Pratibha Ray

Pratibha Ray, PhD (b.1944) formerly Professor and Member, Public Service Commission, Odisha, is an eminent fiction writer of India who writes in Odia, her mother tongue. Ray’s work is unsparing in its indictments of social evils and injustice. Among numerous state, national and international awards, she is the recipient of Jnanpith Award, the highest literary award of India (2011), Moorti Devi Award (1991) by Bharatiya Jnanapith Trust for her novel, Sahitya Akademi Award (2000), and “Padma Shree” (2007) for her contribution to the field of Indian Literature and Education. Her writings have been translated into various Indian languages, English and Hungarian. She writes novels, short fictions, essays, poetry, lyrics, children’s literature and biographies. She has visited thirty foreign countries on speaking tours. She is the Founder President of Bhashayan, a national literary organisation.

Dr. Pratibha Ray
Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed. – Mahatma Gandhi.

When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace. – Jimi Hendrix

All writers sing the same song i.e. love, all writers tell the same story i.e. peace. – Pratibha Ray

What Rousseau had said in the 18th Century – “Man is born free, but every where he is in chains”, is vindicated by human history. I disagree with Rousseau’s statement because man is not born free, he is born with shackles of language, community, caste, creed, cultural background, political boundary and more over genes of the ancestors inherited from times unknown. He struggles for his freedom against the binding forces all his life. Freedom is born out of a clash between tyranny and slavery. It may be the tyranny of the sword, the tyranny of ideology or faith or even the tyranny of fate. Man has emerged in the history of civilization to be the champion of his free will. He is his own measure. Alexander Pope in 18th Century wrote “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan. The proper study of mankind is man”. In other words, he is his own master. To assess him by extraneously imposed ideas or faiths will be an error. Civilizations are born out of chaos, and civilization turn chaotic by man’s abuse of freedom. Man again fights to hold his freedom till another chaos engulfs him.

In our recent memory we experienced the birth of Bangladesh. A nation united by a rich language, a great tradition of poetry and music, could not be contained by religion alone. What makes human freedom worthwhile is his creativity and intellectuality. When that was stifled the Bengali soul, beyond caste, creed and religion, rose in revolt against the very people who were their own. Out of the blood and violence of a clash between spiritual freedom and political tyranny, a new nation was born – Bangladesh. Sonar Bangla has now carved out her own destiny by patriotism, hard work and sheer free will to survive as successful citizens of world culture. Since 1971, Bangladesh has grown from strength to strength by sincere efforts to maintain peace, harmony and integration in and outside the country, despite poverty and fury of nature as well as hostile forces. But this success story is not true of other nations. Congo attained her freedom in a bloody war but till date it has not established herself. In this 21st century, you saw the Arab spring and a new kind of awakening for freedom. Kings and feudal lords are no more acceptable to modern man for man needs an atmosphere of freedom to fulfill the potential of his soul. In Egypt, a tyrannical regime was overthrown by the sheer will power of the people, but the country is still undergoing the birth pangs of freedom. Syria, Sudan and other countries, are still wading through blood and violence but have not yet found their feet on solid ground. In China, all voices of freedom have been silenced but China one day will enjoy the good luck of Myanmar which is inching towards full freedom and political emancipation from tyranny.

India however, is a unique example in history of having own freedom without the baptism of fire. The difference between India and Bangladesh is almost non-existent for both countries had able leadership to guide their destinies. Today, Bangladesh has won to a great extent her war against poverty, sickness and rival creeds. This has become possible because of a great tradition of creative literature, an inheritance of inclusiveness, and a determination to create a new future without severing relationship with her own cultural past. Bangladesh gave to the world the idea of micro financing and could demonstrate how the weakness of a country could be made its strength if the cultural base is broad and strong. Now not only Bangladesh, but even Sri Lanka after the LTTE menace has found her moorings. All the SAARC countries now must move towards a people to people contact through economic cooperation and cultural interface. India and Bangladesh especially have a strong foundation in literature. The folk culture of Bangladesh with her baul sangeet and mystic poetry does still win the hearts of people. Tagore and Nazrul are household words in Bangladesh and India. It is time we develop our lyrical, mystical and metaphysical tradition to embrace the aspirations of the people. The Bhakti tradition of India and the Sufi tradition of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and other countries, if understood today will bind not only the SAARC countries but the whole world into a bond of love and harmony. The writer’s role today is very important because only through literature, love and friendship could be created between the SAARC countries and between the east and west. The youth exchange programmes, culture and literature festivals can entice the new generation to creativity. The local language writers may be translated into English and large South Asian market could be created for Pan-International readership. Writers in Residence Programme could be initiated without politics hindering its growth. Love, mutual respect and evaluative understanding of each other’s history and culture will go a long way in transcending the blood and horrors of the past. After the two world wars in Europe, the countries could come together not by the Euro or economic cooperation alone. Europe found its literature as a cementing force to keep the mutual hostility away. Goethe, Shakespeare, Racine, Victor Hugo are responsible more than the politicians to bring the sense of European unity as a matter of regional pride. In South-Asia, the same pride can unite the SAARC countries. Our Mahabharata, Ramayana, Tagore, Nazrul and other great master’s literature of all SAARC countries can mutually feed and enrich our cultures, writers, critics and great artists can spread the message of peace. Our folk art can unite the divergent cultures and give it a regional hue which can be used by SAARC as an economic proposition. Peace in the SAARC countries can ensure peace in Asia which will contribute largely to world peace. The political masters of our countries should realize this potential of literature and art and utilize the talents of our countries to enrich our cultures leading to prosperity and integrity.

If in the west complexities arise out of individual mind’s response to the challenges of the external reality, in India the complexities are inherent in the tension between the metaphysical beliefs and social reality and also due to the juxtaposition of several social situations. In a society, thousands of years of history and often contradictory metaphysical and socio-religious tradition cannot lead to a type of sophistication and complexity of mind, which may be unknown to the west. We are living in a period of history when human intelligence and knowledge have virtually no limits. But human imagination facing this knowledge explosion is increasing by a sense of helplessness, spiritual void, the absurd, the bland world, the rootlessness and alienation. It is in this context that the concept of cultural awareness in modern times ought to be aroused. The cultural introspection shapes the sensibility which changes a society in a fundamental way.

Writers create their own world which is novel and different from the world created by others, even the world created by God. Here I may quote the French Writer Camus, “Every writer is engaged in a culpable rivalry with God”. Writers are so fearless they have the courage to question the God saying “Oh God! How could you create a world which is so beautiful but so cruel, full of sorrow, misfortune, misery, and suffering of humanity. Could you not create a better world, a happier world, a humane world?”

I believe all writers sing the same song i.e. love, and write the same story i.e. peace. Knitting the world with the fabric of humanity is the essence of literature.

Here, I humbly quote from my own works about the landscape and world of my creative vision.

1) Death is more generous than life. Death is more composed. Those who were enemies yesterday, today their death drenches the heart with tender compassion. Those who were wicked, lustful, sinful till yesterday, were made composed, steady and unperturbed by death today.
From Yajnaseni (Novel), 1995

2) I have suffered one war. Even now the mother’s heart in me hears the lamentation of mother earth. Therefore, I request that because of race, religion, language and color, let no country split into parts like Hastina and Indraprastha. Inequality is the variety of your creation. Let not the integrity, unity and purity of any country be destroyed because of this. I have suffered the consequences of Great War. Both sides fighting in a war suffer losses. Both the victor and vanquished lose their friends and relations. Civilization, culture, wealth, life – all vanish.


Therefore, as you went to Hastina in Dvapar for establishing peace, similarly, for giving warning in advance, why do you not whisper into the ears of the thoughtful people of Kaliyuga in the honeyed tone of your flute, Shantih ! Shantih! Shantih!
– “Yajnaseni” (Novel), 1995.

3) Who won or lost in the Mahabharat war Sapana failed to understand that till date. . He has seen the Mahabharat war – yes on the T.V. screen.

He saw that the relations, family members of the Pandava and Kuru clan, young and old alike were all dead, drowning in the river of blood. Hastina was cleaned up of her proud humanity. The subjects had lost their clan and roots. The survivors were a few childless old men and women; barren souls, sick parents – a few orphans and a few helpless widows. Everyone says it seems that Pandavas were victorious – how ? Destroying your clan, destroying the roots of humanity if you wear the crown and sit on the throne will you say that one has been victorious?
– “The War is On” – Short Story by Pratibha Ray.

Ultimately I quote Savitri, the great epic of Sri Aurobindo Book 2.

Heaven’s joys might have been earth’s if earth were pure….
But she has stabled her dreams in matters courts
And still her doors are barred to things supreme

Human unity is the panacea in today’s divided world. To realize human unity, I may quote Mother (Sri Maa, Auroville) :

It is only by the growth and establishment of the consciousness of human unity that a true and lasting peace can be achieved upon earth. All means leading towards this goal are welcome although the external ones have a very limited effect; however, the most important, urgent and indispensable of all, is a transformation of human consciousness itself, an enlightenment and conversion in its working.

We, the writers, can each work on the transformation of our own creative consciousness and to go deeper into the matter to save our planet and to save humanity. Beyond this, there is nothing more that we can do to unite humanity through literature.

I may conclude with the words from Life Divine by Mother

“The Animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man. Man himself may well be a thin king and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious cooperation she wills to work out the superman, the god”.

Dr. Pratibha Ray
27, Gajapati Nagar,
Bhubaneswar-751 005.
Ph.No.(0674)-2300180 / 09937052251
Website :
SAARC Conference, Bangladesh, January,2014.