Paying homage to one of India’s premier novelist, short-story writer and social activist, Mahasweta Devi, on her on her 92nd birth anniversary is today’s Google Doodle. She wrote about the tribals of India and even worked for their empowerment. Among other accolades, Mahasweta was awarded Jnanpith Award in 1996. Considered one of Asia’s most celebrated authors, she also won the SAARC literary award in 2007.
Born in 1926 to a progressive family in Decca, British India (now Dhaka, Bangladesh), Mahasweta was surrounded by writers, filmmakers, poets and social activist. Manish Ghatak, her father, was a famous poet and novelist, emerging from the Kallol movement. He used the pseudonym Jubanashwa. Ghatak’s brother, Ritwik Ghatak was a well-known filmmaker. Dharitri Devi, Mahasweta’s mother, was social worker, whose brothers Sankha Chaudhury and Sachin Chaudhury were distinguished in their respective fields. Sankha was a well-known sculptor while Sachin was the founder-editor of the renowned journal Economic and Political Weekly.
Mahasweta was known for writing about tribals and the marginalised section of the society. Her literary works were also based around the trials and tribulations of tribals. The Magsaysay awardee had worked for the empowerment of Lodha and Shabar tribes of West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Some early drafts for the doodle
Writing mostly in Bengali, Mahasweta wrote over 100 novels and 20 anthologies of short stories. These were often translated into other languages. Her most famous works were 'Hajar Churashir Ma', 'Aranyer Adhikar', 'Agnigarbha', 'Rudali', 'Sidhu Kanhur Daakey'.
Many of her works were adapted into movies. Govind Nihalani's 1998 movie Hazar Chaurasi ki Ma and Kalpana Lajmi 1993 movie Rudali were based on works of Mahasweta.
Mahasweta spearheaded the Nandigram agitation that resisted the controversial policy of developing industrial zones over farmer lands in Singur and Nandigram. Her involvement in the agitation led to the joining of many intellectuals, artists, writers and theatre workers. She even supported Mamata Banarjee in the 2011 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election, which resulted in Banerjee’s victory.
Mahashweta had also won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1979 and the Padmashree for social work in 1986. She died in Kolkata of a heart attack due to multiple organ failure in 2016.