By Fakir Mohan Senapati
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Additional resources for Six Acres and a Third: The Classic Nineteenth-Century Novel about Colonial India
Had he not come to his cousin’s rescue, Shyam’s face would even now be covered with ugly stubble, a mark of penance. Out of sheer generosity, Mangaraj made sure the ritual of expiation involved very little expense—a mere fifteen acres of Shyam’s rent-free ancestral property. A few days later, Mangaraj summoned Shyam and, speaking as a family elder, reprimanded him: “Look Shyam, from now on you should be more careful. Because I was around, people were there to help you out; otherwise your only option would have been to convert to Christianity—you and all your ancestors would have been consigned forever to deepest hell.
In his autobiography he tells the story of how he came to acquire an Islamic name like Fakir. As a child, he had fallen so ill that his devout grandmother feared that she would lose him. After praying to “every Hindu God and Goddess under the sun,” writes Fakir Mohan, she turned to two Muslim pirs, or saints, who lived in Balasore. She promised to give him up to their religious order as a fakir (wandering holy man) if he recovered. He recovered, but then the doting grandmother could not bear to give up her young grandson.
But no one’s fortunes run smooth forever: ups and downs are a Law of Nature. From time immemorial, the quaysides of Balasore had bustled with people by the thousand. Yet look at them now, silent, desolate, overgrown with wild bushes and as hushed as the cemetery. Even the river has silted up. 10 Equally devastating to Oriya society and culture was the colonial government’s division of the province into three separate sections, each incorporated into an existing administrative unit. Oriya-speaking populations became a linguistic minority in these larger units, and as a result the cultural infrastructure of both urban and rural Orissa—modern schools, the publishing industry, an educated class of readers and writers—remained inadequately developed.