By A Newsman
Kolkata, 28 July: “THE reason and inspiration for my writing are those people who are exploited and used and yet do not accept defeat”. These are the words of noted author and social activist Mahasweta Devi who passed away following cardiac arrest and multi-organ failure at a private hospital in central Kolkata today afternoon.
The author’s work had always revolved around deprived, exploited, underprivileged and neglected sections of people for whom she always raised her voice. She was a known feminist who fought for the cause of women with her pen.
Born in 1926 in Dhaka (now capital of Bangladesh) in the undivided India, Mahasweta had genes of writing as her father Manish Ghatak was a well-known poet and novelist and her mother Dharitri Devi was also a writer and social activist.
Her paternal uncle was internationally acclaimed filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak and her maternal uncles were noted sculptor Sankha Chaudhury and journalist Sachin Chaudhury.
Although, she had her initial schooling in Dhaka but after partition her family moved to West Bengal. Later she joined Vishwa Bharati in Shantiniketan and did her bachelor’s degree with English Honours. She did her master’s degree also in English from Calcutta University.
Mahasweta married renowned playwright Bijon Bhattacharya who was one of the founders of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) movement. Her only son Nabarun Bhattacharya was born in 1948. Nabarun also went on to become well-known writer who won Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Herbert in 1993. He died two years back due to intestinal cancer.
The author divorced Bhattacharya in 1959 and then took up creative writings more seriously. She also worked as journalist and editors of various publications. In the year 1964 she joined Bijoygarh College as a faculty in English department. She left the job in 1984 to dedicate more time for her writings.
Along with her writings, Mahasweta continued to raise her voice for the tribal rights, upliftment of Dalits, commercialisation of agricultural land, industrial policies of Bengal governments, etc. Despite her old age and health problems, she had been in the forefront during the Singur and Nandigram protest in Bengal.
Some of her famous works include, Hazar Chaurasir Maa 1975, Aranyer Adhikar 1977, Agnigarba 1978, Bitter Soil 1998, Bashai Tudu, Rudali, Draupadi, Breast Stories, Gharey Phera, Dakate Kahini, Daulati, Birasa Munda, Bitter Soil, Behula and others.
Her writings inspired several film makers which were turned into films including Rudaali (1993) directed by Kalpana Lajmi the film won national award for its leading actress Dimple Kapadia for her role of Shanichari a Rajasthani village girl, Sunghursh (1968), Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (1998) directed by Govind Nilhani, Maati Maay (2008) based on her short story Daayen and Gangor based on her short story Choli Ke Peeche from the book Breast Stories.
In recognition for her works Mahasweta was awarded India’s second highest civilian award Padma Vibhusan in 2006, Sahitya Akademi Award in 1979, Jnanpith Award in 1996, Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997 and Bangabibhusan in 2011. Her name was also included in the Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Sahityabrahma in the year 2012.
In his condolence message, President of India Pranab Mukherjee tweeted “Mahasweta Devi enriched Bengali literature through her prolific writing and unique style. She was a powerful voice against all forms of oppression and injustice. Her voice was seen as collective conscience of society reflecting its yearning for justice & equality. But works of Smt. Mahasweta Devi will remain forever inspiring the people to strive to build a better India”.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeted saying, “Mahashweta Devi wonderfully illustrated the might of the pen. A voice of compassion, equality & justice, she leaves us deeply saddened”.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who has declared state-funeral for the author on Friday tweeted her condolence, “India has lost a great writer. Bengal has lost a glorious mother. I have lost a personal guide. Mahashweta Di rest in peace”.