A greedy landlord named Ramachandra Mangaraj, belonging to a coastal village in Odisha, sets out to defraud an innocent weaver couple of their fertile and good-sized parcel of land measuring six acres and thirty-two decimals. He weaves a crooked scheme for this purpose with the help of his maid-cum-mistress Champa and the village barber Jaga. He succeeds in gaining possession of their land, destroying them in the process. But then his karma catches up with him in a bizarre display of peripeteia.
This is the bare and slender plot of Chha Mana Atha Guntha, the iconic first novel by Fakir Mohan Senapati, serialized in 1897-99 under the pen name of ‘Dhurjati’ and published as a book in 1902. Around its ‘economic telling’ (Anjaria 4796) Senapati has spun an elaborate and intricate narrative delivered by an extremely resourceful but supremely unreliable ‘trickster-like’ (Mohanty 19) narrator, taking a swipe at all forms of shibboleths. The other crucial innovation is that the novel featured a villain as its hero, which was another first for the newly evolving Odia novel. Chha Mana Atha Guntha thus emerged as the first modern novel in Odia. A dizzying array of other descriptions has since been wheeled into place: a masterpiece of social realism and satire, a foundational novel in Indian literary history, a signature novel, a Bakhtinian novel, an anti-colonial novel, a postcolonial novel, a postmodernist novel and so on.