Mahasweta Devi, activist-author, passes away

Mahasweta Devi, activist-author, passes away

She fought for rights of denotified tribes across India

Mahasweta Devi, activist-author, passes away

Eminent litterateur Mahasweta Devi passed away on Thursday after prolonged illness. She was 91.

Also a social and political activist, she fought for the rights of denotified tribes across India, which found reflection in her literary works.

A recipient of multiple awards, both national and international, Mahasweta was admitted to a private hospital in south Kolkata on June 22. She breathed her last at 3.16 pm on Thursday. She was suffering from diabetes and other age-related illnesses. She was on life support for a long time.

 Her grandson Tathagata posted on Facebook on Tuesday that she suffered a massive heart attack.

Sources in the hospital said doctors hoped to take her off ventilator when she started responding to treatment earlier this week, though they were not hopeful of recovery after the heart attack. She was admitted to the hospital with urinary tract infection and septicaemia, hospital sources said. Looking at her deteriorating condition, the hospital had formed an eight-member medical board to oversee her treatment.

Born on January 14, 1926 in Dhaka, Mahasweta belonged to an illustrious family.
 Her father Manish Ghatak was a leading light of the ‘Kallol’ phase in Bengali literature, which defied the norms established by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Her uncle was internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak.

Mahasweta’s husband Bijon Bhattacharya, noted playwright and actor, was among the founding fathers of the Indian People’s Theatre Association. Mahasweta’s son Nabarun, who passed away last July, was also an author and poet, credited for introducing Bengali readers to magic realism.

Mahasweta’s literary works have enthralled readers across India and are among the most-translated from Bengali literature.

Many of her works were translated into celluloid, the prominent among them being Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa and Rudaali. A lifetime of work among India’s denotified tribes, particularly the Lodha and Sabar of central India, found words in her 1979 novel Aranyer Adhikaar.

The novel went on to win for her India’s highest literary and cultural honours, the Sahitya Akademi and Jnanpith awards. Her work with the tribes also led her to be honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Mahasweta’s involvement with movements at Singur and Nandigram against forcible land acquisition once again put her under the limelight and brought her close to Trinamool Congress chairperson and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

“She was like a personal guardian and adviser to me. She was like a mother to Bengal,” Mamata said in a tweet after Mahasweta’s demise.
Autobiography remains unfinished
Mahasweta Devi, who had penned hundreds of heartwarming tales about the downtrodden, could never finish her own story about the mental trauma she went through after her divorce, PTI reports from Kolkata.
Documentary filmmaker Joshy Joseph, who was associated with Mahasweta for a long time, said after the Nandigram violence, during acquisition of land in 2007, she had started writing her autobiography.
“She finished half of the diary four years ago but while shifting her house and (amid) the trouble she had with her ex-aide, it got lost. Now it remains unfinished and we don’t even know where the priceless manuscript is lying,” Joseph told PTI.
He said he had persuaded Mahasweta to finish writing it but it never happened.
“She even read out some portions of the manuscript which was about her early life.”
She was married to playwright Bijon Bhattacharya but as things turned sour, they separated in 1962. People who were close to her say it was during this stage that she suffered a mental trauma and financial crisis.
Things improved as she got a job as an English lecturer in a government college. “I don’t think besides this autobiography there is any unpublished work of hers,” said Joseph, who has made three documentaries on her life.