Though death is natural but it’s hard to believe that the Voice of Subaltern, Mahasweta Devi is no more. She was a great writer but more than that she was a rebel, a rebel with heart. Her writings were her weapon or a comfortable shelter for those people for whom she fought in her whole life. But lost her own life battle on Thursday 28th July.
She gave a name, an identity to those people whose existence was ignored by the upper class in our society. She wrote incessantly about the struggle and life of the rural tribal communities in the states of West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chattishgarh. In her fiction and nonfiction writings on Bengal, she often narrated the brutal act by the upper class people like money lenders, landlord, and government officials on those simple, innocent people. Her novels and stories were not just writings but a movement.
In 2006, when India was a guest nation of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Sahitya Academy had sent over 70 writers for representing major Indian languages. Some of them were eminent English writers but Mahasweta Devi’s touching speech moved many among the listeners to tears.
She drew a unique world of tribals, dalits, women and the peasantry in her story. Mahasweta Devi listened closely to them and brought them in the front of mainstream. She believed real history is made by ordinary people and those ordinary, ignored people influenced her to write. Once Mahasweta Devi said, “Why should I look for material elsewhere, once I have started knowing them? Sometimes, it seems to me that my writing is their doing.” She lived with the Sabars for many days to understand their way of life and penned down her experience to become their voice.
Like her writing her life is a struggle. To support her family, she started her writing, her first novel ‘Jhansir Rani’ published in 1956. Soon after her marriage with playwright and actor, Bijon Bhattacharya they suffered from several financial trouble. Her husband faced harassment due to the involvement with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and had links with Communists.
She gave tuitions, sold dye powder and even delivered monkeys to US for research to support her family. She lost her post and Telegraph job as she had connection with Communists. In that crucial period of her life she took writing. For 40 years she wrote around 100 novels and 20 collections of short stories. She got divorced from Bijon Bhattachariya in 1959. Her son Nabarun Bhattacharya is currently one of the leading novelists.
One of her famous and powerful writing ‘Hazar Churasir Ma’, the story of an upper middle class woman whose life is totally changed when her son has been killed for his Naxalite beliefs. Prafulla Roy, who also wrote many political novels he felt in which way Mahasweta Devi handled the turbulent 70’s no one could do that like her. “Hajar Churashir Ma’ cannot be written by an ordinary observer of political matrices of the times. That kind of poignancy required X-ray vision, something that bore through your heartstrings.”
Mahasweta Devi received Sahitya Academi Award in 1979; she was honoured with Padma Shri in 1986, Padma Vibhushan in 2006 and Bangabibhusan in 2011. She got Jnanpith Award in 1996 and Ramon Ramsaysay Award in 1997. In 2012 she received Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Sahityabrahma.
In an interview in 1998 she was asked a question “What would you like to do for the rest of your life?” Mahasweta Devi replied: “Fight for the tribals, downtrodden, underprivileged and write creatively if and when I find the time”.
She was brave, fearless and a person with a golden heart. Not many have such guts to become a revolutionary fight through writings. But she did exactly that. She made her pen a sword. Her writings often woke authorities with a jolt. She became the voice of the ordinary people. She will always live in our minds through her writings.