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Padma Shri Haldar Nag is a STD 3 dropout but does show it off as a fancy, young-entrepreneurial tag. For him, dropping out was the only option similar to what thousands of poverty-stricken children face in rural India. Although he did not receive a formal education, he did not let that stand between him and his dreams.
Today, he is a renowned poet who has been the PhD research material of at least five academicians. At the age of 66, the famous poet from western Odisha received Padma Shri this year by the President of India.
He writes in Kosli language and has extraordinary talent. One may have an idea of his capacity by the fact that he can recollect every one of his poems he has penned including 20 epics. As a gesture of gratitude, Sambalpur University is currently making a compilation of all his compositions into Haldhar Granthabali-2, which will become a part of the university syllabus.
His achievement cannot be scaled through his creation alone. He brought back the enthusiasm of youngsters towards Kosli poetry. Currently, he attends over three to four programs everyday where he recites his poems to the gathering. So sharp is his memory and so grans is his love for words that he fondly remembers everything that he has ever written. Isn’t that truly astonishing?
A talented and generous human being, Haldar is always humble and practices simplicity which also reflects in the way he dresses. He is almost always seen in a vest, dhoti and no footwear whatsoever.
He comes from a lower income group family in Bargarh, Odisha. He was forced to drop out of school after STD 3 when his father passed away in 1950. He was only 10-year-old then and life was tough. He had to make ends meet by washing dishes in a local sweet shop for two years. Then for the next 16 years, he worked as a cook in a nearby high school. He got this job at recommendation of the village head. Later, when more schools came up in the region, he managed to open a stationery-cum-eatery for the school goers by borrowing Rs 1,000 – his initial capital.
His first poem ‘Dhodo Bargachh’ (The Old Banyan Tree) was composed during this time in 1990. It got published in a local magazine. Subsequently, he wrote four more poems that were accepted by the same magazine. This gave him enough encouragement to write more.
Soon after, he started visiting nearby villages to recite his own poems. He received motivating response from the villagers and since then he never looked back. He devoted his life to poetry. In Odisha he is known as the Lok Kabi Ratna. All his poems are based on subjects from the rural surroundings, including nature and society. His poems also revolve around religion, mythology, social challenges and reforms. According to him, poetry must have genuine association and a message for the general population.
It is heartening to see people like Haldar are getting their due recognition now. They are deeply attached to their roots, reflect simplicity and are the most beautiful wordsmiths.
This article was first published in KenFolios - Only interesting stories.