The novel explores the life of the Paraja tribe in the Koraput District in Orissa. It deals with the exploitation of the tribal and their land at the hands of the moneylenders and the people in power. The ruthless system of oppression destroys and completely ruins many tribal peasants.
The protagonist is Sukru Jani, a widower who has two sons: Mandia and Tikra, and two daughters; Jili and Bili. Life is not a bed of roses for this simple man, as he has to work hard to make ends meet. Despite his hardships he is happy in his small world and his jungle that provides him with everything he needs.
But his happiness is short lived when a train of misfortune befalls him and the family. His downfall begins with the Forest Guard takes his vengeance on the family when Sukru’s daughter rejects his advances. Sukru Jani and his son become a “Goti” to repay money the moneylender had given them. Thereby builds up the frustrations of him and his family, which leads to a series of very unfortunate events. They only end with the murder of the moneylender at the hands of his son and they end up surrendering to the police. Thus, it is an endless tale of woes and suffering.
Paraja throws light on the various tribes of Orissa and a tribal way of life in more than one way. The author makes us familiar with a lot of the tribal customs, traditions. Their various festivals that are celebrated throughout the year and their songs and dances. The novel also explores the tribal way of sustaining themselves through the jungle and how they regard the jungle to be their mother. Hence the novel also gives a peek into the tribal way of thinking.
The tribal can be categorized as a subaltern group and the novel ‘Paraja’ explores the manipulated tribal at the hands of the ruling feudal forces operative in that area. They are the marginalized people who are unable to raise their fist or voice and even if they do, they are crushed and they meet a fate as bad as Sukru Jani.
But this is not an isolated incidence of only the tribal; we find exploitation and manipulation in any strata of society. There exists the overpowering of the weak at the hands of the strong and powerful and also the corruption or destruction of a way of life by the corrupting forces of material society.
Paraja, which was originally written in Oriya by Gopinath Mohanty and has been, translated By Bikram K. Das. It is a classic of modern Indian fiction. The vivid details and descriptions of the Jungle and a tribal way of life is the heart of the novel. Nowhere do we feel that the story is lagging. Through the course of events we feel the pain and suffering of the tribals. The novel builds up the tempo towards the end where we finally read the fate of the protagonist.