Born on 14 January 1926, Mahasweta Devi was one of India’s prominent writers and also a social activist for equal rights. She composed numerous novels, plays, essays, and short stories. Hailed as the ‘Goddess for the Downtrodden”, Mahasweta Devi was a self-proclaimed leftist, Marxist and was known for her fearless, powerful, satire, and fiction writings. Apart from using literature to voice out on politics, inequalities, etc, she made selfless efforts to fight discrimination against women and divested tribal people. Mahasweta Devi won multiple accolades including the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award, etc. On her 95th birth anniversary, we remember this renowned writer-activist through some of the best books by Mahasweta Devi that you must read in 2021!
“My India still lives behind a curtain of darkness. A curtain that separates mainstream society from the poor and the deprived.”– Mahasweta Devi at the Magsaysay Award.
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“… The sky looked blue and the trees as green as always.
She realized that nature was unaffected by the upheaval in her life. This painful thought made her weep. Wasn’t everything supposed to change from today?”
A narrative that is ahead of its time, Mahasweta Devi’s Outcast strongly acknowledges the sham and barbarism of the democracy that leads to suppressed misery and adversity of marginalized women in India. Like many of the books by Mahasweta Devi, Outcast consists of four short stories based on four women characters- Dhouli, Shanichari, Josmina, and Chinta. She also portrays the hierarchical system of India that has made women become ‘doubly marginalized’. This topic of ‘social exclusion’ is highlighted through the caste-system, women’s commodification, sexual exploitation, etc which makes ‘Outcast’ one of the best books by Mahasweta Devi.
‘Bedanabala. Her Life. Her Times‘- translated by Sunandini Banerjee, is a poignant narrative that reflects an unwavering truth of India’s rise of patriotism. This book by Mahasweta Devi is narrated in the first-person woman, Bedanabala whose mother dwelled in a brothel. It also highlights the story of Did’ma, the owner of the brothel who takes care of Bedanabala’s mother as her own during India’s freedom. Prostitution and Nationalism are subtly talked about in a manner without glorifying neither of them. Mahasweta Devi’s novel has been skillfully penned in a sensitive way which again makes her the voice of the voiceless.
Another beautifully written book by Mahasweta Devi, Wrong Number consists of four narrations, each highlighting a conflicting social theme. What begins with a disoriented and puzzled plot adheres beautifully towards the end. The book focuses on the story of an anxious father, an impoverished goatherd, a terrorized boy, two mourning mothers; all suffering from the oppression and unfairness that prevails in India to date. Mahasweta Devi again proves her exceptional self through this thought-provoking book which is a mirror to the readers.
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“…This, a holy war?! A righteous war?! Just call it a war of greed!”
After Kurukshetra is a compilation of three stories woven by Mahasweta Devi in Bangla which was then translated into English. The book is based on the epic, Mahabharata War and it highlights the views and perspectives of people who weren’t involved in the war but saw and suffered its consequences and turned out to be victims of it. The three short stories are The Five Women (Panchkanya), Kunti And The Nishadin (Kunti o Nishadi), and Souvali that have covered the prevailing topics of oppression of widows, caste injustice, and discrimination. ‘After Kurukshetra’ shows the readers some harsh truths about greed, arrogance, and power which makes it among the best books by Mahasweta Devi.
Translated in 1977 by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Breast Stories consist of 3 stories Draupadi, Behind the Bodice, and Breast Giver. Despite having separate journeys, the breast is also a metaphor for the oppression of women by marginalized tribes, thus it is a unifying aspect. From genocidal rapes, objectification, and shunned women; the author highlights each of these sensitive social taboos and shakes the readers. It is one of the best books by Mahasweta Devi, of which, Behind the Bodice was also shot into a movie by director Italo Spinelli.
In the Name of the Mother
A gem among the many books by Mahasweta Devi and a must-read for every Indian, In the name of the Nother, was published in 2004 and was translated by Radha Chakravarty. Being connected through what India glorifies the most, i.e. motherhood, the four ordinary stories take the readers through the deeply rooted social-norms that lead to exploitation and restriction of women or authorizing gender-roles. ‘Ma, from Dusk to Dawn’ ‘Sindhubala’, ‘Jamunabati’, and ‘Giribala’ are four astonishing stories written by Mahasweta Devi.
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Mahasweta Devi was truly a beacon in the dark for every helpless Indian. Topics that are considered taboo in Indian society, are extraordinarily composed by her which brings every reader face to face with the reality we dwell in. Every story is subtle yet vociferous to stir the audience. Thus, these are some of the best books by Mahasweta Devi that you must read once in your lifetime! Want to become a writer? Let our Leverage Edu experts help you choose the right program and university to kickstart your dream career! Sign up for a free session right away!