Renowned for his novel Bheda, Akhila Naik was a prolific Odia poet, although his poetry has not been translated into English before now. In the poem “Kheta-purana”, Naik voices the distress of those who live a life close to nature when faced with the relentless encroachment of modernity and the patronizing forces of development.” Calling the poem a “purāṇa” seems to suggest that this is an old story, at the same time as it subverts the religious genre. The inherent knowledge and oneness with nature experienced by his people contrasts with the “scriptures” of the learned.
— Mani Rao
The Bombay Literary Magazine
Scripture of the Farmland (Kheta-purana)
You were born on Raebar, Sunday
So you were named Raebaru.
Your father had not acquired the wit to name you
Harekrushna or Bijayananda or Janakiballhaba
for he hadn’t read Ramayana or Mahabharata.
Battling the forest, chopping wood
he set up a village
Battling stones, digging earth
he created a fertile land
With spades and shovels he wrote
many poems and songs
of paddy, green-gram, little millet and ragi
The farmland was his manuscript, scripture, his Bhagabata.
Handing over the scripture of the land to your custody
your father became an ancestor
resting in the bushes by the spring
to guard the moth-bean farm and the palm trees.
After him, you became the chief of the village
Became Raebaru Naik
Shouldered the loss and gain of kith and kin
on a carrying pole of thick bamboo.
You befriended the forest, hills and spring
buddied up with wind, rocks and sky
These friends and buddies of yours stood with you,
shoulder to shoulder, through thick and thin
Sent you a bagful of presents
before you extended your palms asking for it.
Some sent marking nut, tamarind and mahua
Some sent sorghum, maize and horse-gram
Some sent fire, some water, some light
Some sent semel-shoot, red ant, fish, crab, and boar-meat
Some sent ebony-fruit, gooseberry, char-berry,
mango, custard apple and jackfruit.
Drunken bachelors and maidens, old men and women
fuddled with palm toddy, made merry, celebrated
the mango-seed fest, the Pausa-fest of winter,
swirled and danced in ecstasy
to the beats of Dhumsa, Tamak and Dhap
The naughty wind came from behind on tiptoes
towards the trees lost in watching the dance and tickled them
And the giggling sky rolled down to the dusty road.
Your everyday world was as straight as the wild sal tree
Like a flowing spring piercing the rocks
A clean flow of water was your life, and livelihood
Only you, or your goddess Darni or your god Bhima knew
if you were in pleasure or pain.
But an intellectual falcon from the capital city
who never touched food in the morning without first reading the Gita
shook the sky crying aloud, that
Raebaru Naik of Kendudangri is trapped
In deep sorrow in the dense forest
In acute darkness of utter ignorance
Spending suffocated sleepless nights
In the clutch of the Duma-witches, the devil spirits
He is in need of, badly in need of, instantly in need of
The illuminating light of wisdom.
Then a jasmine white stork flew in to your village from somewhere
From its nose scattered hatred
From its tongue dipped drops of greed
Fiery ego burned in its eyes
But from its lips dripped verses filled with compassion
It opened before you, your children and your clan
A bag of wisdom :
God’s wife was trapped by a demon
for she crossed the three forbidden lines
The elephant pleaded and invoked god
from millions of miles away
And the god with the spinning discus
destroyed the crocodile to save the elephant
Wicked Duryodhan suffered the consequences of deceiving in dice
Golden Lanka perished to ashes for too much arrogance.
Hail to Hanuman, hail to the son of wind!
Your eyelids started to close
with the smoke of the opiate wisdom
You got into deep slumber, and dreamt how
Flying like the jasmine white stork you reached
A sparkling kingdom with a house, a spring and trees, all of light
Who is this smiling sparkling god before you
with the posture of granting a boon?
As you bent to touch his gold-like feet
Your hands got burnt
Screaming, oh! I’m dead, save me, save me
you woke up all of a sudden, returned to your senses.
Untying yourself with great difficulty
When you look around –
Oh, what’s this!
Where are your kith and kin, your friends and family?
Where is the sorghum, maize, moth-bean, horse-gram and the farmland?
Where is the sal, teak, mango, jackfruit, gooseberry, mahua-forest?
Where are your friends, buddies?
Where are the hares, deer, boars, tigers, sambars?
Where is the giggling spring?
Where are the fishes, crabs, toads, snakes, mongooses?
Where are the temples of goddess Darni and god Bhima?
Wherever one looks one sees heaps of bones, heaps of skulls
On the mound of bones stands a colossal temple
And at the top of the temple flies a shameless flag.
Where did the jasmine white stork go?
Wherever one looks, one only sees
Kettles of falcons and vultures and packs of dogs
Whose temple, hotel, sacrificial altar, farmhouse are these
There where your father had set up a village,
battling the forest, chopping wood?
Whose cashew orchard, coffee garden, eucalyptus and oak garden are these
There where your father had created a fertile land
battling stones, digging earth?
Who are these kettles of falcons and vultures and packs of dogs
Ask Raebaru, ask; you won’t get the answer unless you ask.
Who ordered you to sweep the temple floor,
to pluck the beans in the coffee-garden?
Collecting leftover bones, fish-bones,
shards of glass, why will you bleed, so profusely? Ask.
Where is the village Kendudangari now? Ask.
Where did the chief of the village go? Ask your own self.
Where is his dagger, axe, spear, bow, and arrow? Ask.
Akhila Nayak (author)
The Odia poet and novelist Akhila Nayak was born on 13th March 1970 at Rainguda in Kalahandi district in Odisha, India. He taught Odia language and literature at Kalahandi University (erstwhile Government Autonomous College), Bhawanipatna. His published poetry collections are Gadhuabela (1993), Gulikhati (1996), Dhobapharaphara (2001), Dhik (2008), Akhila Akshyara (2017) and Khetapurana (2021). His novel titled Bheda (2010), translated into English in 2017 with the same title raised voice against the social evil of caste-based discrimination and oppression, and became a seminal text of Dalit Literature in India. Naik breathed his last on 14th November 2021 at the age of 51.
Tyagraj Thakur (translator)
Dr. Tyagraj Thakur works as a Senior Assistant Professor of English at Silicon Institute of Technology, Sambalpur. He completed his doctoral studies at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar where he wrote a thesis entitled Ways of ‘Re-storying’: Exploring Alternative Narrative Paradigms in Selected West African Novels. His areas of interest include World Literature, Postcolonial Studies, Indian Literatures, Translation, Creative Writing, Professional Writing, Corporate Communication, Language Teaching etc. He has published journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews; co-edited books, and presented papers at national and international seminars/conferences. He reflects on life at large through his memoirs, essays and poems published in magazines and souvenirs, as well as posted on social media and blog spaces.