By Dr. Ipsita Pradhan: 10 November 2022 will be a memorable day for every Odia. On that day, the President of our Country, Draupadi Murmu, came for the darshana of our Bada Thakur, Mahaprabhu Jagannath. There is nothing new about an Indian President visiting Lord Jagannath. Every President does it during his/her tenure.
But as the current President is a daughter of our Odisha soil, so for sure her visit is related to our emotions and faith. But I was most happy when I saw a handwritten letter from the President after visiting Lord Jagannath. The experience of Jagannath Darshan of the President, was written in very neat and beautiful Odia script, without a single spell error. Seeing the piece of writing from our beloved president, this instantly reminded me of a woman whom I had met a few days back in the hospital. She was there for her father-in-law’s treatment, who had been admitted to our department. They were from Cuttack and by profession, the woman and her husband are both teachers. It was a Sunday. So her ninth grader daughter had come down to meet her grandfather. As I made my rounds, the woman introduced me to her daughter. And asked me to guide her about study and preparations for different competitive exams. After talking to the girl for a while, I found out that apart from school, she spends the rest of her time in tuition and coaching centers. In the morning, before school, she attends 2 tuitions between 6-9 and after school from 5 o’clock she again goes for coaching classes. She returns home at around 8:30 pm. Then she sits to finish her homework, project and assignment work and solves sample question papers. After hearing everything, I asked, “Then, when do you study by yourself?” The girl looked at my face and said, “I complete my homeworks by my own”. Then I asked, “So, what books have you finished reading? Do you read newspapers and magazines? Have you read any Odia books?” In response, all the names of the magazines the girl pronounced were meant for the preparation of tests or for solving sample question papers. And the list of the books were only from her course or syllabus. She also added that she doesn’t have time to read any newspapers. Also she is poor in reading Odia.
I looked at her mother in surprise. And I asked the girl, “But if you only read textbooks and don’t read anything else, how will your linguistic knowledge develop? If you don’t read newspapers, how will you be aware about the country and the world and current affairs? If you don’t know your mother tongue properly, how will you progress or learn a different language?”
Hearing me, before the girl could say anything, her mother said, “What’s the point of reading literature? Will she get through the entrance examinations or medical and engineering after reading those books? Even if she reads those language books before the day of examination, she can score well. What’s the point in studying those language books ? What will be the benefit of her knowing the Odia language? Will she get a good job or can she go abroad? Do you really need a sound Odia knowledge to become a doctor?”
Hearing the woman’s words I felt more like laughing than annoyed. But I was not in a situation to laugh-out-loud. So with a soft smile I replied, “Madam, the mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology books you are teaching or the medical or engineering book you are looking at also require language to write and understand. And once she goes abroad, then only you are going to understand if she really needs to know Odia or not. I have seen how friends who live outside Odisha or abroad rely on Odia festivals to get together. The name of our state and our community is based on our language Odia only.” Still looking at me in an argumentative manner, the woman asked, “Well, you say, in your profession, do you really find Odia of any use?”
Though annoyed still I replied calmly, “It’s my knowledge in Odia only which makes me understand about the problems of your ailing father-in-law. It’s my knowledge in Odia only which makes me able to distinguish between ‘pain’ and ‘tenderness’. It’s my knowledge in Odia, that I can make common people understand complicated medical terms and things in a simpler language. For Odia only I’m practicing here in Odisha, among my people. It is better to live on my own soil, speaking my own language than to go to a foreign country and live as a second-class citizen. When my country spends so much on my education and living, I would rather stay here with my parents and work for the people of my country than to go and work in another country for a little more money.” The woman was still in the mood for an argument. But thinking that, it’s better not to argue with ignorant people, I moved towards other patients.
As I am writing this today, I am thinking only if I would have saved her address or phone number, then surely I would have shown her the handwritten piece of our president . Our president has studied in government Odia medium schools and she is the youngest president ever to assume the office of president in our country. She is also a teacher by profession. Before becoming the President, she was the Governor of Jharkhand state. Prior to that, she won the 2000 Odisha Assembly Elections from Rairangpur Assembly Constituency and served two terms in the Odisha Assembly between 2000 and 2009. She was in independent charge of Trade and Transport ministry from 6 March 2000 to 6 August 2002 during the BJP and BJD coalition government in Odisha and was the Minister of Fisheries and Livestock Development from 6 August 2002 to 16 May 2004. And her love for language and proficiency in mother tongue is a major factor behind all these achievements. Because to be a good and popular public leader, it is necessary to understand people’s words and minds. And good language skills and knowledge is absolutely necessary for this work. Today, we proudly pronounce that an Odia is the president of our country and we’re the people of the president’s native state. Proudly keep her photo in our social media account status. While standing on a stage at Odisha she addresses in Odia, with the same proficiency she can also address in Hindi in Jharkhand and in English at IIT Delhi. Today, our president has become a living example for our youth that to be successful in any profession, linguistics skills and love for one’s own mother tongue and proficiency in mother tongue are essential things.