"Life is as intimately great and profound as the immensity of the starts above us. One can only look at it through the narrow key-hole of one's own personal existence. But through it one perceives more than one can see. So above all one must keep the key-hole clean. "
--- Franz Kafka
Keeping the key-hole clean, so that the other side doesn't appear blur or hazy, is what MANOJ KUMAR PANDA has tried to do all his life. Agnostic by nature he lived a carefree life, reading detective novels in early school days and literature in late teens. In his first year in college he has been introduced to a biography of Jean Paul Sartre and the autobiography of Bertrand Russell, and after that, reading them passionately shaped his reasoning, aesthetics and most importantly, that boosted a mature literary pursuit in later age. His first passion is reading and writing plays a second fiddle. He wrote his stories in his thirties between readings, means, he is a writer who writes on Sundays only.
Born on 4th October 1954 in Balangir, Odisha, to mother Radhamani Panda and father Nilamani Panda, he is the eldest among three sisters and three brothers. His father, a matriculate in 1948, was a bench clerk to the district judge in Balangir all his life. By that time all the school subjects were taught in English language which gave his father a fairly sound knowledge in English, and an interest in reading. In his school days in the 60s Manoj Kumar Panda was introduced to a few journals which his father procured, like Blitz, Illustrated Weekly and the Readers' Digest and two news papers. The Prajatantra, in Odia and The Times of India in English. By this time he completed reading a good number of books of two doyens of Odia literature -- Gopinath Mohanty and Kanhu Charan Mohanty.
Since language was becoming a passion for Sri Panda, he was reading books, journals and newspaper with a pen in his hand, underlining words and phrases and many a time writing them down in a notebook, and keeping a dictionary side by side without fail. This habit of accumulating vocabulary turned and shaped into language, romantic though, when he started writing letters and poems for a neighboring girl, two years junior to him. During the four years he courted the girl, he wrote nearly 600 letters and 100 poems in a quite flowery language. It ended when both of their families had to move elsewhere because of transfer on government jobs, as their fathers have had. Frustrated he flew away from home to Madras (now Chennai) with the little money he got from his father as admission fees into the first year degree course, and thereby lost one year of his college life. He stayed there for six days, eating and sleeping at the platform and spending most of the time at the sea shore. When he return home he was completely relaxed and admitted to the first year class in Sonepur college the next year, in the district of Balangir.
It was a turning point in life. A few teachers and a few friends introduced him to Sartre, Camus, Hemingway, Herman Melville, Herman Hesse, T S Eliot, Ezra Pound, and a lot in Penguin books, not to speak of Marx, Lenin and Angels, Sarat Chandra, Badal Sarkar and others. In fact he was settled to active literary pursuit forgetting totally his first love.