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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 4 January 27, 2024

Construction of colonial society it’s Madness in the Story of Dakmunish | Radhakanta Barik

Saturday 27 January 2024, by Radhakanta Barik


Tradition has an immense strength of exhibiting humanism but modernity is failing specially colonial modernity. The best example one finds with the dalit communities who exhibit their brotherhood among themselves to their old people. Hindu hierarchy has not been able to destroy the humanism. In an interview with a Dom musician with five children working as daily labour one finds the truth. Because of his big family his younger brother left him and led a separate life but as he had no child to take care of in old age and his family suffered from hunger. His elder brother went to call him to stay with him. As both shared the food and fish curry every day. It is worth seeing the event of brotherhood. In an upper caste two brothers fought over a plot of land and succumbed to death on the lane of the village. All these stories haunt me in front of Daka Munishi that how a real story is haunting human conscience for a century in Odisha

Tradition has an immense strength and humanism in it. Children take care of parents as advised by the rule book that after sixteen father turns into a friend of son or daughter. In consultation with their children parents work and take decisions. In a traditional society hunger can affect all but some food gets arranged by children for their old parents. Modernity has taught them to be selfish and money minded without any enlightenment. As ideas do not get discussed among them but they use text books as parrots to reproduce on the examination papers which resulted them to be illiterate cum educated. They are illiterate of the tradition and they are not educated to the extent to be having a humanistic. This brings the conflict in Daka Munishi between son and father which continue till today in Odisha society.

When I see an old person begging for a cup of tea and being a father of an educated employed son I feel the intensity of story of Daka Munishi. It is not the story. It is politics of tradition vs modernity. Modernity is weak and vulnerable under the pressures of market forces their parents are begging now. They are forced to lose self respect while leading a life in begging in the villages. In cities vulnerability is there when they are thrown out of their own house built by them by their son and daughter in law. An architect studied in posh college of Bhopal spent his hard earning money by a poor father doing little trading work without any old age security then a question comes before us: Are we really educated and we have turned into a worst selfish class of educated lot in Odisha. Daka Munishi reminds me the pathos and pains of the story while seeing the old people deserted by their sons and daughters.

The story of Daka Munishi is having a long term implication in our society. Modern education does not bring modernity and it can counter the social change happened in a society. The story has a tragic end which explains the tragedies of our society. In village seven families whose parents are the retired school teachers are thrown out by their educated sons . This is happening in many ways that an educated teacher working in Delhi having two homes in the city taking his mother to leave her in Mathura. All these happenings are being worked out by educated sons to inflict pains and sufferings to their parents. It is no more matter related to finance but social consciousness remains so backward with the educated sons who create problems for parents. Such tragic events are happening today. It means Daka Munishi is getting repeated on every day basis after one hundred and twenty years of the publication of the story. The story Daka Munishi creates social theories. The father moves to the village to sustain peasant production and the son with his selfishness sustains capitalism. Two productions systems work in India including Odisha during colonial period. English education inoculated selfish values in young who work for capitalist system. They do not share the space with others. Peasant production works for others in a limited way. The grains they produce consumed by many including birds and animals.

Capitalism in colonial period so crude that these people had only selfishness defined as possessive individualism. But they control the social space of Odisha. Today English education has made them only selfish who ignore their parents. After two decades of publication of Daka Munishi a novel Kali Jhiya gets published by Kuntala Kumari Sabat in 1920s where first time a woman was pushed to Mathura- Brundaban for prostitution by the educated Brahmin community. She was a beautiful woman and forced to marry an old Brahmin person. After his death she ended in Brindavan where she survived in doing prostitution. It is a novel written by woman writer about the plight of women in Brahmin community as they were the first educated community.

The Brahmin and Karana two educated communities have turned selfish in such a manner where their parents in old age pushed to beg and died of hunger. The story of Daka Munishi is the soul of our modernity. With the going of young educated to foreign soil to earn dollars turning rich and powerful they ignore their parents by taking them to crowded place like Allahabad in time of the Sangam. This story is written by a young writer Mrs Paramita Satpathy a Sahity Academy winner . The 19th century story writer Fakir Mohan Senapati wrote a story on impact of modernity over father-son relationship which is explosive like his story Revati. It has long term dynamics explaining the worst part of modern education. This story is a socially provocative story ’ Daka Munishi’ where father works as a post peon and with his hard labour he succeeds to put his son into modern school where he gets education. By putting his persuasive power in doing homework in the home of the Postal officer he succeeds to put his son as a post master. Then the relationship gets disoriented where son starts breaking moral code between father and son relationship. He as an officer works with his peer group where a literate father’s presence creates bitterness in his mental map. This map goes to the extreme point where the father son relationship reaches precipice. Father as a human being understands the agony of modern son and decides to go back to his village leaving his babu son back in the city.

The story of Dakmunishi explains three things of a society and state. Society during colonial period suffered from immense uncertainty as the economy got ruined by the attacks from Zamindars and Muqdams who extracted surplus from them. They lived in hunger despite their production system which resulted in any job outside agrarian economy. This resulted in getting a job as peon in Postal Services which reached him to urban from rural. Job of peon with such low salary but creates hopes in him for better life not for himself but next generation. He is living in the city where one can dream of getting education and job both. This hope keeps him working as a postal peon with Rs9 as monthly salary. This was insufficient for some days he has to undergo without food. hope for future motivates to live there. Working as Peon is being done in semi servile conditions. He works in office and in home of the officers. Interestingly, he cooks food for officer’s family and for his seniours but without eating a meal in their home. Feudalism allows servants to share food whereas colonialism is more cruel that after working in officer’s home till late night he has to return back and cook for him. Smell of good food remains with him but eats just rice and dal.

Odisha had vernacular education which was institutionalized in form of Chahali education. It was closely associated with agricultural society where educated young used to recite Bhagvata and could explain its contours. It had a deep sense of strong mathematics. People used to read and write and make calculation in no time. Western education came with a big fanfare. In middle school it has literature without texts and some English knowledge. Educated with western education knew English vulgar words. These words like non sense, idiot and stupid all these entered into Odiya vocabulary and became part of dominant commonsense. Rich and powerful used to these words to terrorize the poor and oppressed. Father Hari Singh gets educated in vernacular school. Gets the job as a peon in Postal services and his son gets educated in Western schooling where learnt these vulgar words. After getting the job of post master he uses these abuses against no other person than his father.

The story Dakmunishi of Fakirmohan is the very powerful as it hinges on culture, sociology, psychology and history. History of Western education has created problems for a society which destroyed the vernacular schooling in Odisha. All had access to vernacular education and to have an access to Western education it needs children of high caste and high income. Without income one cannot study in the towns where the schools were located.

Furthermore, it shapes the colonial psychology which has been defined as racial psychology. Father Harisingh has traditional psychology where father-son has a special bond but it cracks under the pressures from the western education. Perhaps Fanon’s colonial mentality can be studied by this story. A new concept of emotional hierarchy gets created. As the story writer uses ’Deshi Hriday" vs bideshi hriday which brings placing people in a binary way. Father has Deshi Hriday including the peon who replaces the peon Hari singh after retiremen. A bideshi Hriday belongs to son who turns into Dakmunishi or Post master. He wears suit and a new word emerges such as Babu vs commoner. A new hierarchy comes up in emotional world where father has a different emotional world and son having different. It creates hierarchy of labour where manual labour vs intellectual labour. All these concepts can be understood by reading the story Dakamunish. This is the difference between vernacular education and western education.

Two societies confront each other in the story of Dakmunishi. One society led by Gopal Singh the Post Master holding a high post and the other society led by Hari Singh the father of Gopal Singh a retired post peon. Two worlds meet with fencing of thorny bushes. Son Gopal Singh orders his peon to throw the old man Hari Singh on the fence. There is no other meeting point. Colonial society vs a traditional society. Colonial society gets emerged with the help of English education. The new hierarchy gets created. Gopal Singh is no more son of Hari Singh. He is on the top of social hierarchy of the colonial society. Both father -son stay together in the same office home given to his son. Both do not converse at all. “ Nobody has seen them talking with each other”

Boundary of each society is clearly defined with a thorny fence. Or the officer can live here and Hari Sing can stay in his village society. Village society and town society cannot meet. They confront each other with vulgar words of the English vocabulary. “Officer used the abusive English language against Hari Singh’s chest; with that threw his luggage out. The old man went to his village”. Boundary of colonial society and traditional society is clearly defined that one lives in a far off village and the other in town. One is called Sahib and well dressed and the other with loin cloth and bare body. Both worlds are different and texture is different and language of each world is different. The officer’s society mediated by English language among his other officers. The other is living in traditional world collecting rice from his field and some dal and sabji with his pension money. Introduction of the English education is to construct the colonial society and Gopal Singh is the centre of it and traditional society whose centre is Hari Singh. Boundary is clearly defined and space is clearly demarcated for each.

Is Gopal Singh an exception and his madness helps him to question his old father. Madness is the product of colonial society.( Vaughan 1993) A new hierarchy with coloured people is on the top and black people stand below to take the whole burden. When officers go on tour and his burden is not on the system but on the lower rung people. In the postal services the Postal Superintendents goes on inspection to the sub post offices either in town or rural areas the burden falls on the Post Master of Sub post office and his food gets cooked with the help of a peon. Financial burden falls on the Postmaster and he takes up the burden alone or with the support of peons working in his office. Racial discrimination becomes the rule of colonial society and where the other society looks like black. Odisha society did not have the concept of beauty with a dimension of fairness which gets reimagined in a different way. Black is beautiful and what foods are required to make some one black gets replaced with a new theory of aesthetics that fairness is an additional characteristic of a person to be beautiful. Racialism turns to be integral part of colonial society and those holding power in this society start looking others in a different way. Blacks get discriminated and women with black colour get discriminated by their male counterparts. Masculine ideology turns into a complete whole now. Male power can be reimagined with a sense of discrimination against the others.

Once the colonial society gets constructed with its boundary and the leaders of the society invent their cultural values. Their dressing style with proper suit or stylized clothes shirts and coat which do not suit to the climate needs of local people. In warm climate people use to wear rough dhoti with a half shirt with a gamachha over it which works as a handkerchief. Food gets changed. Rice and Dalama get replaced with rice or bread with dal and sabji and fish or meat curry. They start sitting on the dining table with knife and spoon whereas local people sit on the floor over little wooden structure( Pidha) and eat from the thali. Local people use to eat breakfast with Pakhal or watered rice and dried fish but Babus eat bread and butter. Lunch with an elaborate meal rice, curry and fried whereas local people eat just rice with dalama or fish. Their food habit gets changed with more oil and masala. Local people use little oil and masala only jira and mustard. Dinner time changes which starts after ten if necessary they drink liquor and whereas local people eat before eight and get off in the morning four. People with colonial taste sleep late and get off late and do not see the sun at all.

Human values get changed. Local people feel grateful to someone who does some work for them. Here father Hari Singh does work for his son Gopal but gopal tells it as “ as his duty nothing more” Their world view changes. There is no values like gratefulness or humbleness in colonial society.

Local people carry their own luggage whereas Babus take help of some one. In the story Gopal Singh uses his father Hari Singh to carry his luggage to new post office. He is an old person who walks slowly and reaches the new place in late. Gopal gets furious and abuses him. Father or other they work hard for their sons here and son does not feel thankful to his father. Instead gets abused and in the end throw his luggage outside. Or orders his old father to be thrown on the fence with thorn which works as boundary between two societies.

“ Gopal is studying in Middle School. Hari Singh lives in difficulties with little pension. He has to sell his utensils to add little money. Whatever little saving he had in service career is getting exhausted. All these money gets spent for educating Gopal in middle school. His hope that with the Gopal’s employment their sufferings will come to an end. Gopal assures his father, “ Bapa, please make loan for my education, once I get the job I will pay back.’

This passage explains the pains and sufferings of fathers belonging to low income to educate their sons. With a hope that with their employment their life will prosper.

The way job of Post Master is given which the seniors needs help in the postal services. With their recommendation the job is given and no test no merit is required. Only qualification is required of knowledge of English.

Once Gopal passes out middle school, his father Hari Singh approaches to senior officers and his planning to get his son Gopal a job of Post Master is worked out.” Gopal is going to join the village post office as Sub Post Master. He will be joining Markrampur post office . His post is Sub Post Master and his salary will be Rs 20. For three months he will be probationary officer in the town post office.”

This much money Hari Singh has not seen in his long life. “ Son Hakim or officer, so much money he gets for the monthly salary.He counts so much money and keeps it in his cloth in waist and sleeps with it.Next day morning he goes to the market and buys shoes, dress for his officer son. ‘ Gopal is now Hakim he cannot wear ordinary dhoti? His job requires proper dress.”

His work is to sit with other officers and write in English. He deals with the Babus not ordinary people others call him Post Master Babu. Full name is being used in addressing him: Gopal Chandra Singh. After coming home he sees the old man Hari Singh wearing a rough old dhoti.”

In the whole story of Dakmunish there is a dialogue between father son on one sentence: “Bapa, please help me educating even you borrow money or getting into debt, I will be able to pay back once I get the job.” This is the only sentence mediating between colonial society and traditional society. To get into colonial society one has to climb over the traditional society. Surplus of this society is getting used to be a climber into the hierarchy of colonial society The expenditure incurred for English education is to be borne by the traditional society. It is basically parents take care of education of children. Children forget their moral obligation towards their parents and traditional society. Colonial society does not bother of traditional society. Their approaches to the informal society is parasitic. There is no give and take between two societies.

“ Without knowledge of English bigger job in the hierarchy is not going to be available” it is not the skill or capability of a person but knowledge of English is the precondition for getting into job market organized by the colonial state. Colonial state and colonial society are having symphonic bond and they create an echo in the minds of youth and parents. Parents put their money in educating their children in English and with a hope they will be part of the colonial state.

English educated Indians forget their obligation towards their parents. As they perceive that their parents specifically do not know English. “ He does not know English. He wears dress like a labourer. He wears a dirty cloth. He feels shy of calling him as father. In one occasion officer son standing with some well-dressed woman, this man (as his father)the old man without proper dress walked in front of them. It is shame and shame only. Unless he is thrown out of his residence there is no respect for him.” “He advises his father not to come out of his room while Babus come to his residence.” `

Knowledge of English is a requisite for getting recognition as a learned otherwise he is called” Murkha” All people of a traditional society with education or no education turns into Murkha or idiot. In the story this word is getting repeated more than once. This turns into a popular word in vocabulary of educated Odiyas against the villagers. Vocabulary of colonial society is having words in English like non sense, idiot, bloody etc but only one Odiya word. It is used without any substance. This word used in traditional society those who violates the moral code of the society. May be having sexual relationship violating the taboo determining the clan and kinship. But it gets upgraded and having only one meaning without knowledge of English.

Colonial society gets redesigned by the colonial state where knowledge of English is passport to have an entry into the hierarchy of it. It creates new moral order that self is the centre of this world. The other does not get respected as the other stands for those living in a traditional society with cultural world. Their cultural world is under the attacks. It gets disoriented and disturbed. Madness is the consequence of such selfishness. No nobility and no humanism exist in colonial society. It serves the colonial state and turns into corrupt and venal one. Colonial society sustains these values but without capitalism. The story of Dakamunishi turns into the story of the Wretched of Earth by Fanon who finds the Algerian society has been redesigned by the colonial masters as colonial society which helps in exploitation by French imperialism.(Fuss: 1994) Here in the case of Odisha it turns into a colonial society gets brutalized by the British imperialism.


  • Fakir Mohan Senapati, Dakmunish in Fakirmohan Granthabali: Galpamala 2020 (ed) Kailash Patnaik, Friends’ Publishers, Cuttack
  • Diana Fuss 1994 “ Frantz Fanon and the politics of Identification,” , Diacritics , vol 24, No. 2/3, Critical Crossings(Summer-Autumn)
  • Megan Vaumghan, 1993 “ Madness and Coolonialism, Colonialism as Madness Re-Reading Fanon.” In Colonial Discourse and the Psychopathology of Colonialism Paideuma Bd 39
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