Bhubaneswar: Author, academician and administrator, who does not know the living literary legend Devdas Chhotray? His easy manner of talking, and wry sense of humour belie the subjects of his poems, short stories, lyrics and screenplays. And the best part is that he does not mind taking a dig at himself.
Unraveling the mystery and significance of his rather unusual name, he said, “Wherever I went for job interviews, people asked me the meaning of my surname more often than my name. My horoscope name was Durgacharan but my father chose to change the name. He liked the name Devdas but my mother did not. Well, the perception was that Devdas was not a positive character. Somehow, my father tricked her saying, “Naming our son Durgacharan will make him a devotee of one Goddess but naming him Devdas will make him a slave of every God of the universe.”
The tragedy of this name is that Devdas is fine until romance continues and the files and trash of government service don’t strangle you. We all think and are conscious about death but the character of Devdas rushes into the grave, Chhotray said.
“During my first interview for IAS, the interviewer asked me about democracy. Meanwhile, a bus passed by blowing the horn sharply. That sound caused the Doppler Effect, which distracted me from his question and I answered saying, ‘I completely agree with you.’ One thing I learnt from this incident is that if you agree with things in life, it will be easier to deal with many things,” he said.
The author, poet, academician is a die-hard Cuttack resident. On the essence of urbanization in his poems, Chhotray said that he didn’t realise it ever that he is an urban poet. “Cuttack is the place to which I relate and where I live. It is an urban city but I would call it an urbanised village because the Britishers paved this place first in Odisha. Cuttack is the place from where I have gathered all my urbanity and probably you see it reflected in literature. I write rural pieces like “Gotie Saree” too. It is up to the readers to categorise my works. Well, I have got the rural essence in my poems and lyrics from my mother. In the lyrics of “Teeniti Jhia”, one can see the rural essence in between the shadow of urbanity. However, the song is equally mine and of Akshaya Mohanty,” said Chhotray.
On how he became a lyricist, Devdas Chhotray said Ja Re Basanti Sandhya Bajai Sankha Mahuri of Akshaya Mohanty cured his typhoid. It was he who virtually instigated him to write songs. He used to write and hide them from his sister. Eventually, his family found out and his mother asked him, “Why are you even writing all this? Do you really think Akshaya Mohanty is going to sing them?” Eventually Akshaya Mohanty sang all my lyrics.
On why many of his writings were not women-oriented, he said, “There has been inequality between men and women since ages. Everyone wants the protagonist to be a male. The context always leans towards the male perspective. Audience and readers demand passivity.”
There is no political insight in Devdas Chhotray’s works despite the fact that he has been an administrator. “I was not in politics but governance. My father was a political person but I have never voted. Politics of today’s world holds no beauty, no essence. Winston Churchill used his force and power of mobilizing a language,” he said.
“I never search for news and nor do I write on news. I write stories only when they find a way to reach me. Writing on and of your experience should not be a priority. When you write about an experience, you are not the only character in it, rather, there are several people playing characters. You must begin to forget things and get out of focus to write,” said the veteran.
About Ravenshaw University, of which he was the Vice Chancellor, he said, “Ravenshaw is my experience. My book ‘Chumbaka’ is dedicated to the sundial placed in the quadrangle lawn of Ravenshaw. People say that an individual grows in enlightenment if he walks in the air of Ravenshaw. But when I served there as Vice Chancellor, I tried to open up the squeezed environment of Ravenshaw.”
The famed writer was speaking in a free-wheeling conversation at the third Kalinga Literary Literary Festival Corner held in the Odisha capital on Sunday.