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What a life!


An ageing Sahitya Akademi award-winning children’s writer is spending all his time and money to bring alive stories of Odisha’s achievers in the form of a multi-volume biographical encyclopaedia, writes Dhrutikam Mohanty
DHRUTIKAM MOHANTY | Issue Dated: August 11, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Birendra Samantray | Utkal Pradeep | encyclopedia of Odisha | Sahitya Academy Award |

He is a man with a difference. Living in a village that has no modern amenities, he tries to grasp the whole state within his fist. A retired school teacher, Birendra Samantray has undertaken the mission to inscribe the first-ever biographical encyclopedia of Odisha.

Though his severely limited resources pose huge hurdles, Samantray has the confidence that he will overcome his challenges. And as result of his spirit, two volumes of this encyclopedia, ‘Utkal Pradeep’, are already out.

Born in 1946 at Palasahi village of Khurdha district, Samantray is working hard to collect the names and personal details of all those people of Odisha who have major achievements in various fields of endeavour.

In the two released volumes, Samantray has compiled information about more than 3000 persons from various domains. Now, he is working on the third volume and has gathered information about a total of 5,132 persons so far.

“What has been done so far is the result of my constant efforts since 1997,” he says. “Apart from writing literature for children, I had a knack for collection of old books, magazines, photographs and articles. One day a thought flashed across in my mind that I should compile a biographical encyclopedia for the future generations of my state.”

He elaborates: “I resolved that this encyclopedia should take note of all such persons who have made significant contributions in any field, small or large. From that day, I took this up as the mission of my life.”

Samantray knows that he has miles to go before he can rest. So the 67-year-old man devotes around 12 hours a day to the herculean task of ferreting out information about well-known and not-so-well-known achievers.

From collection of data to the final proof reading, he does everything single-handedly sitting in his small library room.

Samantray has never asked for any financial help from any person or organization for his dream project. He spends his monthly pension to fund his dream.

It seems unbelievable that work of such enormous value can be done from a small, nondescript room in the Odisha countryside. And one important feature of this library room is that one can trace anything and everything of Odia children’s literature since 1985.

Clad in two pieces of white khadi, Samantray’s lifestyle is a classic example of simple living and high thinking. Now he has gathered information about 8,600 persons for another two volumes to come. Remembering his early days of working on the encyclopedia, he says, ”When I started this work and began requesting people to pass on information for the book, they didn’t give much importance to it. But after publication of two volumes, I am receiving new entries every day. The second edition of the first volume, which is now almost ready to go to print, has 2000 additions. It’s really a matter of great pleasure for me.”

So far Samantray has collected information about 22,000 persons belonging to Odisha. But he is not satisfied with this figure. He says,” I think, I have only explored a small part of human excellence in the state of Odisha.

A large part of all this is yet to be explored. I will try my best to accommodate all within my life-span.”

Apart from being an encyclopedia compiler, he is a pioneer in the field of children’s literature. Birendra Samantray has written more than 100 books for children in the Odia language on varied subjects, from science to history, biographical sketches to folk-tales and comics to mythology.

His contribution has been acknowledged in the form of a Sahitya Academy Award. He says: “I decided to write for children as there wasn’t much for them in Odia literature. I strongly feel that it is a must for a child to learn about his state, its pioneers, its rich cultural heritage and glorious past. Though I do not have much education, I have put in hard work and have researched a lot to give my children intellectual sustenance.”

Another important part of Samantray’s life is his contribution towards education in his village. In 1966, he established a M.E. School in his village in order to facilitate education for the poor students of his area. There he worked as the head master and played a pioneering role in bringing children to school and preparing them for higher education.

It is no surprise at all that the indefatigable Samantray is something of a a living legend for his people. His selfless effort over the years has generated spontaneous love and respect and love for him among the public.

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Posted By: Ratikanta Mohanty | Bhubaneswar | August 13th 2013 | 12:08
This aspect of Journalism must be appreciated for being original and truthful in its approach and presentation.

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017