In March and April, there were quite a few celebrations in Odisha on specific days, dibasas. Among them were Shastriya Odia Bhasa Dibasa (Classical Odia Language Day) celebrated on 11 March, PakhalaDibasa on 20 March, UtkalaDibasa (Odisha Day) on 1 April and Chhenapoda Dibasa on 11 April. None of these is connected to religion, none is a family observance like our oshas and bratas (ritual fasts), or is gender-centric, like Khudurukuni osha or Raja parva, both of which are observed by unmarried girls. Odia was accorded the classical language status in February 2014 by the Government of India and the Classical Odia Language Day celebrates this recognition. PakhalaDibasacelebrates the traditional staple food of the common man in Odisha. It is now recognized as a healthy food. UtkalaDibasa celebrates the formation of Odisha as a separate state (called “province” in those days) on 1 April 1936. It is the first state in our country formed on a linguistic basis. This year, 2023, is the second year of the celebration of ChhenapodaDibasa. It is in memory of the sweetmeat-maker Sudarshana Sahu of Nayagarh, who is regarded as the creator of chhenapoda, a typical Odisha sweet. He was born on this date in 1931. He is the first sweetmeat maker of the State to receive this honour. And in all probability, he is the first person in Odisha to have a dibasa in his name, who is a common man and not a celebrity; that is, not a well-known politician, social reformer, writer, or intellectual. Now there is a demand for the GIE tag for chhenapoda – perfectly reasonable, in my opinion.
This piece is mainly about the nature of the celebration of Pakhala Dibasa and rather marginally about the same of Chenapoda Dibasa. As for Utkala Dibasa and Shastriya Odia Dibasa, we will talk about them some other day.
A couple of days after the celebration of the PakhalaDibasa, I asked a friend of mine, a young linguist, who works in an ambitious language research institute in Bhubaneswar, how he celebrated the dibasa. In a flat tone, he said, “whatPakhalaDibasa! Every day we eat pakhala. The celebration is only for the urban elite and the whole thing is just a media event.”I found his observation interesting – not because of its logic but because of the feeling it expressed. The logic you can contest, feeling you can’t.
Two days ago I asked him whether he celebrated the ChhenapodaDibasa, knowing that he comes from Nayagarh. “I am from Nayagarh”, he said with some excitement,” the sweet is from my place.” He related to the sweet. No one in Odisha can relate to pakhala in that personal sense; it is no individual’s identity marker. When Sudarshana Sahu was recognized as the inventor of chhenapoda, sweetmeat acquired a history. Pakhala may be the staple food of Odisha for hundreds of years, but how it originated, where it originated and who its inventor was, no one knows, no one ever tried to know, which is eminently reasonable. It’s like a folktale in this respect; no one looks for its origins. Pakhala has antiquity but unlike chhenapoda, no history. It is the historian’s intervention that gives antiquity, history. And it is from history – be it the family history or the history of the community – that one constructs one’s identity.
“So, how did you celebrate the dibasa?” I asked my friend. “I bought two big pieces of chhenapoda and shared it with my colleagues”, he said gleefully. I told him that on television, I had seen many prosperous people, eating chhenapoda, with made-for-television smiles for the benefit of the viewers, both urban and rural.
Returning to Pakhala Dibasa, my friend was not wrong about the elitist nature of the celebration. On this day, television, we see, in front of distinguished to very distinguished persons, bowls of pakhala mixed with curd and plates of accompaniments such as big pieces of fried rohu fish, fried prawns, fried brinjals, thinly cut fried potatoes, mashed potato, fried parwal, badichura (dumplings of sun-dried mashed lentils), a variety of factory-made pickles, etc. – mouth- watering! We didn’t see them eating pakhala though. Eating chhenapoda and rasagolais a neat and for that reason, television-worthy spectacle. You daintily cut a piece and slowly bring the spoon or the fork to the mouth. Nothing drips from the mouth. It is different in the case of pakhala. Water will drip through your fingers. That’s how everyone eats pakhala. But would one like this act to be captured in the camera for the public to watch?
Now to the accompaniments. As far as rural Odisha is concerned, for the poor these are green chilli, sometimes roasted dry red chili, raw onion, fried sag (locally grown), mango chutney in the mango season, and homemade pickles. As a rural middle-class child, the eldest in the family, I often had sag fry, fried drumstick, mashed potato, mashed brinjal, and badibhaja or badichura. The elders sometimes had, in addition, some fried dry fish. Those for whom these are the accompaniments of pakhala would hardly relate to the accompaniments of the urban well-to-do. They would see it in terms of us and them.
When we pay our tribute to the inventor of chhenapoda, we celebrate the sweet he invented. Our celebration of an eatable is in the form of eating it. The same holds for pakhala and rasagola. To say the obvious, there is a difference here:pakhala is everyone’s food and the common man’s staple food, whereas rasagola and chhenapoda are the well-to-do person’s celebration food, not really daily food.
A celebration is a community affair; it is especially so when it involves something that is associated with everyone in the community. Like pakhala. As of now, it is a celebration of the economically comfortable Odias, living in cities in the country and a celebration by the Odia diaspora. Ignoring the rural middle class and poor and the urban poor cannot be defended on the ground that the objective of the celebration is the promotion of pakhala, which restricts the event to the well-to-do people in the city – you don’t promote pakhala in the villages! In essence, the celebration of Pakhala Dibasa must involve both the city-dwellers and the villagers, the economically comfortable and the economically challenged.
Now the question is how to involve those who have pakhala every single day with minimal accompaniments in the celebration of Pakhala Dibasa. One could think of many ways of doing so. In my opinion, primary school children in the villages must be involved in this. On the Pakhala Dibasa, in the mid-day meal, pakhala could be served instead of hot rice. But if the parents or the administration do not prefer this, then let some items that go with pakhala be served in that meal: good quality bad (if Keonjharphuabadi is considered to be a difficult proposition) fry or badichura, mashed potato and good quality achar (pickles). The teacher should tell them that this is the Pakhala Dibasa special food. They will tell their parents that they had special food. Some will remember what the teacher had told them – that, it’s to celebrate PakhalaDibasa. Let the celebration include all; it cannot be reduced to an exclusivist event.
Now, these are not State-sponsored Dibasas, unlike Utkala Dibasa and Shastriya Odia Bhasa Dibasa. These are citizen-sponsored events. So where would the money come from for these celebrations, one would ask. I don’t think that’s the real problem. Odias, living in the State and outside would not hesitate to provide funds for the items mentioned above ( badichura and the rest)for a more inclusive celebration of Pakhala Dibasa. Structures could be created to handle the Corpus and arrange for the items to reach primary schools all over the State. Not a big problem, come to think of it. The system of midday meals is already in place. It’s a matter of adding a couple of items to it. The help of the State Government could be sought in this regard and there is no reason for doubt that it will not be provided. Let the Dibasa be “celebrated” in the best sense of the term.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Retd. Professor of Linguistics and English, IIT Kanpur
Email: [email protected]
(Images from the net)