A writer and an activist, two roles that influence & comment on each other, in career spanning earlier 5 decades she has written close to 100 novels 20 collection of short stories, benefited and applauded with the Sahitya Academy Award, the Gyanpeeth Award, the Megasaysay Award and whole host of awards and recognition from around the world—Mahasweta Devi.
Mahasweta Devi great teacher and creative writer who had Manish Ghatak, well known poet and novelist as father, you think why not?
Most of her work is been for the indigenous people of India which is one sixth of its population. She has written passionately on behalf of the people who are ostracized, who are exploited and was working on their behalf. Writing and social work flows into her blood, being the daughter of Dharitri Devi, writer and social worker. She grew up being surrounded by people who were known for their works in the field of writing.
One day, two or three naxal boys asked her that how can she write about Naxalites in the rural context. They said that they are being butchered by the people daily on the streets of Calcutta. For which she said she would try. And out of that came “Hajar Churashir Maa” “Mother of 1084”, that became a rage. This was published by Cine Magazine and was sent to reprint. The book also got smuggled into the jail and the naxalites prisoners read it. She was thoroughly accepted for her work.
She began writing in Bengali newspapers and periodicals like Basumati, Yugantar and later in Bartaman and Aajkal. She also wrote books for children. She did the series for Oxford (University Press). She was very passionate towards writing. ‘I used to write for 18 hours daily’- she said.
She once described, that she never does any rewriting, very little or hardly ever. On being asked, that whether she likes reading what she has already written, she replied- “Perhaps not right at the outset. It happens sometimes. But -the Published books- I occasionally read those”. Interesting isn’t it?
She tried to fathom why people liked her particular work. “I don’t think I’ve written anything extraordinarily mind-blowing”– she quoted.
She got a glimpse of vast human society, tribal & non-tribal all of them, and while writing in the news papers, investigated the sort of writing. She believed that the world is divided in to two things, the needful and the needless and she was interested only in the former.
Apart from writing, she had washed heaps of clothes, cooked a lot and scrubbed the utensils and washed them. She expressed that she liked to go to the places and was the happiest when she traveled to Palamau, Purulia and other tribal areas but over the years she realized that she was the happiest when she returned to her house and sat at her table. She liked that house a lot that she had to give up.
Mahasweta Devi unlike most of the Indian women wasn’t blessed with happy married life. She left Bijan her husband and was carried over by Asit her second husband. But she had not envisaged that it would lead to divorce, secondly she had not juxtaposed, and that if her husband had liked some other woman will that lead to break-up of their marriage. But when it actually happened, she just left him, doesn’t mean she did not bleed for it. She felt something was very empty inside; she was more concerned about her son as he was a teenager and had to live in the same locality and go to same school.
“I don’t know what created this barrier, this void inside me. Something I was not getting. Love, attention, physical satisfaction- I don’t know what. And another thing that haunted me for many years is that physically I was very attractive, I was conscious of it from the time I was teenager over attention this and that. But since I married him I was determined to make this marriage a success. We were taking up by communist ideals and all of us believed that revolution is waiting behind the lamp post that we have to go forward and Usher it”- said the sister of Ritwik Ghatak – noted film maker.
She was frustrated, but was unlike others who don’t do anything. She had that determination to live. She married Asit, came to his house which was completely different but still that loneliness surrounded her. She somehow tried hard and created a baffle wall around her. But above all it was the writing – “Through my writing I could be myself”- she conveyed.
Her second husband felt that her writing is mundane and she do not know enough. “I left that house and Asit in 1975”. She was no longer accountable to anyone. She moved to the house where she felt that she could be herself.
Nirmal Ghosh has also inspired her a lot. For the years she has been collecting the words. Whenever she comes across an interesting word or phrase she notes it down that they find their way into stories.
“I have always believed that the real history is made by ordinary people. I constantly come across the reappearance, in various forms, of folklore, ballads, myths and legends, carried by ordinary people across generations. … The reason and inspiration for my writing are those people who are exploited and used, and yet do not accept defeat. For me, the endless source of ingredients for writing is in these amazingly noble, suffering human beings. Why should I look for my raw material elsewhere, once I have started knowing them? Sometimes it seems to me that my writing is really their doing”- quotes of Inspiration by Mahasweta Devi
“I write something and you alone understand it that does not serve my purpose. It has to reach common people, common readers”- she believed. And this belief made her to contribute to Bengali literature with her famous works like- Jhansir Rani, Hajar Chaurasir Maa, Chotti Munda evam Tar Tir, Titu Mir, Breast stories, Draupadi and many more.
Her life wasn’t easy, she has gone through many ups and downs, she was strong and determined, and she was capable enough to put her thoughts boldly through her works despite being bought up with communist ideals. Her works reflects the power and spark that she had.
She once mentioned that nobody is with her now, Bijan, Aist and Nirmal everybody died. These were the most important people who inspired her in some way or the other to write. But on 28th July 2016, the world witnessed the legendary writer Mahasweta Devi’s sad demise. The sheer brilliance behind all her works has made her immortal.
For the Great writer, Mehasweta Devi, it was her family, her experiences with tribal, her travels and her reading, her love for children and people around her inspired her for her greatest contribution. What inspired you? Share your story with us.