Mahasweta Devi was born in
1926 in the city of Dacca in East Bengal (modern day Bangladesh). As an
adolescent, she and her family moved to West Bengal in India. Born into a
literary family, Mahasweta Devi was also influenced by her early
association with Gananatya, a group who attempted to bring social and
political theater to rural villages in Bengal in the 1930's and 1940's.
After finishing a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta
University, Devi began working as a teacher and 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 forty
years, Devi has published twenty collections of short stories and close to
a hundred novels, primarily in her native language of 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. She currently resides
and works in Calcutta, India.
Mahasweta received the Magsaypay award which is the Indian equivalent of
the Nobel Peace Prize. She is also a winner of the Jnanpith award for
journalism, literature and creative communication.
Today she concentrates and dedicates herself to serving the needs of the
poor people in India, not allowing her much time to write. She spends time
as an editor with a quarterly journal Vartika and Yosana. In her journal
writing and editing she addresses the oppression of the Indian people. She
advocates for the disadvantaged and those people of India who are
considered outcasts. In all her writings she tries to depict the life of
Adinag men and women. She also writes about Adivesi (tribal) people like
the Sandhals, Ledhas, Shabars and Mivelas. She's extremely dedicated and
devoted to these tribes. Her experience in working with tribes has had a
great influence in her writing.
Mahsweta has published forty books which include novels and stories in
Bangali. Her mission is to continue working with the Komadic tribes, non
tribal poor and people who are desolate and unprepared for India's
political system. This incredible author spends days and months living
with the people she writes about. Her hands on experience are significant
and alluded to in many of her writings. Her books focus in on the
simplistic lifestyles of the tribes but more importantly their sufferings
and feelings of exploitation.
Since 1871 these tribes have been discriminated against and classified as
criminals by the British. They are victims of violence, the women are
molested and their huts are destroyed. She is expected and entrusted to
eliminate the injustices done to them. In her meetings, conferences and
writings she urges the people to stand up for their rights and resist
abuse. She demands equality of human rights and encourages her people,
especially girls, to educate themselves.
Her first published book, a biography, Jhansir Rani was written in Bengali
in 1956. Her first novel NATI was written in 1957. Among her other
masterpieces are Haazar Churasi Kimau, Rudali, Bioscopes and Chatti Munda
O Tan Ti . Some of these books have been converted to film and depict the
lives of the poor people of India and other social issues.