Novel writing started in India as a result of the Indian author’s exposure to Western literature, from mid-19th century onwards. Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918) is the first major novelist whose Chha Mana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a Half, 1897), dealing with the exploitation of the peasants by a zamindar, is a classic in Indian literature, Senapati wrote in the tradition of realism, about ordinary men and women and their problem, in colloquial Odia.
After senapati the novel established itself as a literary form in odia and a number of authors wrote under the inspiration of the master. Social reforms seems to be the concern of most of these novelists. In Kanaklata (1925) Nanda Kishore Bal supports widow marriage and abolition of dowry. In Yugalamath (1920) Chintamani Mohanty potrays the corrupt and lustful life of the mahants. In Adbhut Parinam (Strange Consequences) Mryutyunjay Rath deals with the theme of conversion of young Hindu to Christianity. In Na-Thudi Kuntala Kumari Sabat, the first major women novelist, talks of equality, social justice and dignity of labour.
Novels written between the late twenties and the forties have nationalism, the freedom movement and exploitation as their central themes. Psychological treateent of characters and influence of Marxism can be noted in most of the novels written during this period. Upendra Kishore Das’s Mala Janha ( The Dead Moon,1922), Vaishnav Charan Das’s Mane Mane (Inside One’s mind, 1926), Lakshmikanta Mahapatra’s Kana Mamu (The One-eyed Uncle, 1947) and Kalindi Charan Panigrahi’s Matira Manisha ( The Man of the Soil, 1934) are some of the major works of this period.
Kanhu Charan Mohanty (1906-94) is the most prolific and indeed the most popular novelist of the post-independence period. He has written about thirty novels and has received the Sahitya Akademi award for Ka (The Proxy,1953). Mohanty has not broken away significantly from the senapati tradition, either in the choice of theme or style. He has mostly written about Odishan rural society – the problem of marriage and love, caste and economic exploitation, some of his important works are : Adekha Hata (The Unseen Hand,1939), Shasti (The Punishment 1945) and Ha Anna (The Famine,1933).
Gopinath Mohanty (1924-93) is decidedly the most important novelist after senapati. Besides novels, he has written volumes of short stories,essays and a grammar of the language of the Konds. He received the sahitya Akademi award for his novel Amrutara Santan (Children of Nectar, 1949) and the Jnanpith award for Mat-Matala ( The Fertile soil, 1964).
Most of Mohanty’s novels potray the life of the aboriginal tribes of Odisha. Harijan (1943) depicts the life of the untouchables in a society by caste Hindus.
Danapani (Bread and Water,1955 ) is portrayal of an individual who forgoes everything in life, including the loyalty of his wife, to climb the bureaucratic ladder. Novels like Rahura Chaya (The Shadow of Rahu, 1955) and Laya Bilaya (waves of the Mind, 1961) probe the human mind in all its light and shadow. Mati-Matala records the transition the village society is passing through as a result of the impact of several political and economic forces that have been generated in the city.
Nityananda Mohapatra (b.1922) and Rajkishore Patnaik (1916 -97) have written a number of novels presenting their characters as psychological biengs. Basanta Kumari Patnaik (b.1927) has written masterpiece, Amada Bata (The Untrodden Path, 1927) whose primary concern is the character Maya, before and after her marriage. Surendra Mohanty (1920-92), perhaps the greatest short story writer of the fifties and the sixties, has been successful as a novelist too. Neela Shaila (The Blue Mountain,1969),a historical novel set in 18th century Odisha, has won shitya akademi award and has been a best seller. Andha Diganta (the Blind Horizon.1964) is political novel which depicts the Indian society before and after independence.
Many novelist who published their works in the forties and fifties cannot be said to belong either to the pre or post-independence period exclusively. Though individually most of them may not have anything significant in theme or style, they have produced a considerable bulk of fiction and enriched Odia literature. Mention may be made of Faturananda (1915-95) whose novel, Nakta Chitrakar ( The Artist without a Nose,1967) is the story of an artist, without a nose, in love with a pretty women.
With the publication of his first novel Nara-Kinnara (Man and Half-Beast,1962), Shantanu Kumar Acharya (b.1934) made quite an impact on the novel-reading public of Odisha. The theme of Nara-Kinara is the search for identity of an orphan boy, George, who lives in a slum and whose parents are described as the drain and a banyan tree of a hospital. In novel like Satabdira Nachikata (The Nachiketa of the century,1965), Tinoti Ratira Sakala (Dawn after three Nights, 1969) and Shakuptala Acharya has boldly questioned the accepted ideals of the society. Krusna Prasad Mishra (1933-94).,Sinhakati (women with a Lion’s waist,1959) depicts the protagonist’s aspiration towards higher values of life. Chandra Sekhar Rath (b.1929)’s Jantrarudha ( one who Rides a Machine,1966) is the moving account of the life of a priest,potraying the futility and meaninglessness of modern life. Mohapatra Neeelamani Sahoo (b.1926) has written two novels with love and marriage as their theme. Sahoo has an intimate understanding of human character and situation and probes deep into human mind. Nrusingha Kumar Panda’s Kharabela (1989) and Jagannath Prasad Das’s Desha Kala Patra ( Land, Time and people,1992) are two important historical novels of recent times, Satkadi Hota, a prolific novelists,deals with middle class social life and values. Bibhuti Patnaik and Pratibha Ray are prolific and popular novelists. Ray has recently been in the limelight for her feminist perspective in novels like Yajnyaseni (1984). Chandramani Das, Jogindra Kumar Mohanty and Kanduri Charan Das have written thrillers mostly on western models. Gokulananda Mohapatra has the distinction of being the first novelist to write on scientific topics such as man’s journey into space. Jameshwar Mishra has made an interesting experiments by writing his novel, Khamari, in the colorful dialect of sambalpur. Ramachandra Behera, Jashodhara Mishra, Hrushikesh Panda, Padmaja Pal and Jyoti Nanda are some of the novelists of the younger generation experimenting with new themes and forms.