Enthusiasm and Inspirations: Two Parallel Lines of Activity
The famine and its aftermath had left an indelible mark on Manoj’s memory. Seeking a possible solution for the problem of suffering he came under the influence of a Marxist theoretician Shyam Sundar Mohapatra (later an M.P. and General Secretary of Indira Congress) and a few ardently sincere leaders of the undivided Communist Party of India, Banamali Das and Sailen Mohapatra. By the time he was a student of Class XI, he was a regular member of the C.P.I.
He had started writing much earlier. As he stated in several interviews, he never looked upon writing as something that was outside one’s normal activities. Writing came to him naturally. His first book of poetry, Satavdira Artanada, was published when he was in Class X, followed by Viplabi Fakirmohan within six months. His first collection of short stories came out when he was in Class XI. The book received excellent reviews in newspapers. The most eminent writer of the time, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, reviewed it in highly encouraging terms in the All India Radio. The title story, Samudrara Kshudha, that was the first ever short story Manoj wrote, is considered a classic in Oriya prose both because of its content that was radically new and its powerful narrative style.
He also launched a literary magazine, Diganta, while in Class X.
It was thought fit that he should come over to Cuttack in his final year B.A. for playing a more useful role in the student movement all over the state. He sought admission in Ravenshaw College, but was refused despite his eligibility. Christ College was about to admit him, but changed its decision because of CID reports on him. However, the Principal of Puri College was obliged to admit him as a ward of his elder brother who was then on the teaching staff of the college. Thus Manoj graduated from Samanta Chandrashekhar College, Puri, in 1955.
By that time at least three more of Manoj’s books had been published: Jeebanara Swada and Vishakanyar Kahani, collections of short stories, and Padadhwani, a collection of poems.