Success Story Of Padma Shri Awardee & An Incredible Poet, Haldhar Nag!
While Koshali language of Western Odisha may still be struggling for recognition, 66-year-old Koshali poet Haldhar Nag has slowly carved his path to winning the Padma Shri Award for his contribution to literature, bringing in much deserved appreciation for both his work and the language as well. His work, now a thesis subject for five PHD students of Sambalpur University, has in course of time evolved into the ‘Haldhar style of writing’ that is now emulated by many budding Odia poets. Apart from his writing style, the content and manner of dealing with it has brought around a new wave of thought in the Odia literary community.
Clad in a simple dhoti and vest with a traditional Sambalpuri angabastra wrapped around his neck, and forever bare-footed, Haldhar Nag, who received the award on 28th March this year is a striking image of humility and wisdom. A poetic genius, ‘Lok Kabi Ratna’ or ‘People’s Poet’ as he is fondly referred to as, Nag astonished us with his sharp, unfailing memory as he recited all the 52 pages of his poetry book without even referring to the book or dropping a word once in between!
Nag shares with My City Links, his eventful journey that started from a remote village of Ghens in Bargarh district.
Your circumstances deprived you of education early in life. Tell us how you made this poetic journey of becoming a proud recipient of Padma Shri for literature?
Life has been always difficult in poverty. Born to poor parents, our family made a living from working as daily wage labourers. Orphaned at the age of 10, I had to look after myself as I was the youngest and the rest were married and settled. Circumstances compelled me to drop out of school too. Subsequently I took up a menial job of a dishwasher at a nearby hotel for two years to feed myself. Later with the village sarpanch’s help, I was employed at the village high school hostel with a meagre pay of Rs. 8. Working there for nearly 16 years, I moved on to open a small stationery shop with a loan of Rs. 1000 from the Balangir Gramya Bank.
But since childhood, I always had an inclination towards our native folk songs and was quite fluent in singing Krushna Guru Bhajan, Dal Khaee, Rasarakeli, Mayela Jhada and many others. Besides singing I was also fond of writing them down and teaching others too. Gradually, I developed an interest towards writing poetry. I joined a group called Abhimanyu Sahitya Sansad that held frequent reading sessions on Odia literature. That further provoked my curiosity and I picked up an anthology of poems by celebrated Odia poets. Thereafter I continued imitating some poetic techniques from their writings and imbibed them into mine till I could carve my own style of writing. It was during this period that my first poem, ‘Dhodo Bargachh’ (The Old Banyan Tree) was published in Art and Artist, a local Sambalpur-based magazine in 1990. As more appreciation started flowing in for my work, I continued penning down more poems. It was in the year 1997, an institution named Prayog in Cuttack conferred on me the title of ‘Lok Kabi’ for the first time. Many such awards and felicitations came my way indicating the increasing appreciation among people for my writings. This encouraged me to write even more. This journey continued till Padma Shri happened. However, my journey with literature will continue till I live and my poetry finds a place in people’s hearts.
Whose works have inspired you?
It was in that anthology of poems that I first read poet Binod Nayak’s poetry. His poem ‘Grama Patha’ is what attracted me towards poetry. Taking cue from his work on how poetry is created, I conceptualized my first poem ‘Dhodo Bargacch.’ Since then, for me, Nayak’s works have been exemplary of poetic excellence and I keep going back to them for inspiration. Besides him, there are others who have had an impact on my writings. Particularly, I have emulated Gangadhar Meher’s style of nature’s description and Radhanath Ray’s implementation of poetic technique and ornamentation in poetry.
What are the dominant themes of your poetry and how do you work towards it?
Poetry, as I see it, is a profound medium of expression of human emotions and thoughts. Be it mythology, history, social issues or tragic experiences, I always experiment with and explore the unexplored aspects of human life through my poetry. I focus on instilling a progressive idea to whatever subject I am dealing with and use poetry to give a new direction to the readers’ thoughts.
One such obvious example of experimentation can be seen in my verse ‘Maha Sati Urmila’ where Devi Urmila has always been the neglected of all characters in Ramayana. Experimenting with many poetic devices, I have tried to certify Urmila as the “maha sati” among all other female characters in the epic.
Has receiving the Padma Shri made a difference to your life and work?
I do not believe than any poet writes for the love of awards. Similarly for me, writing poetry is what I love and awards are a way of motivation for doing what I love! I feel a sense of achievement when people identify their life and emotions with my poems. I am honoured to have received the Padma Shri award from the President of India and it has certainly made a difference with the recognition it has brought to my state and Odia literature. But I would be happier the day, the language I write in (Koshali), receives constitutional recognition.
Your works are being compiled and will soon be taught as a part of school syllabus while it will also turn into a research subject for some PHD students of Sambalpur University. How does it feel?
I am glad that in some way, I have been instrumental in bringing more awareness towards the language and our children will grow up learning our own literature and not of a far away hinterland.
Do you feel language is a barrier for your poetry in reaching out to more people?
Languages may be in millions, but there is only one literature- literature that invades minds and hearts universally. History has witnessed that languages are born and they die but literature becomes immortal by way it mirrors human lives. It will always travel beyond the limitations of language and time as human emotions are the same everywhere through the ages. A few of my works have already been translated into Hindi, English and Bengali, but with the recognition that Padma Shri has given me, there are more offers to have my work translated in more languages.
How do you think the youth today should contribute towards literature?
I want to remind our youth that unlike other mediums like films, literature is immortal, be it in any language and it has always been the guiding light for the society in times of crisis. So we must all contribute in keeping it alive and enriching it at every stage. The youth should read more.