Mahasweta Devi was born in 1926 in Dhaka, to literary parents in a Hindu Brahmin family. Her father Manish Ghatak was a well known poet and novelist of the Kallol era, who used the pseudonym Jubanashwa. He also happened to be the elder brother of the noted filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. Mahasweta's mot...
Mahasweta Devi was born in 1926 in Dhaka, to literary parents in a Hindu Brahmin family. Her father Manish Ghatak was a well known poet and novelist of the Kallol era, who used the pseudonym Jubanashwa. He also happened to be the elder brother of the noted filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. Mahasweta's mother Dharitri Devi was also a writer and a social worker, whose brothers were distinguished in various fields, such as the noted sculptor Sankha Chaudhury and the founder-editor of the Economic and Political Weekly of India, Sachin Chaudhury.
Her first schooling was in Dhaka, but after the partition of India she moved to West Bengal in India. She joined the Rabindranath Tagore-founded Vishvabharati University in Santiniketan and completed a B.A. (Hons) in English, and then finished an M.A. in English at Calcutta University as well. She later married renowned playwright Bijon Bhattacharya who was one of the founding fathers of the IPTA movement. In 1948, she gave birth to Nabarun Bhattacharya, currently one of Bengal's and India's leading novelist of the cerebral kind. She got divorced from Bijon Bhattacharya in 1959.
After finishing a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University, Devi began working as a teacher and a journalist. Her first book, Jhansir Rani (The Queen of Jhansi), was published in 1956. This work also marked the beginning of a prolific literary career. In the last 40 years, Devi has published 20 collections of short stories and around 100 novels, mostly in Bengali. She has also been a regular contributor to several literary magazines such as Bortika, a journal dedicated to the cause of oppressed communities within India.
In 1984, she retired from her job as an English lecturer at a Calcutta university to concentrate on her writing. In the last decade, Devi has been the recipient of several literary prizes. She was awarded the Jnanpath, India's highest literary award in 1995. In the following year, she was one of the recipients of the Magsaysay award, considered to be the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She currently resides and works in Calcutta, India.
Mahasweta Devi's first work, Jhansir Rani, was a fictional reconstruction of Laxmibai, the woman ruler who died fighting the Britishers. Several of her other early works such as Amrita Sanchay and Andhanmalik are also set during the British colonial period. The Naxalite movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s were also an important influence in her work. Devi, in a 1983 interview, points to this movement as the first major event that she felt "an urge and an obligation to document"
Devi's Hajar Churashir Ma (Mother of 1084) is the story of a upper middle class woman whose world is forever changed when her son is killed for his Naxalite beliefs. This book has recently been made into a Hindi-language movie called Hazaar Chaurasi ki Ma by director Govind Nihalani.
Another important theme in the works of Mahasweta Devi involves the position of tribal communities within India. She is a long-time champion for the political, social and economic advancement of these communities. This activism is pivotal to Devi's writings: "I think a creative writer should have a social conscience. I have a duty towards society. The sense of duty is an obsession” (for me).
In response to a question by an interviewer (1998), "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".