By Prasanta Patnaik, Bhubaneswar: Srikanta Panda, a great admirer of Biju Patnaik and a visionary who was virtually responsible for leading a bold revolution in changing the contents of Odia magazines will be remembered for ever and would be acknowledged for his role in the history of Odia magazine journalism. While all the Odia magazines were happy with their limited number of circulation and contents which included literary criticism, stories, poems, on acts only and the Odia readers never conceived of a magazine with non-fictions, features, photo-features , Srikanta Panda who was a commerce graduate and served as the Commercial Manager of Kalinga Tubes of Biju Patnaik could bring a revolutionary change in Odia magazines by converting ASANTAKALI into a feature based magazine in 1972.
Though I was a contributor of short stories and poems for ASANTAKALI, I had no acutance with Mr Panda. I was simply happy that the monthly magazine published from Kolkata was publishing my writings occasionally. I also knew that after Jadumani Parija of Patiram Parija’s Family have virtually withdrawn from publication of of ASANTAKALI, Mr Srikanta Panda had taken over responsibility of publication of the popular monthly from 2/2-A Premchand Boral Street, Calcutta. I was never keen to know who was Mr Panda, despite my close poet friend Prahaj Satyanarayan Nanda who was serving Amrita Bazar Patrika at Calcutta was associated with it . My younger brother like Poet Amaresh Patnaik, son of famous poet Ananta Patnaik , who was working with Odia edition of SOVIET DESH was also very close to Mr Panda.
My first meeting with Mr Panda was memorable to a great extent. One afternoon while I was sipping tea along with wife Chndraprava , in my quarters located at 17/2, Type-VA , in Unit-2, an ambassador car stopped in front of my gate and a gentle man along with a lady alighted from the car. Both of them walked in , as Chndraprava was well known to the lady, she welcomed her and the stranger. The lady was Dr Jayashree Patnaik, a well-known dental surgeon who was taking care of Chnadraprava’s oral health. The smart gentleman introduced himself as Drikanta Panda of Asantakali and shook hands with me and wanted a firm commitment from me to be associated with Asantakali by contributing features and photographs regularly as he has taken a decision to convert Asantakali to a feature based magazine. He handed over me the copy of a Bengali newspaper carrying a photograph on Odisha drought , circulated by Land & Life Photo-News Agency. Mr Panda told me that after seeing the photograph of an old lady sitting under a tree in Konmna block with a starving half naked grand daughter whom she wanted to sale , he was very much moved and went to the office of Land & Life to collect my address. Mr Alok Guha , who was heading the photo-news agency was happy to provide him with my address. After obtaining my address, Mr Panda came to Bhubaneswar and contacted Dr Jayashree who was well known to him. Mr Panda also committed to make payment for the feature and photographs. This made me damn happy and I promised to write and contribute photographs for Asantakali on almost regular basis. He suggested a detailed story on Odisha drought with a number of photographs which would be published as the cover story. My first feature named “ Anek Devatara Mrutyure” ( Death of Many Gods ) appeared as cover story and was not only appreciated by Odia readers ,but also had a great impact . Thus Mr Panda created a new revolution in Odia magazine journalism which was later followed by many newspapers and magazines.
As my features and photographs ate away a number of pages in the magazine it created heart burn of many poets and story writers who tried to pressurize Mr Panda not to publish features. But he was firm as rock and did not succumb to any pressure; Even during the national emergency he faced threats from many quarters not to publish such features with supporting photographs exposing the failure of the Government to tackle the situation. But Mr Panda did not bend or broke. Change in contents of Asantakali was appreciated by eminent authors like Mr Gpinath Mohanty, Mr Surebdra Mohanty, Mr Akhil Mohan Patnaik and others. They also contributed stories criticizing the national emergency .Thus with Mr Panda’s leadership Asantakali created a history in Odia magazine journalism. If Mr Panda would nt have taken such a bold step, no other Odia magazines might not have come forward to make such an bold experiment.
With a view to make Asantakali a publication in par with publications in other regional languages, Mr Panda had established a printing press also. But luck did not favor him. He became upset over Biju’s decision to handover Kalinga Tubes to IMFA group and transfer all assets and liabilities including the employees of Kalinga Tubes to IMFA management. But Mr Panda refused to join IMFA group . He was keen to start a steel tube unit of his own named as Orissa Tubes located at Kolathigaon in Ganjam district. But because of various reasons it did not clique well. Finding no way out he went back to Calcutta to carry on his social activities for the betterment of Odias living in West Bengal through the Odia schools and various organizations he had promoted .
Though many financially strong persons had offered him to handover Asantakali to them for making it more attractive and profitable. Mr Panda preferred to remain silent with a hope to make it the number one Odia magazine in future. But his dreams remained unfulfilled as on the midnight of 6th March 2017 he breathed his last due to cardiac arrest.
With Mr Panda’s sudden and sad demise, his only son Prashant and daughter Budhi have not only lost their father, as mauch earlier, they had lost their loving sweet mother , Odias in West Bengal have lost a strong leader and with him virtually died the dream for Asantakali.