Op-Ed: Adieu Kali Babu! They don’t make people like you anymore

He sounded very concerned during his last call. May be he had a premonition of the inevitable. He talked at length about the multiple organisations he had set up and wanted me to find him someone who would take charge of his media related activities.

I had assured him that I would help him find the right person. I had also promised him that I would come soon to see the ashram he has set up near his native place in Balianta, especially the hundreds of fruit bearing and medicinal plants there. It was a promise I was repeating for the third or fourth time. But this time I meant it. Alas! It was not to be. Before i could make good my promise came the devastating news: Kaliprasanna Samantaray (Kali/Kalu Babu/Bhai to his legion of admirers) was no more! He had passed away at the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital in Mumbai on Saturday evening.

The news of Kali Babu’s death took me by complete surprise because I had been given the impression by those who looked after him during his stay in Mumbai that he was on the road to recovery after undergoing a long spell of chemotherapy. It is only now, in hindsight, that I realise the concern and anxiety in his voice during his last telephonic conversation with me a few weeks back. Part of the reason for the shock was that I had no information he had gone back to Mumbai last Monday after developing some complications. Cancer, as I am beginning to realise now, has this strange tendency of lulling you into complacency before coming back to knock you down with a sledgehammer strike.

We tend to use the term ‘man of many parts’ rather loosely. But Kali Babu was one person who fit the description perfectly. He was an entrepreneur, educationist, environmentalist, culture activist and crusader for Odia language, all rolled into one. But it was his tireless efforts to revive the Odia language and cultural ties with Sadheikala-Kharsuan that drew me closer to him. Twice every year, he would take a busload of students of his Biju Patnaik Computer Academy on a week-long visit to the area that was once part of Odisha but is now in Jharkhand. The students would not stay in hotels, guest houses or dharmashalas, but in the homes of the local people. A group of dedicated volunteers chosen from the locality, led by Madhab Chandra Satpathy, would make the necessary arrangements before the visit. It was Kali Babu’s idea of forming a bonding between people separated by history and geography. On my last visit to Kharsuan, my native place in March this year, I talked to several people who had hosted the visiting boys and girls from mainland Odisha and all of them spoke glowingly about this novel experiment in cultural integration.

It was, however, not a one way street. If the people in Sadheikala-Kharsuan hosted the youth from Odisha, Kali Babu in turn hosted anyone from the area in Bhubaneswar when they came visiting. He had even constructed a Sadhrikala Bhavan inside his institutional premises on Cuttack Road where the guests from Sadheikala-Kharsuan would stay free of cost and appointed people who would ensure a comfortable stay and sightseeing, including the mandatory visit to Puri, for them while they are here.

On May 18 every year, Kali Babu would organise ‘Sadheikala Divas’ at his premises where eminent personalities, including those who had fought long and hard for inclusion of Sadheikala-Kharsuan with Odisha, would talk about how the people of the area had kept their language and culture alive more than six decades after it was merged with Jharkhand. As someone with roots in Kharsuan, I too was an invitee to this function for the last few years. And I must say it gave me immense satisfaction that there were so many people who had not given up on Sadheikala-Kharsuan and still harboured the fond hope that it would return to the state it belongs culturally and emotionally. This despite the fact I have long given up hope of my native place ever becoming part of Odisha.

A few years ago, Kali Babu and Madhab came to me to ask me to draft a letter addressed to the then Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda, who also happend to be the MLA from Kharsuan, requesting him to make Odia the second official language of Jharkhand. They told me that the Bengalis in Jharkhand had prevailed on the government to make Bangla the second language. Kali Babu gathered a group of activists and volunteers and launched a peaceful dharna outside the Chief Minister’s residence in Ranchi while the Jharkhand Assembly was in session. And sure enough, the demand was conceded and Odia became the second official language of our neighbouring state!

All that I have said about Kali Babu in the preceding paras doesn’t even begin to describe the person he was. But for me, that is good enough to ensure a place for him in the pantheon of culture warriors in Odisha who have devoted their lives to the cause.

Kali Babu has done a lot in his short lifetime. But there was so much left to do for this man of action who had assembled people from diverse backgrounds and disparate interests together to work for the causes dear to him.

Adieu Kali Babu! They dont make people like you anymore.

(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).

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