On the occasion of writer Mahashweta Devi’s 92nd birth anniversary today, Google Doodle celebrates her life and work.
Here are 5 things you need to absolutely know about how this eminent litterateur and social activist made an impact on Indian literature and society.
1. The writer was born in 1926 in Dhaka in British India to literary parents, poet and novelist Manish Ghatak and writer and activist, Dharitri Devi. Her uncle was the noted Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. After completed a BA and MA in English Literature, Mahashweta worked at various jobs at the post office, selling soaps, and letter writing before turning to teaching at a Kolkata College.
2. After marrying playwright Bijon Bhattacharya, the couple lived a life of poverty in Kolkata, and Mahashweta worked odd jobs to supplement the family’s income. Her first novel, The Queen of Jhansi written when she was 30 is the story of a queen who dressed as a man to become a warrior in the fight against the British during the first War for Indian Independence in 1857. It’s a fictionalised account of the real-life queen, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi. For this novel, she travelled across North India researching the subject.
3. This was the beginning of her foray into the social sphere, making an impact with her work, on paper, and otherwise. She fearlessly campaigned for the rights of tribal communities, often telling their stories of struggle. Mother of 1084, published in 1974 is an account of a bereaved mother fighting for the Maoist rebellion while The Occupation of the Forest (1977) chronicled the accounts of India’s first tribal leader Birsa Munda. Stories like Doulati and Palamo dealt with subjects like bonded labour and prostitution. She also edited the quarterly Bortika which was a mouthpiece for the oppressed tribal communities. Her Rudali was also made into a film by director Kalpana Lajmi.
4. Mahashweta Devi also spearheaded a campaign against the erstwhile government of West Bengal’s industrial policy that confiscated farmland and ceded it to industrial houses. She also led the Nandigram agitation comprising intellectuals, artists, writers and theatre workers.
5. In her illustrious career, she received a number of awards that included the Jnanpith Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Vibhushan and the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. She died on July 23, 2016, in Kolkata at the age of 90.