MAHASVETA DEVI (India)
Mahasveta Devi holds an exclusively unique and preeminent position in Indian literature. She is the doyen of Bangla fiction. Through her profoundly committed writings, generally based on the miserable life of the tribals, the oppressed and the marginalised, she has been portraying and mindscaping struggles and sufferings. Mahasveta Devi has been honoured with various top-ranking awards,she has been portraying and mindscaping struggles and sufferings. Mahasveta Devi has been honoured with various top-ranking awards, including Padma Shri, Magsaysay Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Jnanpith Award, and SAARC LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT LITERARY AWARD.
A Writer’s Testament of Faith
Repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions, for what is recollected has been and it is repeated backwards, whereas repetition properly so called is recollected forward.
– Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition
s eighty plus I move forward often stepping back into the shadows. Sometimes I am bold enough to step back into the sunlight. As a young person, as a mother, I would often move forward to when I was old. Amuse my son. Pretend that I couldn’t hear, or see. Flail my hands about like in a blind man’s game, or make mockery of memory. Forget important things. Things that had taken place but a moment ago ! These games were for fun. Now they are no longer funny. My life has moved forward and is repeating itself. I am repeating myself. Recollecting for you what has been. What is. What could have been. May have been.
See the tree, the forest, the field lush with crops, a stream dazzling in sunlight. And see, the spotted deer are jumping and fleeing to the forest, the mothers are filling the pitchers from the stream, clutching their children. And the houses are the ones they left behind at Badihatta. The sun is leaning to see the earth. The peasants are irrigating their fields. What an expanse of forest. How green the hills are.
Nothing happens unless you know how to dream. The Establishment is out to destroy, by remote control, all the brain cells that induce dreams. But some dreams manage to escape. I am after those dreams that have escaped from jail. The right to dream is what allows mankind to survive. If you end the right to dream – which the entire world and everyone is doing – you destroy the world. The right to dream should be the first fundamental right. The right to dream.
I hate middle class morality. It’s such a sham. Everything is suppressed.
Considering the set-up from which I came, it was very unexpected that I would turn out to be like this. I was the eldest in the house. At that time, I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience, every woman’s first sex experience came from the family. And from a young age, I had a strong physical attractiveness, as I’ve been told – and this also, I knew, I felt it. At that time we were influenced by Tagore. I was in Santiniketan, falling in love. Whatever I did was with great gusto. This kind of experience I’ve had a lot. From 13 to 18, I was deeply in love with one of my remote cousins. There was a suicidal tendency in his family, and he also committed suicide. Everyone started blaming me, saying that because he had loved me and hadn’t got me, he had killed himself, which wasn’t true. By that time, I was in close contact with the Communist Party, and felt that it was such a waste at that young age. I felt, why did he do this? I was crushed. The whole family accused me. From 16 onwards, my parents and especially my relatives would despair – what can we do about this girl? She’s so outgoing she doesn’t understand her body’s attraction – it was considered vulgar.
Writing became my real world for me, in which I lived and survived. Forward. Backward.
There’s a story about Nanak – how his father made him sit in a shop, told him to sell goods.. dus, gyarah, barah, tera … tera, tera, tera and he gave everything away. Everything is yours. With me, everything became tera … nothing touches the inside. Material things don’t touch me, I remain an outsider, I can’t always be an insider. Genuine human warmth, real understanding, some friendship, a few strange things touch me, but I’m an outsider and an insider at the same time. Some childhood memories, when I was a child in Dhaka, it’s raining heavily, pouring, I’m sitting at the window, the big house, raindrops on the leaves, I love it. I hate cut flowers. Flowers should be left on the tree or bush. My love for nature has always been there.
Somehow, from when I was very small, whatever I wanted to do was considered deniable, not done. I would go out and get wet in the rains, play in the rain, play with boys. From the age of 13, I used to hear that you should not do this and that, you’re physically developed … even something natural like one’s periods, they would say, at such a time you should not touch this or that – what’s ‘should not’ got to do with it ? By the age of 13, I had read Good Earth. She had her child, picked it up and came back into the house, did the cooking and so on. It’s all part of nature’s process, why should one be disabled by it? What’s all the fuss about? The natural is what appealed to me, always.