Fr. P.P. Ekka, S.J.
A Budding Hindi Writer to Eminent Novelist of Ranchi, Jharkhand
Jesuit Novelists are a rare breed. A Jesuit novelist writing in Hindi is rare enough to be truly unique. But when one considers that this Jesuit novelist is still a scholastic, one is filled with wonder and admiration I Peter Paul Ekka of Ranchi Province, who is currently doing his first year theology at Vidya Jyoti, Delhi, has published, not one, but three novels, and two collections of short stories besides !
Peter is a man of few words but hard work. Gifted with a keen sense of observation, which he developed from early childhood, he has been writing short stories and novels side by side with his other studies during his years of formation. His achievement to date is something very few can hope to emulate.
My association with Peter began in 1977. Over the years I have come to know him well and appreciate his remarkable talent. This is my respectful tribute to a great budding writer, who, I’m sure, will continue to use his pen tirelessly and effectively to proclaim the faith and promote justice.
Early Efforts : Peter began writing as a student of Std. VI. He wrote small articles and poems for his school magazines. The encouragement of his teachers and friends was a great morale booster and he continued writing with greater enthusiasm. During his I. Sc., he wrote a play, Do Rahee Ek Rasta (Two Travelers, One Road), Which was staged at the Minor Seminary in Ranchi. In the pre-novitiate he wrote another play, Kone ka Pathar (Corner Stone), which was staged at Sitagarha. A few more plays followed during his novitiate and juniorate days.
Then the turned to short stories. This was in 1975-76 while he was a junior in Sitagarha. He began sending his stories to Nishkalanka, a Hindi monthly published from Ranchi. The response was so positive and so plentiful that Nishkalanka decided to run his stories every month. By 1979, forty of his stories had appeared and Satya Bharati Prakashan came forward to publish his stories in book form. This was his first book : Khula Asman Bandh Dishayen (Open Sky, Closed Directions). It contained 27 short stories. Two thousand copies of this book were printed and sold within a few months. His second collection, including 16 short stories, was published in 1982. Its title is Parati Jamin (Barren Land).
Social Novels : Peter began publishing novels from 1982, though he had completed the first novel before he came for philosophy in 1981. All the three novels he has so far published are based on social themes. They deal with the tribal culture, life, language, customs, socio-economic problems, political struggles and Catholic leadership.
His first novel, Palas Ke Phool (Flame of the Forest), tells the story of an engineer named Anand, a non-adivasi, who comes to work in Chotanagpur. He is so fascinated by the beauty of the land and the character of the tribals the he decides to settle down there for life.
Palas is a lovely tree with deep red flowers that bloom in the month of April and cover the landscape with a mantle of rubies. It symbolizes the natural beauty of the Chotanagpur area. Parvati is a poor adivasi girl with whom Anand falls in love and eventually marries. Her simplicity, honesty and diligence concretizes for him the charm of the adivasi character, which he learns to admire.
Through this lovely romance the author brings out the beauty of the adivasi culture as well as the many problems that the adivasis face : exploitation by businessmen and landlords, alienation of land, displacement due to development projects and forced emigration to the tea gardens of Assam.
The second novel, Maun Ghatti (Silent Valley) tells the story of a young man, Kishore, and a young woman Rajni. Both are adivasis. They come from different but nearby villages. However, they have spent most of their lives in Ranchi city. Where they were educated through school and college. Their only contact with their villages was during the vacations when they used to go home. On these occasions they used to see the pitiable condition of their people and they were filled with the desire of doing something to improve their lot.
After graduation, they decide to stay in their villages rather than seek employment in the cities. They begin to conscientize the people and organize them to fight for their rights. The nature of their work brings them often together and their love blooms into marriage. But not before they have gone through much hardship together in working for their people. In the end they stand for elections and win, because they have emerged as dedicated leaders and champions of the people.
In this novel, as in the previous one, the problems of the adivasis are brought out through an interesting romance. An added dimension in this novel is the example of dedicated Catholic lay leadership among the tribals.
The third novel, Sone Pahadi (Golden Hill), published at the beginning of this year, is based on the Koel-Karo Project and its consequences. It explains how the tribals are exploited and forcibly evicted from their lands in the name of ‘development’.
Sunil is an engineer who is sent to construct a dam in the Chotanagpur area. As a government servant he feels it is his duty to convince the people that this dam is necessary for their development. However, he also sees that the people are going to be displaced by the dam and that no effort is being made to compensate or rehabilitate them. He finds himself in a dilemma, goes through some anguishing moments and then decides to champion the cause of the displaced people and demand adequate compensation for them. Eventually he succeeds admirably in integrating the demands of development and social justice : the dam is built and the people are resettled in an alternative area nearby.
The government is so pleased with his work that he is sent back to the area as an IAS officer. He marries the adivasi girl who had captured his heart while he was working on the dam. The story ends with the young IAS officer proudly showing his wife the dam which he has built and the fertile fields of the people he has helped.
Novel means to Conscientization : Peter’s aim in writing stories and novels about tribal life and culture, as can be seen, is to awaken his own people. His style in this respect is similar to Premchand’s. He raises questions, gives examples, exposes the problems of the tribals and finally proposes some solutions.
Peter has been to many of the places described in his novels and he has studied the condition of the tribals from close quarters. His novels are based on facts and reflect the real life situation of the tribals. Peter’s love for tribal culture and his zeal to conscientize his people run through his novels like gold and silver threads forming the warp and woof of his exquisite tapestry.
Peter has a Master’s degree in chemistry and he taught it for a year at St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, before going for theology. Between his Juniorate in Sitagarha (1975-79) and philosophy in Pune (1981-83), he had studied chemistry passing his B.Sc. from St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, and his M.Sc. from Loyola College, Madras.
When I met him last time in May, I asked him how he got time to write while busy with chemistry. He said, “I am trying to compromise. It is difficult, but still I think I can do it. If I am asked to choose between chemistry and writing, I will choose writing, because I can reach many more people and serve them better.”
J. Felix Raj,
For JIVAN, JESUITS OF INDIA, VIEWS AND NEWS, Dec 1984.