Dr. Gayatribala Panda needs no introduction in Odia literature. She has carved a niche for herself as an Odia poet, fiction writer, literary critic and journalist. She is also the recipient of ‘Kendriya Sahitya Academi Award’ for her poetry collection ‘Gaan’ (The Village) in 2011. In 2012, she was named as one among the 10 young writers in the country by a leading English daily news paper. She was also selected as the “Writer in Residence” at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2015.
Till now, Panda has to her credit nine collections of poetry (two of them are translated in Hindi), three novels and one collections of short stories. Recently, her Hindi poetry book was unveiled in Delhi. Panda shared her journey with My City Links in an interview recently!
Tell us something about your family.
I belong to a very small village of Jagatsinghpur district named Sadeipur. But because my father was a bank employee and it was a transferable job, we used to visit different places. I am the eldest among three siblings. I have two younger brothers.
When did you start writing poems, stories and novels?
When I was about seven to eight years old, I used to write small poems, with the help of rhyming words! But I also used to read many articles and had this habit of maintaining the paper cuttings of interesting articles I came across. Soon, I too started writing articles on different topics though my family was unaware of it. It was only during my PG days that my father noticed some of the poems I had written and decided to send a selective few for the state youth award and all of them got selected. That was when I came to limelight for the first time and since then, I have never stopped writing.
You received the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award for a poetry named ‘Gaan’. So, what inspired you to write on villages?
I was greatly influenced by village lifestyle and though I did not stay in my village for a long time, I used to visit it during all my vacations. And every time I visited my village, I used to be in awe with the people around – their affection, their simplicity, their culture – every little thing was fascinating for me. I also used to love the calm and quiet environment of my village. So, I believe my love for village life reflected in my writings.
Most of your writings also focus on or are influenced by strong women characters. Any reason for that?
Being a woman, I know how a woman plays an important role in the society. Every role that she plays in her life, she faces several obstacles, yet she bravely overcomes them all. So I always try to depict her dedication towards the society through my writings.
These days, the government is working on new laws and programmes for woman empowerment. Do you feel they are actually making any difference?
It is not about making laws, it is about their implementation and it is clear that no significant improvement has been seen in the society for women. Notwithstanding the laws and welfare programmes, women are facing lots of issues in the society even today. Although as compared to previous years, more women are educated and financially independent today, real woman empowerment is still a far cry.
How did you get into journalism?
After my Post Graduation, I was trying to do my PHD in Library and Information Science, but as per the system, I had to wait for one year. That was when I decided to join IIMC since that year, they had introduced the Odia journalism course. After completing the course, I got a job in Odia daily newspaper ‘Sambad’ through campus selection and that’s how my journalism career started.
You have been a part of mainstream journalism. What difference have you seen in this field over the years?
I left that profession almost 12 years back and obviously a lot of changes have taken place since then. During those days, we were taught and asked to do a lot of investigation before bringing a matter before the public. But these days, journalists only want to come up with sensational news for TRPs and they get inputs from wherever possible, without even knowing the true facts. And, social media is making the situation worse because here any information can be uploaded, even when it’s not authentic. As a result, fake news are being easily spread through social media.
You were called for 15 days to the Rashtrapati Bhavan as ‘Writer in residence’. So, how was experience there?
‘Writer in Residence’ was initiated by our former president Pranab Mukherjee. Two writers from the country were invited to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and I was one of them. We were treated like VIPs and we also got the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister and other departmental ministers. We also met many departmental heads including the head of Lalit Kala Academy and Sahitya Academy. Generally, we are made to meet those people from whom we can get some inspiration and inputs for our writings. That apart, we also attend different programmes and meetings at the President house during those 15 days.