Eminent writer Mahasweta Devi, known for reinventing a subversive genre of literature with strong subaltern themes, is no more. She died on 28 July due to multiple organ failures. She was 90 years old.
P Tandon, CEO of Belle Vue nursing home, where she was admitted since 22 May, said, “her condition deteriorated at 3 p.m. We tried our level best, but suddenly her condition became very bad and at 3.16 p.m. she passed away”.
Mahasweta Devi used writing as a medium for her activism. Widely influenced by the Communist movement in Bengal in the 1940s, she began her career in writing as a journalist after graduating from Bijoygarh College in Kolkata. Her works focused on the tribal communities, using her writing as a mouthpiece for their often unheard concerns.
Many of her writings are important works of subaltern studies, a post-colonial approach to academics that focusses on non-mainstream methodologies – ‘history from below’– in humanities and social sciences. Her works include the Breast Stories – shorts stories about commoditization of the female body, Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1024) – a story about custodial death of a communist revolutionary), Aranyer Adhikar (The Occupation of the Forest), Agnigarbha (Womb of Fire), Dhowli, Bashai Tudu, Dust on the Road, Our Non-Veg Cow, Till Death Do Us Part and Old Women.
She won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1979, the Padma Shree in 1986, the Jnanpith in 1997, the Magsaysay award in 1997 and the Deshikottam award in 1999. Her books Rudaali and Hajar Churashir Maa were even made into films that won accolades for their different approaches to women’s oppression and the political struggles in the wake of the Communist movements in West Bengal. Rudaali was directed by Kalpana Lajmi in 1993 and starred Dimple Kapadia in the title role. Hajar Churashir Maa or Hazaar Chuarasi Ki Maa was directed by Govind Nihalani in 1998 and featured Jaya Bachchan in the title role as the mother whose son was arrested for being a Naxalite.
Mahasweta Devi was considered a writer who was way ahead of her times. But most notably, she was known for her work with the sabars (aka saora), a scheduled tribe in the Purulia district of West Bengal, which earned her the title of “The Mother of the Sabars”. In her, literature has lost a most notable voice of the voiceless.
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