. Birla and flew to London where he spent a few months researching in the Archives of London and Edinburgh. Based on his research at the London Archives, he wrote Sri Aurobindo in the First Decade of the Century (published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1972) which brought to light some of the significant glimpses of India’s struggle for freedom led by Sri Aurobindo.

During the Birth Centenary of Sri Aurobindo, Sahitya Akademi proposed to publish a biography of Sri Aurobindo under its ‘Makers of Indian Literature’ series. Initially Dr. Sisir Kumar Ghose was chosen for this project but later it was given to Manoj Das who was asked to complete it within a few weeks’ time. The present author remembers that Manoj Das had told him how he had to struggle for days to think how to present Sri Aurobindo’s life and works in such a short of span of time. But one day, the bolted door of inspiration was flung open and Manoj Das began his work directly on his typewriter. Within the stipulated time period, he could complete his monograph, Sri Aurobindo, which was published by Sahitya Akademi on 15 August 1972 and released in a function in New Delhi the same day by the then President of India, V.V. Giri.

When asked once what motivated him to write, Manoj Das had replied that all his poems in Odia and his best stories both in English and Odia were written out of creative inspiration. His other works were written either out of simple creative joy or due to commitment to society while his books for the youth were written out of a ‘sense of duty towards and love for the young.’ It was his commitment towards society that prompted him to write for newspapers for he felt that he had a point of view to present. He believed that a column in a newspaper not only demanded a certain social perspective but an understanding of current issues as well. He was considered to be the very first regular freelance columnist in the world of Odia journalism. In the middle of 1960s, he was contributing features in his mother-tongue for Janashakti, Dharitri, Samaj, Sambad and Anupam Bharat. Soon he began to write for English weeklies and dailies as well. From 1968 to 1970, he contributed a weekly column in the Thought, a weekly in English, which was established by Manabendra Nath Roy, the ‘radical humanist’ leader and edited by Ram Singh. He also contributed for a brief period a column for the Milestone which was published from Hong Kong. His columns under the title of On the Tides of Time, The Banyan Tree and The Tides of Time appeared in The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and The Hindu respectively. Needless to say, his columns earned immense popularity. As his columns were deadline-oriented, he saw to it that he submitted his features on time. Whenever he travelled in a train or by air, he carried with himself a portable typewriter on which he typed his writings. Never did he fail his editors.

Manoj Das was also closely associated with Chandamama, Asia’s largest circulated children’s magazine which was published in twelve languages including Sanskrit and Braille. He helped in editing the English edition of the magazine which commanded an international circulation. He found it to be an ‘unparalleled medium for carrying light and delight for children’ and ‘an adventure par excellence.’ One day, B. Vishwanatha Reddi, the editor and publisher of Chandamama, visited Manoj Das at Pondicherry. During the course of their conversation, they discussed about the lack of any magazine in English having a mass circulation which could encourage good literature while highlighting the nation’s cultural heritage. Quite suddenly Vishwanatha Reddi asked Manoj Das that if such a monthly magazine was started, would he be willing to edit it. Manoj Das agreed. Thus took birth The Heritage in 1985 with Manoj Das as the editor. The Heritage, which Manoj Das has described as ‘the last literary-cultural English magazine in India’, published the works of veteran litterateurs like Ruskin Bond, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Bhisham Sahani and others. Not only were the contents of this magazine appreciated but so were its editorials which were penned by Manoj Das. ‘The Heritage’, wrote Manoj Das in the editorial of November 1989 issue, ‘proposed to fill up a vacuum. It was not designed to be an alternative reading prospect, but an essential complement to what was available. Within its limitations The Heritage tried to present a vision of life that was broader than politics and easy entertainments. It planned its content carefully so that each issue was a harmonious blend of significant fiction and informative as well as thought-provoking features.’ Although being rich in content, The Heritage ran on huge losses because its owners refused to publish advertisements which were of dubious nature and unfavourable to the character of the publication. So, after five years of uninterrupted publication, the magazine ended its journey in December 1989. ‘People who subscribed to it continue to preserve its copies,’ Manoj Das has recalled.

Not only was Manoj Das hailed as the foremost successful bilingual writer of India but he was also acclaimed as one of the best-loved Indian writers writing in English. But how and why did he start writing in English? ‘I did it out of provocation’, recalls Manoj Das in an interview. It so happened that one day someone brought to his notice a piece of writing in English which was acknowledged in the West as an authentic village scene. Manoj Das found it to be fake and felt that a grave injustice was being done to India by such writings. Thus he decided to write in English because being born and brought up in a village at an impressionable age, he was capable of presenting an authentic atmosphere of rural Indian life. To quote his own words from an interview: ‘I started writing in English when I felt that I could depict India more authentically than the Indians who wrote in English for foreign publications.’ In another interview published in The Times of India on 18 May 1980, we find him admitting: ‘At one stage I felt inspired to write in English because I was haunted by the feeling — if I do not sound presumptuous — that much of the Indo-Anglican fiction that claimed to project the Indian life and situation was not doing justice to its claim. Born in a village, born just before Independence and hence living through the transition at an impressionable age, I thought that I could present through English a chunk of genuine India. Well, right or wrong, one is entitled to one’s faith in oneself.’

Manoj Das used to contribute stories to a monthly magazine entitled Children’s World which was published by Shankar Pillai, the ‘doyen of India’s cartoon culture’. His stories drew the attention of K. S. Duggal, a noted writer and the chief executive of the National Book Trust, India, who proposed to publish them as a book. Manoj Das consented most willingly. Thus the book Stories of Light and Delight was published in 1970 and became a best-seller (it still continues to be so).When the National Book Trust asked for another book from Manoj Das, he suggested the theme for Books Forever which introduced the children to the great books of India’s past like the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Panchatantra, Kathasarit-sagara and Thirukkural to name a few. This book, which was published in 1973, too became immensely popular and was translated into Kannada and Bengali.

Manoj Das’s major works in Odia and English include titles like Samudrara Kshudha (1951), Jibanara Swada (1953), Bishakanyara Kahani (1954), Nandavatir Majhi (1957), Aranyaka (collection of short stories in Odia; 1961), Shesha Vasantara Chithi (collection of short stories in Odia; 1966), Upanibesha (anthology of poems; 1966), A Song for Sunday and Other Stories (1967), Short Stories of Manoj Das (1969), Temples of India (1970), Stories of Light and Delight (1970), Manoj Dasanka Katha O Kahani (short stories in Odia; 1971), Sri Aurobindo in the First Decade of the Century (1972), Sri Aurobindo (1972), Tales from Many Lands (1972), Persian Tales of Wit and Delight (1972), Dura Durantar (travelogue in Odia; 1973), Books Forever (1973), Lakshmir Abhisara (collection of short stories in Odia; 1974), The Crocodile’s Lady and Other Stories (1975), Rivers of India (1975), Abu Purusha (in Odia; 1975), Dhumrava Diganta (anthology of short stories in Odia; 1977), Fables and Fantasies for Adults (1978), Man Who Lifted the Mountain and Other Stories (1979), The Vengeance and Other Stories (1980), A Bride Inside the Casket and Other Stories (1981), Manoj Panchavimsati (collection of short stories in Odia; 1983), The Submerged Valley and Other Stories (1986), Kete Diganta (a collection of essays in two volumes), Cyclones (his first novel in English; 1987), Vinna Manisha (anthology of short stories in Odia; 1987), The Dusky Horizon and Other Stories (1989), Mystery of the Missing Cap and Other Stories (1989), Bulldozers (short stories in Odia; 1989), Bulldozers and Fables and Fantasies for Adults (1990), A Tiger at Twilight (second novel in English; 1991), The Miracle (1993), Farewell to a Ghost (1994), The Fourth Friend (1996), Legend of the Golden Valley (1996), A Strange Prophecy (1996), The Magic Tree (1996), Equal to a Thousand (1996), The Golden Deer (1996), Selected Fiction (2001), The Escapist (third novel in English; 2001), Myths, Legends, Concepts and Literary Antiquities of India (2009), Chasing the Rainbow: Growing up in an Indian Village (2009), The Lady Who Died One and A Half Times and Other Fantasies (2014), So Many Smiles (2014), Story of Krishna (2015), The Bridge in the Moonlit Night and Other Stories (2015) and Of Mystics and Miracles and Other Essays (anthology of essays; 2018). Two more books from his pen, The Hindu Reader (an introductory volume to Hinduism) and Brave Boys of the Past (a graded supplementary reader in English) were published by Federal Publications of Singapore and NCERT, Delhi, respectively in 1984. 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. Published in 2010, this volume commissioned to him by Centre for Studies in Civilization, Ministry of Education, was much appreciated for the elaborate Introduction written by him. The year 2020 witnessed the publication of his magnum opus, Sri Aurobindo: The Life and Times of the Mahayogi which was serialized in the monthly journal Mother India for several years.

Writing had been a ‘very normal function’ in Manoj Das’s life. ‘I write because I must write’, he had once remarked. His creative writings were like flowers which he offered to Indian heritage and tradition and to the people of India who ‘deserve much better writing because they have been lucky to be fed by the loftiest literary tradition’ to quote his own words. Not only was he recognized as a competent interpreter of India’s literary and spiritual heritage but he was also hailed as the best story-teller of modern times. Even while writing in English, he retained the Indianness which was his forte. Also, he remained faithful to his commitment to the spirit of literature. 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.” M. V. Kamnath, a distinguished critic who was once the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, had commented about him: ‘Manoj Das has been compared as a short story writer to Hardy, Saki and O’ Henry. The comparison is unfair. Not that Manoj Das does not know how to give his short stories surprising ending… one has only to read the lead story itself or any of the others to realise that here is a master of the art, an authentic 22 carat gold Indian writer.’ Dr. Harekrushna Mahtab, former Chief Minister of Odisha, had praised Manoj Das with the following words: ‘It is a pride to note that Manoj has earned international reputation in the field of literature. His stories and articles give an indication of spiritual feeling and experience. Manoj does not view things as we used to do from a gross and ordinary point of view. He views incidents and events from a very subtle point of view. This is the specialty and unique feature of his stories.’ Graham Greene, the famous novelist, had made the following remark about Manoj Das: ‘I have now read the stories of Manoj Das, with very great pleasure. He will certainly take a place on my shelves beside the stories of [R. K.] Narayan. I imagine Orissa is far from Malgudi but there is the same quality in his stories with perhaps an added mystery.’ Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar too had bracketed him in the art of short story with Rabindranath Tagore and Munshi Premchand.

Yet, such was Manoj Das’s humility that when asked how he felt to be addressed as the best story-teller of modern age, he had answered: ‘My feeling is a mixture of emotions and thoughts. I feel grateful; at the same time I wonder if there is any reason for me to be happy. So many factors have contributed to the making of the writer in me. Then, the élan created by a combination of all these factors has been ignited by that mysterious urge — creative inspiration. What if some of those factors were missing? What if, despite their presence, the inspiration was missing? What if an appreciative readership was not there? I wonder and there I remain!’

Manoj Das had become a household name in Odisha before he had stepped into the fourth decade of his life. For his readers outside Odisha, he was considered as one of the most serious Indo-Anglican writers. Recognition from the State and Central Government poured on him. Awards did not elate him but he did recognize their social importance. The earliest institutional award that he received was the Dagore Silver Jubilee Award in 1962 for being one of the two most outstanding short story writers (the other being Surendra Mohanty) in post-Independence Odia literature. It was his anthology of short stories, Aranyaka, which earned him this award when he was twenty-seven years of age. It is interesting to note that he had written the story of Aranyaka at a ‘transitional point’ in his own quest when he had lost all faith in political and philosophical doctrines. The story was inspired by a disenchantment with and contempt for man. Yet, the same book earned him the Odisha Sahitya Akademi Award for fiction in 1965.

In 1971 Manoj Das received the Prajatantra Visubh Milan Award for his short stories. India’s national recognition for creative writing, the Sahitya Akademi Award, came to him in 1972 and was followed by the Sarala Award in 1980 and the Prajatantra Visubh Grand Award in 1986. He was presented with the Odisha Sahitya Akademi Award for the second time in 1989 for his anthology of essays, Kete Diganta. Odisha’s most prestigious award, the Sahitya Bharati Samman, began with him in 1994 and in the following year he was bestowed with the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad Puraskar (Kolkata). He was the first author to receive the annual Sri Aurobindo Puraskar (English) instituted by the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan (the birthplace of Sri Aurobindo, supported by the West Bengal Government) to mark the 125th Birth Anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, for his pioneering research-work, Sri Aurobindo in the First Decade of the Century. In 1998 the Book-Sellers and Publishers Association of South India chose him for their BAPASI Award as the best English writer of the year in the South. He was also a recipient of Rotary’s ‘For the Sake of Honour’. The Saraswati Samman, India’s most prestigious award for creative writing, came to him in 2000. In 2001 he was conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, by the President of India. While the Utkal Sahitya Samaj, Odisha’s oldest and hallowed literary organization decorated him with the title Utkal Ratna in 2007, the Sahitya Akademi bestowed on him its highest honour, Fellowship, ‘reserved for the immortals in literature.’ The Odisha Sahitya Akademi also bestowed on him its highest honour, the Atibadi Jagannath Das Samman. In May 2013 he received the NTR National Literary Award conferred by the NTR Vigyan Trust, Hyderabad, as an outstanding Indian writer. 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. In 2019 he received the Nilimarani Award at the 16th Kadambini literary festival organised by Kadambini media. In January 2020, he was conferred with the Padma Bhushan for his contribution in the field of literature and education. Next month he was honored with the Mystic Kalinga Literary Award at Bhubaneswar.

While the Berhampur University made Manoj Das its honorary Professor Emeritus of Culture, the Utkal University of Culture chose him alone to be conferred with D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) in its very first convocation. He was also awarded with honorary D.Litt by Fakir Mohan University of Baleswar, North Odisha University of Baripada and his alma mater, the Ravenshaw University.

From 1981 to 1985 Manoj Das was the author-consultant to the Ministry of Education, Government of Singapore, visiting the island nation twice a year for taking classes of a hundred teachers under Ethical Studies Programme. He was the leader of the Indian Writers’ Delegation to China in 2000.

Although Manoj Das called himself as a ‘reluctant speaker’ his oratory skills had captivated many a heart. He gave numerous talks under schemes such as the UGC-sponsored Extension Lectures at different universities or literary, educational or spiritual fora in India and abroad. He was selected 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. A documentary film was produced by the Sahitya Akademi on him during his lifetime. Let’s also not forget that he was one of those rare authors on whom maximum number of scholars had done their doctoral theses in Odia and English. In other words, Manoj Das had become a legend in his lifetime.

Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry and the Registrar of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, had remarked about Manoj Das on 15 November 2015 when the latter was presented with the ‘Auro Ratna Award’ by Overman Foundation:

‘The only thing I can say is that to me Manoj-da represents what in Bengali we say a true bhadralok — a true gentleman. In this long sixty years of my association with him, he has been an epitome of really a bhadralok. And that bhadralok was not something artificial. It is spontaneously like a flower that blooms; it was his swadharma, his very nature. But I must tell that this bhadralok does not represent any weakness; on the contrary, Manoj-da — those who have come very close will know — he is a man of strong will and great determination. But what struck me most was that even when he had to, say, protest against what we considered was something not right on the part of higher authorities, his language was always very, very polite but the truth he never diluted. And off late what I have really admired that even when he has to say something against or castigate those who are indulging in what I may say nefarious activities against the Ashram, his language was very firm but polite. So as I told you, to me, Manoj-da is really an epitome of bhadralok. And I am yet to find another in the Ashram. They are very rare. They are rare in the world but they are very rare in the Ashram — a true bhadralok.’

Indeed so for Manoj Das never hesitated to voice his protest and take a strong stand if he saw any injustice being done to anyone. While he was a member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (1992-1994), he protested politely but firmly when a student of the Ashram School was expelled as his admission went against the rules of the Department of Physical Education. When his appeals for the child’s reinstatement went in vain, he resigned from his trusteeship as a mark of protest. Similarly, when in 2014, it was brought to his notice that the company, which was publishing two Odia monthlies which he was associated with as an advisor and contributor of articles, was involved in a mega chit fund scam, he donated all the money (Rs. 10.50 lakhs) he had received from it as an honorarium to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. He was a rare soul whom neither power nor money could tempt and his integrity was unquestionable.

A study of Manoj Das’s published works would reveal that though he has written poetry and prose with equal ease, translations are missing from his curriculam vitae. In an interview he had once confessed that he did try to translate a story of a veteran Odia writer into English, but in the course of doing so, he found that he was recreating the story in his own way. ‘Howsoever I tried to be faithful to the original; my creative zeal would not let me do it. I gave up in despair. Indeed, translation is a discipline one must practise with dedication’, he admitted candidly. Translation is a difficult task, for according to him: ‘…so far as translation is concerned, the translator must be imaginative enough to locate the right word, the right simile or metaphor, the right phrase and idiom in the language into which he is translating, to convey as exactly as possible the motive of the original writer. This is not an easy task. Mere scholarship or a dependable knowledge of both the languages is not enough. The translator must have the power of empathy, of identifying himself with the original author to a great extent. I feel that a highly successful translator was a potential creative writer, who had chosen the mission of presenting the worthy stuff of another language in his own language.’ But a few years ago he took up the challenging task of translating Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri into Odia.

The present author had seen Manoj Das for the first time when the latter had visited the Future Foundation School (of which the former was a student) at Kolkata sometime in the mid-1990s but no interaction had taken place between them. When the present author became a regular visitor to Pondicherry from 2007, he would meet Manoj Das in the streets of Pondicherry — when the latter would be on his way to ‘Knowledge’, the sea-facing building where he taught English Literature to the students of the Higher Course of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education — or in the Ashram main building which he visited during the early hours of the day and in the evening and sometimes at the Ashram Library where the present author spent long hours. It was only in February 2014 that the present author was formally introduced to Manoj Das at his residence by Partha Sarathi Bose, the Principal of Sri Aurobindo Bal Mandir, a reputed pre-primary school situated in South Kolkata. Both Manoj Das and Partha Sarathi Bose were members of the Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre Trust which ran the said school. When the present author was ushered into the august presence of Manoj Das and introduced by Partha Sarathi Bose, Manoj Das replied: “I am not only aware of his name but also of his fame.” He informed the present author that he was working on a book on Sri Aurobindo and how benefitted he had been by Sri Aurobindo: His Political Life and Activities, a compilation of Government documents concerning the political career of Sri Aurobindo which the present author had compiled and edited. He also asked that in case any other documents were available at the Archives of Overman Foundation related to Sri Aurobindo’s political life, he would be much obliged if he was allowed to have access to them. The present author assured him that as soon as he would return to Kolkata, he would send photocopies of all the remaining unpublished documents to the latter. (And he did so.) In this very first meeting, Manoj Das had touched such a tender chord in the heart of the present author that the seeds of an intimate relationship were sown instantaneously. Soon, the present author became a regular visitor to the house of Manoj Das. Despite his busy schedule, Manoj Das always found time to answer the queries of a young seeker with patience and affection. He would regale us with stories of the Ashram of the yesteryears, his memorable contacts with the Mother and the senior inmates of the Ashram. One never went back from him empty-handed; every time one visited him, he would give certain insights which were capable of transforming one’s thought-process and outlook towards life. One would take leave of him with an enriched inner being.

When in May 2015, the present author was inducted into the trust-board of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre, Manoj Das welcomed him with the warmth of a father. In April 2018, Manoj Das joined the Overman Foundation as a Board Member along with Padma Shri Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee of Paris and Prof. Supriyo Bhattacharya.

The most salient trait of Manoj Das’s personality was his humility and lack of ego. It is said: vidya dadati vinayam — true knowledge gives humility and Manoj Das was the living example of this statement. Whenever one visited his house at Pondicherry or contacted him over the phone, he would respond with such warmth that one easily felt at ease while conversing with him. He was always like a concerned father and a supportive friend. Above all, he was a genuine well-wisher. The present author remembers how Manoj Das had helped him to plan a seminar on the Arya (which unfortunately did not materialize) in 2014. He also recalls fondly how Manoj Das would inquire where the present author would be dining during his stay at Pondicherry as he knew that he did not take his meals at the Ashram Dining Room. He had once told the present author: “Had Pratijna been physically well today, I would have asked you to have your meals with us.” At that time Pratijna Devi was almost bedridden. Afterwards when her health further deteriorated she was admitted to the Ashram Nursing Home. Every day at 5 p.m. sharp, Manoj Das would reach the Nursing Home, take a seat by the side of his ailing wife, hold her hand and sit quietly. His eyes would be closed most of the time — it seemed as if he was in a meditative state. No verbal communication took place between them but it was evident that much was conveyed through silence. It was a sight worth beholding! After her demise, when an obituary of her written by the present author was published in the website of Overman Foundation, Manoj Das had sent the following email on 7 October 2018:

Dear Anurag Babu,

    Greetings from Pondicherry.

    I am deeply and gratefully touched by your write-up on Pratijna. All I can say is, this was indeed noble of you. 

    With best wishes and warm regards,

                                                                    Manoj da

The only time the present author had seen Manoj Das’s eyes go moist was in November 2018 at the latter’s residence in Pondicherry when he was talking of his companion of fifty-nine years.

Manoj Das and Pratijna Devi.

As already mentioned, Manoj Das was genuinely concerned about the well-being of his friends and acquaintances. In November 2015 Tamil Nadu had witnessed the severest of rainfalls in recent times which lasted for many days without a pause. As a result of this torrential downpour all trains to and from Pondicherry were cancelled. The present author could somehow manage to secure the only seat available in a Chennai-to-Kolkata flight to return home. While he was on his way to the Chennai airport from Pondicherry, Manoj Das called him up to inquire how he was planning to return to Kolkata considering the weather condition. His voice revealed that he was quite tensed. When he was informed that the present author was already on his way to the airport and would be boarding the flight within the next few hours, he was much relieved and said: “I should have known that a smart person like you would certainly arrange for something.” At the same time he asked the author to inform him that he had reached home safely.

When the present author’s mother was diagnosed with last stage of cancer in September 2016, Manoj Das (who had met her in the previous month at the office of Overman Foundation) phoned the author to inquire about the state of her health. A month later, when she passed away, Manoj Das not only called up the present author’s wife (whom he lovingly addressed as ‘Bouma’) to convey his condolences but also talked with the author from time-to-time to offer solace to his burning heart.

The present author is yet to see a person as helpful as Manoj Das. Whenever any help or guidance was required by him, Manoj Das was ready to help. It was due to his efforts that Overman Foundation received a pair of the Mother’s sandals on 17 September 2016 from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. Whether a message for a special occasion or programme, revising a research paper for publication, contributing a foreword to a book or conveying important messages to senior members of the Ashram community or the Trust Board of Sri Aurobindo Ashram — Manoj Das was always ready to oblige. Even when he was physically tired after a hectic day, he would be the most gracious host when guests paid him a visit. The following incident would throw much light on his nature. On 27 February 2020, at 9.30 a.m. the present author had paid a visit to Manoj Das’s residence at Pondicherry to convey his greetings on the occasion of the latter’s birthday. But he was informed that Manoj Das had gone to the Ashram main building to visit Sri Aurobindo’s room (on birthdays, inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and devotees are allowed to visit the apartments of Sri Aurobindo to offer their prayers). The author handed over the gift and box of sweets he had brought for Manoj Das to Anup Kishore Das, his close associate, and said that he would pay a visit sometime later. At 7.30 p.m. when the author visited Manoj Das’s residence again, he found that there were five or six people in the drawing room who had come to convey their greetings to Manoj Das. As usual, Manoj Das received the author with his warm smile and expression of great delight. But the author could observe that Manoj Das was very tired. The other guests left within a short time. Now that the present author was alone with Manoj Das, he conveyed his greetings, made his obeisance and said that he would take leave of him now. Manoj Das was visibly surprised. “Won’t you stay for some more time?” he asked. “I can very well see how terribly fatigued you are. I can guess how hectic the day had been for you. So I would not like to cause any more strain on you. Please take rest, I will come again.” Manoj Das gave a most benevolent smile and said: “Anurag Babu, the presence of certain persons removes all fatigue. You are one of them.” The present author was moved to his depths but he requested Manoj Das to retire for the day. “Won’t you have some sweets? Here, this is my favourite sweet sent from Odisha for my birthday”, he said. As the author took the sweet and bid him adieu, he could not stop wondering how someone of Manoj Das’s stature could be so humble. There was no air of superiority around him. To be in his company was like sitting under the shade of a huge tree whose branches were every ready to protect you. Such was Manoj Das! 

The present author met Manoj Das for the last time on 3 March 2020 at his residence a few hours before he left for Kolkata. They would remain in touch with one another through emails and telephone-calls. When Overman Foundation started to offer relief services in South Kolkata during the lockdown, Manoj Das donated a considerable sum of money as his ‘spontaneous appreciation of the work’ to quote from an email he had sent on 5 May 2020.

On 7 July 2020 Manoj Das wrote to the present author informing him that for the past several weeks he was not keeping well, ‘a condition not unexpected at my age. Apart from carrying on a few indispensable works on hand I am just dull for any thing else.’ A few days later, news came that Manoj Das had been admitted to the Ashram Nursing Home due to old-age related complications. From Biswajit Gangopadhyay, the Managing Member of Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata, whom Manoj Das loved as a son, and Anup Kishore Das, the present author would get updates on his health. Sometime later, the author was informed that Manoj Das had fractured his right wrist. On 17 September 2020, news arrived that Manoj Das had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Around fifteen years ago, he was diagnosed with this dreaded disease but due to effective treatment, he was able to vanquish it. But there had been a relapse.

After undergoing treatment under the supervision of Dr. Ashok Kumar Das at the Ashram Nursing Home for three months, Manoj Das was shifted to the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) at Pondicherry in the evening of 16 December 2020. A team of four doctors led by Dr. Biswajit Das, the head of Oncology Department, supervised his treatment. Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, had spoken to Dr. Ashok Kumar Das and assured of every possible help for Manoj Das’s treatment. Following a directive from the Chief Minister of Odisha, Dr. Biranchi Narayan Mohapatra, the Dean of Jagannath Medical College and Hospital in Puri, visited Manoj Das at the Ashram Nursing Home and also discussed with the four-member medical team of JIPMER about the nature of his treatment.

On 27 February 2021, on the occasion of Manoj Das’s 87th birthday, the present author wrote to him conveying his birthday greetings. He expressed how he wished he could be at Pondicherry to greet Manoj Das personally as he had done in the past and that he had the opportunity to serve him personally. He also requested to be informed if any service from his end could be rendered for Manoj Das. On 1 March 2021, Manoj Das sent the following message through Whatsapp: ‘Dear Anurag Babu, Your humility is exemplary. Thank you so much. With my best wishes, Manoj da.’

This was Manoj Das’s last communication to the author.

In spite of his failing health, Manoj Das’s attention was devoted to the translation of Savitri into Odia. He worked on it whenever his health permitted. He had almost put the seal of completion to it when on Tuesday, 27 April 2021, at 8.15 in the evening, Manoj Das left his physical body in the Ashram Nursing Home. His last words were: “Still seven more lines remains to be translated.” On the next day, when his mortal remains were being taken for the funeral, several people standing on both sides of the road by maintaining social distance bid him goodbye in silent prayer. He was taken to the Karuvadikuppam cremation ground where he was cremated with full state honours.

With the demise of Manoj Das, we have lost a guide, a father-figure to whom we could look up to for advice and guidance. While his pen has enriched Odia and English literature, he has shown how to be noble, generous, humble, surrender unconditionally and to have an unquestionable faith in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Let’s not forget what Manoj Das had told to a daughter of his friend when she had gone to meet him in the Nursing Home in December 2020: “Don’t cry, surrender to the Mother.” His physical absence would be terribly missed but he would continue to live in his writings and communicate with us through them. Nothing can take him away from us for he had and would always have a permanent seat in our heart.

Thank you, Manoj-da, for being what you were!

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

Manoj Das (centre) in London with two of his friends.
Manoj Das and Surendranath Jauhar.
Manoj Das with Anjani Dayanand and her husband Dayanand Jamalabad at Chennai in the 1960s.
Manoj Das and Dr. Mulk Raj Anand.
Manoj Das with his friend Deven Nair, Former President of the Republic of Singapore.
Manoj Das and Sonia Dyne, scholar and erstwhile President of Sri Aurobindo Centre, Singapore.
Manoj Das with Devendra Satpathy, Member of Parliament and husband of Nandini Satpathy, the former Chief Minister of Odisha.
Manoj Das with Swami Siva Chidananda at Haridwar during the Birth Centenary celebrations of Swami Chidananda.
Manoj Das and Biju Patnaik, the former Chief Minister of Odisha.
Manoj Das with Ravindra-ji of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.
Manoj Das with Ramakrishna Das alias Babaji Maharaj of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.
Manoj Das presenting the Sahitya Bharati Samman to Brajanath Rath, the famous Odia poet.
Manoj Das with Sunanda Patnaik, the famous classical singer.
Manoj Das as the Leader of Indian Writers’ Delegation to China in 2000.
Manoj Das receiving the Sahitya Akademi’s highest honour, Fellowship, from the President of the Academi at Bhubaneswar in 2000.
Manoj Das receiving the Saraswati Samman from Lal Krishna Advani, May 2001. Also seen in this photograph: Krishna Kumar Birla.
Manoj Das at the Fakir Mohan College, Balasore, 2004.
Manoj Das as the Keynote Speaker at the UGC sponsored seminar on Sri Aurobindo and the Future of Man, January 2005.
Manoj Das with Navin Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha at the Golden Jubilee function of Sahitya Akademi, 2007.
Manoj Das and Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, releasing a souvenier of Odisha Sahitya Akademi.
Manoj Das receiving the citation from Gopabandhu Patnaik, President, Lucknow Odia Samaj.
Manoj Das at Abu Dhabi.
Same as above.
At the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata, the birth-place of Sri Aurobindo.
Manoj Das with Mata Amritanandamayi receiving the Amrita Keerti National Award, October 2013.
Same as above.
Manoj Das with Anurag Banerjee and Partha Sarathi Bose at his residence in Pondicherry.
Same as above.

The following photographs were taken on 15 November 2015 when Manoj Das was presented with the ‘Auro Ratna Award’ by Overman Foundation. Also seen with Manoj Das: Manoj Das Gupta, Dr. Dilip Dutta, P. Raja and Anurag Banerjee.

The following photographs were taken on 18 August 2016 when Manoj Das had visited Overman Foundation:

The following photographs were taken on 17 September 2016 when Overman Foundation had received the Mother’s sandals from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry:

The following photographs were taken on 25 November 2018 when Dr. Aster Patel was presented with the ‘Auro Ratna Award’. Also seen in these photographs with Manoj Das are: Manoj Das Gupta, Dr. Aster Patel, Aryadeep S. Acharya and Anurag Banerjee.

The following photographs were taken on 22 December 2019 when Dr. A. S. Dalal was presented with the ‘Auro Ratna Award’. Also seen in the photographs with Manoj Das: Manoj Das Gupta, Dr. A. S. Dalal, Dr. Dilip Dutta, Dr. Salila, Sushil Patel and Anurag Banerjee.

Manoj Das in the Ashram Nursing Home.

93 Replies to “Manoj Das: In Memoriam by Anurag Banerjee

  1. In Memoriam

    In the passing away of our dearly beloved and much venerated Professor Manoj Das on 27th April the nation has suffered a great irreparable loss — it is also on a personal level — as we were fortunate enough to be guided and taught English literature and Philosophy by him at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education — SAICE — an oasis of excellence — Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry. But “Manoj Da” as we all addressed him fondly with much affectionate regards, was much more and much more so on the national and international scene as a “Man of Letters” of supernal degree and beauty. He strode for decades the literary and cultural scene of the country like a Colossus.

    He was an iconic and revered figure in Odisha as a literary giant in Odia language like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali. He wrote charmingly with equal ease in English language as well. He was, indeed, a prolific writer and a many sided literary genius — whatever he touched upon, it turned into gold. His short stories and other works are closely connected and related with the common people and the rustic and social ambiance of villages of Odisha. His deeply rooted sense and sensibilities of the environment where he grew up, were brought into vibrant play in his luminous writings of diverse genres. However, from the year 1963 when he joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram as an ardent disciple of Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, his life has been one long saga of ceaseless worship drenched with devotional fervour for Sri Aurobindo and the Divine Mother. For the person of his insightful stature there was no difference between work and worship. He was an integrated personality and his entire life was centered around the Divine Personalities whom he adored — finally — he was a brilliant expositor of Sri Aurobindo’s Vision of Divine Life and His integral yoga. He wrote extensively about this with well researched acumen and meticulously documented facts, he was one of the finest exponents of the philosophy of divine life as enshrined in Sri Aurobindo’s works and the Divine Mother’s writings.

    “Manoj Da” always exuded welcoming smile and radiated touching simplicity and unassuming gentleness. He was bestowed upon “Padma Shri” which was followed by richly deserved “Padma Bhushan” and the award from prestigious “Sahitya Akademi Award” further embellished his literary contribution of massive dimension, but then he was a beyond all rewards and awards.
    I will always continue to cherish the fragrant memories of my long association with “Manoj Da”, we used to meet at the International “World Book Fair” in the Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. During one of my visits, I was fortunate recipient of a loving gift beautifully autographed book from his hand, it was his latest publication of the award winning book of the selected ‘short stories’.

    Salutation to Lord Sri Aurobindo and the Divine Mother
    Surendra S. Chouhan, SAICE ’69.

    1. An apt tribute to a great Teacher and a Gentle Man.
      I was fortunate to have been in the first batch of Manoj Da’s students when he joined SAICE.
      RIP , Sir.

    2. Scholars of his stature are diminishing at a fast pace and his departure is undoubtedly a substantial loss to the world of literature.

  2. A wonderful memoriam. It’s very comprehensive and well drafted. Thank you Anurag for this write up.

  3. Thank you very much dear Anurag. Well written, insightful and rich in historical details, the tribute will stand the test of time.

    Sachidananda Mohanty

  4. During my graduation days I was as eager to read ‘The Heritage’ as the ‘Scientific American’ may be because the vibrations in both the cases corresponded with something within myself. I felt a shock to know that owing to financial crises ‘The Heritage’ would be discontinued. I took care to receive its last published copy which I preserve till date. And it was really a joy to know that the same spirit was going to take a ‘rebirth’ in the form of an extraordinary Odia magazine ‘Sachitra Vijaya’ with Sri Manoj Das behind its publication.

    The literary skills of Manoj Das received an enlightening transformation with the blessings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother which enabled him to create his own style of illuminated literature, quite rare of its kind in the modern world. Of course it had its limitations, but may be that was what was destined for him, and not beyond. His illuminated yet convincing humility continues to inspire us, and his creations preserve his vibrations.

  5. Dear Anurag,
    Turning the stone image of Manoj Das as he already belongs to History,
    you have started a host of wings as witnesses of the person he was.
    We were friends, neighbours, sharing affinities since his first coming to
    the Ashram: still editor of his literary review “Diganta” (Horizon), he sat with me sat on the beach road watching the Sun rise. I shall never forget the renewed emotion with which he welcomed that natural manifestation of Light. Attentive to my grandfather’s contribution as Sri Aurobindo’s “right-hand man” and admiring my father’s affection, Manoj-bâbu, Pratijnâ Devi and her brother Bishvambhar introduced me to their circle of family and friends. I was fortunate to receive the kind encouragement from his elder brother, the illustrious historian Manmathanath Das. Thanks to them, I could appreciate the friendship of the Satpathy family: Devendra bâbu, Nandini Devi and her sister Chandrikâ (student of Professor Nirmalkumar Bose). Invited to write for his “Heritage”, I was surprised to see Manoj bâbu drop in one afternoon with a bundle of newspaper containing bank notes for one thousand rupees.
    Let him enjoy his heaven of unruffled Joy.

  6. Excellent obituary, Anurag. Superb photos and for those like me who didn’t know much about Manoj Das apart from his illustrious literary achievements, your write up is illuminating.
    Thank you so much.

    Continue with your good work

  7. Dear Anurag – ” In Memoriam ” is just magniifcent .. you have wonderfully covered all the aspects of the many sided life of ‘ Dear Manoj Das’ beautifully – well attended with memorable photographs –
    Surendra s chouhan SAICE ’69

  8. Thanks a lot for sharing.

    ॐ आनन्दमयि, चैतन्यमयि, सत्यमयि, परमें !!

    1. End of a great Era.
      Prof Manoj Dash will forever be imprinted in our hearts, through his charming persona, majestic Literary Skills, impactful mesmerizing depth of stories or write-ups.
      May the Divine Mother protect her beloved child on his onward journey in the subtle world.

  9. Prof Das was a wonderful human being, amazing author, enviable raconteur💐
    He will be deeply missed by the lovers of his word and fans of his demeanour.

  10. Most beautiful description. Though it will be very less what ever is spoken about him but lot of things of his entire life has been presented in this write up. Thank you Anurag da.

  11. End of a great Era.
    Prof Manoj Dash will forever be imprinted in our hearts, through his charming persona, majestic Literary Skills, impactful mesmerizing depth of stories or write-ups.
    May the Divine Mother protect her beloved child on his onward journey in the subtle world.Sri Arvind Sarnam Mamah

  12. Will be missed dearly a big hole in our life who were in his class may he rest in peace in their Arms

  13. Prayers for the departed soul! A Blessed Soul who will lie peacefully in Mother’s lap! A great teacher who will be cherished forever….

  14. So sorry to hear of Manoj Das’ passing. He was truly one of the great ones! May he rest well and then return to us soon, for the world needs souls such as his.

  15. So sad – he will be greatly missed, his memories cherished by thousands of students and readers.

  16. Saddened by his sudden demise. An amazing person and a gem of a teacher! You will always be missed.

  17. A remarkable person we were fortunate to meet We pray ManojDa’s soul rest at The Lotus Feet Of The Mother

  18. Remarkable and incomparable as a literary figure, a sadhak, a teacher and a giant of a personality. May his onward journey be full of peace.

  19. Dear dear Manojda,
    Wonderful personality, a teacher who made a great difference in all our lives

  20. May he rest in peace. ..
    He was a great teacher and a great soul…
    Shall always remember him as one of my best teacher in Knowledge…

  21. A luminous soul – he was my teacher in the Higher Course. He was very gentle, humble, kind, encouraging, and ever smiling. He taught me most by being a role model. He will be missed. Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih!

  22. Great odisha is proud of you. He gyani, guni, sahityika Amara pranam swikara karantu…You were great, every household of odisha is remembering with veneration, your dedication to sahitya

  23. We used to meet Shri Manoj Das often at Pondy. We had good acquaintance with him.
    Quite a learned and dedicated Sadhak.Pray for peace to his Soul.
    Om Shanti.
    Prof SVVaishnav
    Vallabh Vidyanagar
    Gujarat

  24. A great writer both in Odia and English, earned accolades transcending national boundaries, the sad demise of Manoj Das has created a great vacuum which will not be filled up in the decades to come . May his great soul rest in peace. Jai Jagannath.

  25. MY PRANAMS TO A TRUE BEARER OF KNOWLEDGE — RIP my teacher — my dear Padma Bhushan Manoj DAS

    My sincere pranams at your feet my dearest Manoj Da as you continue your beautiful journey towards the Lord. Your compassion, your humility, your deep knowledge and your psychological support to my family will never be forgotten – it has touched us deeply. So many wonderful memories with you from childhood to adulthood from Singapore to Pondicherry.

    I can’t forget that in college I never attended your individual classes on the “Essays on the Gita” seriously & regularly. And I know you sat there all alone waiting for me to arrive. But disrespectfully I bunked. And the next time you saw me you said nothing but gave me a sweet smile as if to say there is a next time. Ufff what a regret. But this taught me. Taught me that its what you do with your life that matters. It’s your own responsibility, and no one else’s that finally takes your life forward. I realised soon you are a rare and special human being and one of the few I have genuinely looked up to.

    I found something that I jotted down 3 years ago when I had a “chance meeting” with you:
    Oct 5th 2017,
    Just felt like telling you this:
    I was walking back home and passing the beautiful “Golconda” building on Rue Dupuy in Pondicherry when i happened to bump into Manoj Das. In spite of regularly meeting and greeting him often from a distance in passing, today’s meeting was special. We communicated – about his books and my movies and about adaptations of books into movies. Soon he invited me to his humble abode (which I remember used to light up with joy during his wife Pratigna dis generous annual Janmashthami celebrations — such lovely times). Manoj Da showed me his enormous body of works. Dug up 5 of his novels / collections, and began personalising them for me. As he did – the obvious struck me: A man of such humility, knowledge and greatness — so many of them amongst us in the environment of our precious ashram and also so accessible — so much we could learn from them and yet “closer to church, further from god” is often our attitude. As he continued signing his works for me including “The Bridge in the Moonlight Night and other selected works” I told him: “Manoj da what a chance to have met you today” to which he quoted:
    “CHANCE IS PERHAPS THE PSEUDONYM OF GOD WHEN HE DOES NOT WANT TO SIGN”
    Manoj Das as most of you must already know is a Sahitya Academy Award winner and a recipient of both the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan but of course much much more than that. We have been so fortunate to have been close to this rare human gem.

  26. His departure has created a void in Indian literature & he belonged to Republic of letters & a perfect gentleman to the core. His works have transcended boundaries & his glorious journey in the field of literature ends I am really saddened by his untimely loss but his writings will inspire Gen Next writers & they will lead a glorious paths & follow him to give a perfect tribute to Manoj Ji. I pray Almighty stands with the bereaved family & wish Lord keeps his soul in Heaven. RIP.

  27. A JEWEL OF THE LITERARY WORLD PASSED AWAY IN SILENT PRAYER TO RISHI AUROBINDO.MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE.

  28. I am deeply sad and shocked.
    My condolences.
    My tribute from the depths of my heart.
    Om peace! peace! peace!

  29. A legendary person of our time who proved himself as a Great scholar, writer, orator.He was a strong believer of Auro philosophy. Odisha lost his great son particularly in the field of literature.
    Om shanti.

  30. Prof. Manoj Das – a legendary writer and an iconic disciple of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo left his body today.
    Personally I am immensely benefited from his simple but powerful writings especially in stories form about many deeper issues.
    Let his journey in the subtle worlds be guided and protected by the Mother.

  31. Sad to learn of his demise this morning.
    A gentle, profound person he was.
    Remember I gatecrashed into his home in Rue Dupuy sometime in August 2005

  32. We had not seen Vyas Dev , Balmiki,Vishnu Sharma but fortunate to be living in times of Manoj Das. I offer my heartfelt tributes to the seeker ,saint, litterateur, philosopher.

    1. An apt description of the powerful vibes of an immortal soul that will continue guiding Humanity for all times to come.

  33. Reading from two or three days with my 9 year old son Shri Manoj Das’s Legends of India’s Rivers. A beautiful book – evokes a wonderful feeling.
    He was a very warm person. Simple at heart. And a scholar too.

  34. I liked his writings. I have some books authored by him. I liked his story “Sita’s marriage” the most. I had in my plan to meet him personally in my next visit to Ashram, but alas! May his soul rest in peace.

  35. Manoj Das is a Legend. He sacrifices life to be a seeker. His Spiritual Essence is outstanding. Sri Aurobindo and his Philosophy was made famous amongst people through his speeches and writings..
    Every writer must have Spiritual Inspiration.
    Writings be more appropriate, inspiring and motivating if guided by true spirituality for welfare of humanity.
    Manoj Das will be remembered for good to have inspired us all in this manner.

  36. Too good & informative. Such a Great Soul. so simple n humble.. A true Legend.. Thanks for sharing..

  37. Manoj Das was the greatest legendary figure in Odia literature.He was a raconteur , a trendsetter as well as a versatile genius inspiring millions and trillions of people all over the world through his powerful pen.
    He was an illustrious luminary whose demise has left a great void that can never be filled in.
    May God Redeem His Departed Soul!

  38. Padmabhusan professor Manoj Das was a versatile genius, his powerful compositions have won the hearts of millions of readers, he was fully dedicated himself for the richness of literature and focused on the social values ,religious values and human values, he had tried his best to present good divine information through most of his writings, by strengthening the growth of Odia literature in a superb manner to reach the pinnacle of success, he was not working for reputation but he had devoted quality time to enliven his inborn passion for writings for the welfare of the society, his every creation inculcated the sense of the human values and brought satisfaction to the readers, his demise was irreparable loss to the world literature, as man is mortal, his body is perishable unlike physical body but his virtuous deeds will remain alive for ever, so far human civilisation is intact ,he will be remembered among all categories of people for his outstanding contributions for both Odia and English literature.

  39. Pranam to the great soul. You will always be loved, respected and remembered through your beautiful speeches, novels, articles, short stories and philosophies. What a great personality!!! Tears are coming down automatically to say goodbye to “Mahatma”. Always bless us from the top Sir Manoj Das.

  40. A legend of Orissa Manoj Das . His loss is a great loss to the literary world. Orissa lost one of it’s great sons

  41. Manoj Das will stay through his works of literature always in every reader’s consciousness. Shraddhanjali to the great soul.

  42. Manoj Das will remain in hearts of every individual. He is the living example of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo ‘s work

  43. A divine soul finally found its resting place in the Divine Mother’s domain.
    A nostalgic love, reverence and homage to my most favourite orator, philosopher and storyteller of contemporary World of literary and intellectual creativity.
    Alas ! Another Fakir Mohan departed……..

  44. The spark in his eyes ,the happiness on his face and solemnity in his voice are second to none.. Person like him comes once in a lifetime…He took a part of our lives with him… Chira namashya odisha mati ra baraputra.

  45. Great Many thanks for this high degree reading material, from your august Foundation; which up-lifts consciousness to still higher levels 🙏🌸🌸🌸
    ॐ आनन्दमयि, चैतन्यमयि, सत्यमयि, परमें !! 🙏🙏🙏🌹🌹

  46. Dear Anurag,
    What a wonderful obituary, warm and sincere! It should be published as a monograph. Many thanks for this.
    Goutam Ghosal

  47. Dear Anuragji, Wonderfully written article about Sir. He will always remain in our heart; his writings will always guide us in the hour of our inner need. Very fortunate to have met him in person & spent some precious moments with him in 2019 that remain perennially entrenched in memory.

  48. A very comprehensive and touching memoriam expressing the love and respect for the legendary figure, Manoj Das ji!
    Thanks a lot Anurag Banerjee ji for sharing your beautiful thoughts and for presenting the contributions of Manoj Das ji for the betterment of humanity.

    Regards
    Giti Tyagi
    Editor, International Author, Poetess

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