Op-Ed: What’s in a name? Plenty, actually

We Odias excel in raising a din on social media over an issue. But seldom do we take the trouble of doing what we must to take the issue to its logical conclusion. Hence, freelance journalist Rudra Prasanna Rath deserves our collective appreciation for launching a “Rajo nuhen, Raja” campaign that has gathered enough steam for at least one major culprit to back off.

Rudra deserves kudos because unlike others, he did not limit himself to fulminating against this travesty of the Odia language on social media. He actually protested holding a placard saying “Rajo nuhen, Raja” standing in front of Kalamandir, a prominent garment showroom in Bhubaneswar and one of the business houses guilty of persisting with this bastardization of the Odia language. Soon, the campaign picked up on social media with many Odias displaying pictures of themselves with placards carrying the campaign slogan on the social media.

Concerned about the possible repercussions of the campaign, the manager of Kalamandir called up Rudra on Friday to promise that the agency handling its ad business had been instructed to pull out the offensive ad containing the incorrect spelling of the great Odia festival and replace it with the correct spelling. He also promised the mistake would not be repeated in future and even said the ads would be in Odia from next year!

If Rudra deserves credit for launching and sustaining the campaign, the owners of Kalamandir too must be complimented for taking note of the sensitivities of the case. The cynics would, of course, say that the decision was guided by selfish, commercial interest rather than any love or respect for the Odia language. But it couldn’t have been an easy decision for a top business house to opt for a comedown of sorts by offering to correct a mistake in which they probably had little role to play in the first place. We can only hope that more and more business houses would emulate the gesture by Kalamandir to respect the sensibilities of the people of Odisha. In fact, ‘Peter England’ and Air Asia were forced by Rudra, Sabyasachi Amitabh and a few others of their ilk to apologise for their taunting ads in twisted Odia last year. While Peter England had wished the people of ‘Happy Pujo’, Air Asia went on one up by asking the people of Bhubaneswar, on the eve of the launch of its direct flight services to the city from Kuala Lumpur, “Kemon Achcho, Bhubaneswar?”

These are minor victories, but victories all the same. They have to be sustained over a much longer period by spirited people, young and old, who feel for the Odia language and culture till the companies, their ad agencies and even the media houses that carry those ads are compelled to pay due attention to Odia sensitivities. Already, Tathagat Satpathy, Editor of ‘Dharitiri’, has taken the lead in promising that he would take up the issue with the agencies though with a rider.

Some people, including the Dhenkanal MP, have sought to obfuscate the whole issue by raking up all kinds of arguments to prove that ‘Raja’ is not the correct way to spell the festival of the same name. “What if someone takes it for Raajaa (king) for which we also use the same spelling?” ask some while others point out that ‘phonetically speaking’, the correct spelling should be ‘Rawjaw’! The simple fact is; whatever else is the correct spelling of what we know as Raja, it is certainly not ‘Rajo’ or ‘Rojo’’. Neither is the correct spelling of Puja ‘Pujo’.

This fixation with ‘o’, I dare say, had its origins in Kolkata based advertising agencies that our own ‘home grown’ agencies later found quite fashionable. Call it narrow minded parochialism if you want, but there is no escaping the fact this reflects a devil-may-care attitude on the part of the advertisers who take Odias for granted. The fact that these transgressions are not opposed on a sustained basis emboldens them to get more outrageous each time.

The government has done well to make it mandatory for all shops and business establishments to ensure that Odia is given pride of place in their signboards. It has also enhanced the fine for violation of this provision manifold. But who is to ensure that these establishments don’t make mincemeat of the Odia language while obeying the letter of the law? Obviously, we the people. Even the decision to impose steep fines on shops and to make the use of Odia compulsory in all official business came only after a sustained black flag demonstration lasting nearly two years.

We can’t take pride in being a classical language and at the same time allow this desecration of the Odia language to continue unabated. Those who revel in rubbing Odias the wrong way or fiddling with the language must be forced to realise that they can do so at their own peril.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)