I Grew Up Reading Great Literature: Jnanpith Awardee

Known for her fight against caste and religious discrimination, Pratibha Ray, who was today named for the prestigious Jnanpith Award for 2011, said writers shaped her concepts.

"I grew up reading great literature created by our past writers. They shaped me, my understanding of situations and my writings," Ray, a professor by profession and writer by passion, said.

Ray said, "I am a humanist. I felt the agony of the people before giving shape to them in my writing."

Asked to identify her best piece among her novels, Ray said "I love all my creations. But, to make it specific, I can say Magnamati, a book written on the miseries of the calamity affected people, had pained me a lot."

She described Odisha's first Jnanpith awardee (1973) Gopinath Mohanty as her favourite among Odia novelists.

Ray said besides Odia, she read novels in Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, English and Spanish.

"I adore many writers. Hindi is like my second mother tongue," she said.

"I am happy that a Odia writer has been chosen for the Jnanpith award after a long gap. The last Odia to get the award was Sitakant Mohapatra," she said.

Pratibha Ray is the first Odia woman and fourth Odia writer to get the coveted award.

Earlier Gopinath Mohanty (1973), Sachidananda Routray (1986) and Sitakant Mohapatra (1993) were conferred the honour. 

She was born to a Gandhian teacher on January 21, 1943, at Alabol village. Her Vaishnavite family preached no caste and no class, which was later exhibited in her efforts towards social reform and against social injustice in her novels and other writings.

Ray courted controversy after writing a newspaper article titled "The Colour of Religion is black" (Dharmara Ranga Kala) in which she spoke of the undesirable behaviour of priests.

This was apparently based on an encounter with priests of the Sri Jagannth Temple, which she visited with some women from outside Odisha and when the priests suspected that her companions were non-Hindus.

Ray, also a mother of three, became a model for her writer fraternity when she wore the attire of the Bonda women while writing a book (Adi Bhumi) on the particularly vulnerable tribal community in the state.

Though Ray's literary journey started at nine, she received recognition as a writer with her first novel "Barsa Basanta Baishakha" in 1974 followed by "Aranya", 1977, "Nishidha Prithivi", 1978, "Parichya", 1979, "Aparichita", 1979 (a film was made and won Best Film-Story award from the state government), Punyatoya, 1979, Meghamedura, 1980, Ashabari, 1980, Ayamarambha, 1981, Nilatrishna, 1981, Samudrara Swara, 1982.

Ray's Shilapadma in 1983 won her the Orissa Sahitya Academy Award, 1985, while Yajnaseni (1984) got her the Moorti Devi Award in 1991 and Sarala Award in 1990.

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