Charudutta Panigrahi, Gurugram, 20 November 2022
Art and culture are the only treasure. Its fast depletion is making us poorer every year. In 2022, culture-based explanations for economic development will have to make a comeback in Odisha. Cultural activism and concomitant creativity in the general population can make us richer in 2022. GDP is grossly incomplete without art and culture. The growing prevalence of data has given rise to loads of quantitative theories for market and economic explanations of sociology. GDP is outdated. Economists are increasingly turning to culture to answer questions about people’s financial behaviors and what shapes them. Culture is the foundational power of a state or a race. We continue to invest more in physical capital, finance or in technology and the economy has grown. But this doesn’t explain the variety of growth across the districts. To know the diversity of growth, we need to go to deeper causes that relate to how a district or a village has developed or not. The youth are exposed to low-grade entertainment which is blatantly salacious and misogynistic. This rules public behavior. The youth are eons away from the culture and heritage of Odisha. My most preferred language is Hindi. TV anchors of Odia channels speak some strange language. I am responsible for this utter social confusion. I feel superior when my next generation doesn’t speak Odia. It assuages my inferiority complex. What am I doing today to uphold our culture or to give it a transformed look, adaptable to the changing times? Where is the cultural consciousness? Mere repetitive sermons on Odia language with archaic references is sheer lollygag. The youth have to take over the cultural leadership. Artists, painters, musicians, and film artists have to initiate cultural dialogues and performances, not the antediluvian priests and priestesses of culture. Long live the antiquated czars of Odia culture.
The creative industry requires immediate attention. It is paralyzed now. If the industry revives, the collective soft power of Odisha will be built and crystallized. For the industry to rejuvenate, individual creativity has to flower. For individual creativity to evolve, you and I have to lead the rebellion. The rebellion to show GDP its place and give special focus on the Creative Quotient of the state. Creativity is the greatest rebellion. Creativity can make us truly richer from the inside. All the rest is transient, is blarney.
In 2022, institutions that have been created by the state to preserve and promote culture need to undergo performance appraisal. Let me ask myself a few straight questions. They refer to small steps in cultural revival in Odisha, beginning 2022:-
1. In-flight crew members acknowledging Odia language: Tremendous economic growth has given us more flights and has expanded Bhubaneswar airport beyond recognition. But all the flights departing Bhubaneswar announce that the in-flight attendants are conversant in English, Hindi, Bengali or some other Indian language. Odia is never mentioned as that other Indian language. Is it because the crew members are not Odia or do not know Odia or are embarrassed to declare that they know Odia? If language needs to be imposed, so be it. At least if it is made mandatory, then over a period of time, it becomes a habit.
2. Odia society needs centering: In these tumultuous times when the pace of change has overwhelmed all of us, art has the strength of bringing us back to our senses and center us. It’s about how much we experience art or are opportune to experience which makes the difference towards fostering an aesthetic, creative and ‘refined’ civilization.
3. Public art engagements: Engagements like the Bhubaneswar Art Trail (BAT 2018) need to be a permanent fixture in the city art calendar. This will open up a public atelier — a large public stretch of workshop or studio of artists, where masters, assistants, students, apprentices and all of us can work together to produce pieces of fine art. The canvas can be anything — a school building, a public wall, pavements, parapets, tufts, houses, youth club buildings and just about anything. Art knows no ceiling or fencing.
4. Artwork to be created and promoted in districts and regions: The recently inaugurated Kalinga Art Gallery and five Regional Art Galleries is a commendable drive by the State and Lalit Kala Academy. But this should not be limited to only government initiatives. The local citizens should be actively and formally involved in Art committees and task forces in their areas. The five Regional Art Galleries are located in Chhatrapur (Ganjam), Puri, Balasore, Sambalpur and Koraput.
5. Public libraries: Odisha, the repository of unparalleled heritage, should also be made the capital of soft power in the country. It needs conscious effort from all, including you and I. There is uncommon juxtaposition and synergetic co-existence between history and the present, the harmony of antiquity and contemporary. A public library offers information and educational resources to a community. There are other modes in seeking information, but the public library should not be disregarded. Because it is not only a library but a community center that imbibes a sense of discipline and belongingness. Factors that affect the use of public libraries, such as accessibility, availability, comfortability, and maintenance of it, play an important role in determining its usage among youth. We need to think about the digitalization of libraries to suit contemporary requirements.
6. Drop dilettante preaching from self-centered art has-beens: Give space to the youth in our cultural landscape. Create energies to match their restlessness. The old have to make way. I work in the villages, and I have noticed that the youth is hardly connected to the creative realm of Odisha. They need to be brought to the fold.
There is a profound link between cultural beliefs and higher levels of economic development. To assess the willingness and preparedness of youth to participate in job markets, we need to look at the prevalence of social trust in a given community. Increased social trust has a strong correlation with higher rates of business, innovation, and development in an economy. In Odisha, social trust should not decline because that will always be our strength. Places that develop low levels of trust between strangers, communities, tend to be less developed, economically and socially. The strength of family ties in a community and its economic development is also inseparably linked. Stronger family ties usually mean more bonding and family prosperity.
As an Odia, I need to meditate on myself, realize our potential and stop being philistine. Richness does not mean only economic growth. That is a bye product. The real evolution shows in the culture and its internalization. If that does not grow, I continue to be miserably poor.
This article had been published earlier elsewhere. It has been republished here with some modifications with the author’s consent.