For the Love of Art and Nanpur Village
Noted artist and writer Prafulla Mohanti has kept his village in Odisha alive through his paintings and books. The 87-year-old, who has British citizenship, has set up an art and culture centre in his village Nanpur in Jajpur district where he teaches art to village children.
Ashis Senapati 3 April 2023 12:35 PM GMT
Nanpur (Jajpur) Odisha
Prafulla Mohanti relishes nothing more than teaching children art. The noted 87-year-old writer, artist and urban planner, who was born in the picturesque Nanpur village, holds a British citizenship and lives in London, but spends time between November and March in his village in Jajpur district of Odisha.
Sitting around him on a white sheet spread out on the floor, children pay close attention to Mohanti who sits on a bench and paints on an easel. He has set up the art class in his two-storied home in Nanpur. Smita Behera, a 14-year-old shyly, says how she enjoys the class. “Prafulla Sir is an icon for us,” she told Gaon Connection.
For Mohanti, nothing gives him greater pleasure than teaching the young people of his village.
“They are wonderful kids. I love them, and they love me. They always do their best, and I want to be doing this till my last breath,” Mohanti told Gaon Connection.
The Sahitya Akademi conferred the Honorary Fellowship on Prafulla Mohanti on 15 November 2022, at a function in New Delhi. This is the highest honour conferred by the Academy on literary persons of outstanding merit who are not nationals of India. The other stalwarts in his company are professor Michael J. Hutt who received the honour in 2021, and Sir V.S. Naipaul who got the Honorary Fellowship from Sahitya Akademi in 2010.
Mohanti wears the honour lightly. “Putting a smile on the faces of children by teaching them to paint is the real reward for me,” he said.
“My initiation into the world of art and learning was at the village school. I was three years old, and the teacher took my right hand that was holding a thick clay chalk, and helped me draw three perfect circles supposed to represent the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar. That is how my life as an artist and writer began,” smiled Mohanti.
For the artist and author, his village culture is a source of great inspiration. He set up an arts and culture centre at Nanpur 25 years ago. “I remember learning how to paint on the walls of my home with rice flour, from my mother. I want this centre to teach children the arts, be it painting, dance, music…,” he said.
“I have been trying to revive the dying arts of wandering singers, story tellers, puppeteers, and other arts and crafts through the centre in Nanpur. I organised art festivals here and trained budding artists here and from nearby villages. We teach singing, painting , dancing, puppetry and other art and crafts in the centre. I also provided five computers ten years back to the art centre,” he said.
“I was educated by the people of this village, and this is what I owe to them. I have nothing else to achieve in life. My only goal is to help my people,” Mohanti said.
Keeping Nanpur alive
Mohanti is very proud of his origins. Through his books My Village, My Life: Portrait of an Indian Village, Changing Village, Changing Life, Indian Village Tales and other books and paintings, he has kept his village, Nanpur, alive. Mohanti has held more than 60 exhibitions in Europe, America, Japan, and of course India.
Mohanti went to England in 1960 after graduating as an architect from Bombay's J.J. School of Art. He got a post-graduate diploma in town planning at Leeds University in 1964. The same year, he had his maiden one-man exhibition at Leeds, which was very well received. He joined the Greater London Council as an architect-planner but gave it up in 1969 to devote himself to painting and writing.
In his book My village and Life…, Mohanti wrote feelingly about the dusty village path, the paddy fields, mango orchards, the mud walls with rice paste paintings, and so on. The London literary circles took note of his books and today, his home at 20, Sussex road in London is the hub of many Indian writers and painters.
In 2015, Mohanti organised a 10-day Nanpur Festival, at the Nehru Centre in London.
Also Read: The Evergreen ‘Bana Sir’ of Kendrapara
He is disturbed by the degradation he is seeing in Nanpur and the surrounding areas due to rampant industrialisation and exploitation of minerals in the state. “My village Nanpur has changed so much in the past five decades. But still I love Nanpur,” he said.
“Clearly, Prafulla Sir has lived a long and happy life. He has set such a positive example to others. He has taught painting and provided education and other kinds of help to many of the poor children of our village and other villages nearby,” Natabar Mallick, a 65-year-old resident of Nanpur, told Gaon Connection.
"It's people like Prafulla Sir who show us the way. I am sure there are many more Prafulla Sirs in the country whose work is never reported but they continue to serve the people,” said Ajay Jena, a music teacher at the art and culture centre.